Photo: Everett Collection
Believe it or not, Harvey Weinstein didn't want the guy from the "Look Who's Talking" movies to be in "Pulp Fiction."
No, not the guy who did the baby's voice -- Harvey definitely wanted him. We mean the other guy, the one who hadn't had a hit that didn't have a talking baby in it in several years.
It's hard to imagine anyone besides John Travolta playing the role of Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino's undisputed masterpiece, "Pulp Fiction." Travolta brought an easy, laidback charm to the half-wit hit man who didn't learn that he shouldn't ever go to the bathroom until it was too late.
"Pulp Fiction" ended up giving Travolta a much-needed career comeback, but before cameras rolled on his philosophical musings about foot massages and him accidentally shooting poor Marvin in the face, he wasn't someone any studio wanted to touch -- especially Miramax.
"John Travolta was at that time as cold as they get," said Mike Simpson, Tarantino's agent at William Morris Endeavor, in a recent interview with Vanity Fair. "He was less than zero."
Simpson had given Weinstein a list of Tarantino's demands, which included final cut, a two-and-a-half-hour running time and approval on casting. Quentin had provided a wish list of actors, all of which received Weinstein's blessing -- except Travolta. Weinstein claimed he could get Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn or William Hurt -- and by that point both Day-Lewis and Bruce Willis were interested in the part of Vincent Vega.
Weinstein eventually relented on the Travolta issue, mostly because Willis' interest -- and later involvement -- in the project relieved his concerns that the film lacked bankable stars. Tarantino had offered the role of boxer Butch Coolidge to Matt Dillon, though after Dillon hesitated, the part went to Willis.
"Once I got Bruce Willis, Harvey got his big movie star, and we were all good," said Tarantino. "Bruce Willis made us legit."
There's more to the "What If?" version of "Pulp Fiction." Uma Thurman took some convincing to take the role of mob trophy wife Mia Wallace, though mostly due to a scene she wasn't even in.
"[Tarantino] wasn't this revered demigod auteur that he has grown into. And I wasn't sure I wanted to do it, because I was worried about the Gimp stuff," said Thurman, referring to the infamous sequence in which Mia's husband Marsellus (Ving Rhames) is raped by his captors. "We had very memorable, long discussions about male rape versus female rape. No one could believe I even hesitated in any way. Neither can I, in hindsight."
And finally, that almost wasn't Samuel L. Jackson in the iconic role of Jules Winnfield, as he almost lost the part to Paul Calderon, who ended up having a cameo as Paul the bartender ("My name's Paul and this is between y'all"). Jackson, who was under the impression that the role was his, flew to L.A. for a now-notorious last-minute audition.
"In comes Sam with a burger in his hand and a drink in the other hand and stinking like fast food," recalls Richard Gladstein, then head of production at Miramax. "Me and Quentin and [producer] Lawrence [Bender] were sitting on the couch, and he walked in and just started sipping that shake and biting that burger and looking at all of us. I was scared shitless. I thought that this guy was going to shoot a gun right through my head. And he just stole the part."
Well, of course he did. Then he walked the earth, like Caine in "Kung Fu."
Quentin Tarantino discusses casting John Travolta in 'Pulp Fiction':