“There’s a lot of bad language in this one!”
So joked director Jason Reitman as he launched the latest installment of Film Independent’s popular Live Read series on Wednesday night with one of his most anticipated selections yet: Quentin Tarantino’s scorching script for the dark comic thriller “True Romance.”
“We’re going to be reading an early draft, so you’ll notice some changes,” Reitman said. “That’s one of the fun things about doing these. It’s a weird kind of archeology where you get to figure out how the movie you love started.”
With the announcement that original stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette would reprise their roles as lovers-on-the-run Clarence and Alabama Worley, demand for tickets increased, prompting a move from the 600-seat Bing Theater at LACMA to The Theater at Ace Hotel in downtown LA, which seats 1,600.
As always, the reading was performed exclusively for those present in the audience, and no recordings of any kind were allowed.
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“Tonight is for you,” Reitman explained to the crowd.
This was the third Tarantino script Reitman has selected since the program began. “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” were previously performed, and Tarantino himself staged a reading of “The Hateful Eight” as part of the series in 2014.
In his opening remarks, Film Independent’s curator Elvis Mitchell paid tribute to director Tony Scott, who helmed “True Romance” in 1993. “This happens to be a film done by one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite directors,” Mitchell said to thunderous applause.
According to Reitman, Tarantino “made it cool to be into movies,” a statement which proved abundantly clear as the evening wore on. Filled with geeky film references, thrilling action, unforgettable characters and brilliant dialogue, the screenplay for “True Romance” remains every bit as fresh and dangerous as it did 22 years ago.
Yet it was Slater and Arquette who truly owned the night. Rivaling Bonnie and Clyde, their chemistry together was nothing short of magic.
Clad in her character’s iconic leopard print coat and baby blue sunglasses, Arquette looked as through she’d stepped directly off the movie screen. The Oscar-winning actress once again imbued Alabama with a potent combination of loyalty, fearlessness and intense sexuality.
As the reading began, Slater seemed genuinely amused by the audience’s gleeful reaction to his first monologue. Their cheers momentarily threw him, but he quickly recovered, delivering a performance that was so smooth it appeared as though he’d been rehearsing for months, when in fact he was reading it cold.
Joining Arquette and Slater on stage was J.K. Simmons reading the part of Clarence’s estranged father, and master mimic Kevin Pollak, bringing his uncanny Christopher Walken impression to the role of mob boss Vincenzo Coccotti. Their memorable confrontation, which builds from verbal one-upmanship to explosive violence, was among the most anticipated moments of the night, and did not disappoint. As read by Simmons and Pollak, the sequence was a true showstopper, eliciting major laughs from the sheer audaciousness of the writing.
Adding to the fun, Pollak also read the part of Elvis Presley, who appears throughout the story to offer Clarence advice from beyond the grave. Perfectly capturing The King’s southern drawl, Pollak was aided by a fully-costumed Elvis impersonator who stood silently behind him on stage to great effect.
Playing hulking hitman Virgil, whose savage battle with the diminutive Alabama provides the script with its most harrowing sequence, Jon Favreau put a unique spin on the role originated by James Gandolfini. Adding an air of jovial menace to the character, Favreau seemed to relish playing a murderous psycho. Together, he and Arquette captured every painful nuance of their characters’ gory motel room fight.
As the hyperactive detectives portrayed by Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore in the movie, indie film stars Mark and Jay Duplass added quirky personality to their trigger-happy characters. Ranting a mile-a-minute, finishing each others sentences and high-fiving at every opportunity, the Duplass brothers energized the reading with a welcome dose of comic insanity.
Rounding out the cast were comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Paul Scheer, playing psycho pimp Drexl and drug-dealing actor Elliot Blitzer. Both had numerous scene stealing moments throughout the event.
Actress Mae Whitman, a familiar Live Read performer whose sharp wit and improv skills make her an invaluable utility player, once again handled a variety of roles, including wanna-be actor Dick Ritchie, originally portrayed by Michael Rapaport.
In a surprise bit of casting, Jason Segel read the role of Floyd, the lovable stoner played by Brad Pitt in the movie. His groggy stammering and eccentric delivery got some of the biggest reactions of the night.
As in the past, Reitman read the stage directions himself.
Highlights included the deadly showdown between Clarence and Drexl, Dick Ritchie’s hilarious audition for a role on T.J Hooker, and Arquette’s moving recitation of the script’s signature phrase “You’re so cool.”
After the reading, Dan Storm, co-founder of True Romance Fest, an annual celebration held at Burbank’s Safari Inn, where scenes from the movie were originally shot, summed the night up excitedly: “The whole thing was just mesmerizing. I loved it.”
Storm, who owns numerous props from the film, including Clarence and Alabama’s actual wedding rings, was especially impressed with Arquette and Slater’s performances. “I was amazed at how seamlessly Patricia and Christian slid right back into their characters,” he said. “It was like watching the movie live!”