While Quentin Tarantino’s first career is making movies, he’s quickly developed a second career giving second chances to actors long forgotten by everyone but him.
The most dramatic example of the Tarantino career rescue program is, of course, John Travolta, the $20 million-a-picture star brought back from oblivion a couple of years ago by Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” But lately other actors are benefiting.
Michael Parks for example, has been set in a lead role in “Hangman’s Daughter,” the P.J. Pesce-directed prequel (written by Robert & Alvaro Rodriguez) to the Tarantino-scripted “From Dusk Till Dawn.” The casting is noteworthy, and not just because Parks played a Texas Ranger blown away by Tarantino’s psycho character in “Dusk’s” opening scene. Parks’ career peaked in 1969 with the one-season NBC drama “Then Came Bronson.” Little has gone right since then — until he met Tarantino.
As a director, Tarantino is doing it again with “Jackie Brown,” giving the two leads to former blaxploitation queen Pam Grier (“Foxy Brown”) and Robert Forster (“Nakia,” “Banyon”). Sure, Tarantino got Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda, Robert De Niro and Michael Keaton for supporting roles, but would any other director have gambled on those two for the leads of his follow-up to “Pulp Fiction”?
Forster, after reading for hundreds of roles he didn’t get, was down to giving free motivational speeches while trying not to give up on himself. “The past five years, I hadn’t gotten a job for more than scale; and terrible, junky stuff that you take when you’ve got a kid in college and an ex-wife. Then Quentin comes along and says, ‘You’ve waited long enough. Now you’re going to work again.’ I can’t describe the feeling.”
Tarantino says he’s happy to help down-and-out actors, but his motivation is to make movies his way, and that’s with casting gambles that are as adventurous as his writing and directing. If he has to watch old TV shows to find the right actor, so be it.
“I think there is far less artistry in the casting of most mainstream movies than there should be,” he said. “There are certain movies that should have big stars, but there are also movies where it doesn’t make a dime bit of difference at the box office who plays a character.”
Luckily for Parks, Forster and Grier, Tarantino’s hooked on the ’70s. So while most of the “Dusk” dialogue was scripted to be delivered in rapid-fire bursts, Parks’ Ranger character was the exception: “I wrote that Texas Ranger role just for Michael Parks, for his lazy Texas drawl. He’s always been one of my favorite actors in the world. On ‘Then Came Bronson,’ Michael gave these Brando-like performances, the most naturalistic acting I’ve ever seen on a TV show.”
“Dusk” star George Clooney said it was clear Parks still had the goods. “Michael just blew the roof off in that scene, and he was so good, it seemed the movie would just be about him … until he got killed,” Clooney said.