(Warning: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood spoilers will be found below.)
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has drawn plenty of attention for the complicated past of Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth character, which is left ambiguous after the suggestion that he killed his wife. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character seemed more straightforward: He’s an actor who’s past his prime and struggling to maintain some foothold in Hollywood while drowning his anxiety in booze and constantly pouring his sorrows out to Cliff, who’s also his assistant, driver, and stunt double in addition to being an unpaid therapist. However, Tarantino has decided to shed some light on Rick’s psyche, and he did so during a lengthy video interview as singled out by Hollywood Reporter.
Tarantino loosely based the Rick Dalton character on Burt Reynolds, but DiCaprio wanted more information (even saying, “I need something to act,” as the story goes) into the backstory of what made Rick tick, especially during his meltdowns. So the auteur relayed some background about 1970s Western TV actor Pete Duel, who suffered from what appeared to be undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and that turned into Leo’s basis for Rick’s decline:
“Leo got that. Now, we already had Rick a drinker, but the whole thing about undiagnosed bipolar and not knowing how that works, and the weird pendulum swings of emotion you would have … that became a really interesting thing that we thought Rick could deal through. And that gave Leo a good, solid ground in which to work and build a character and have a subtext going on inside of scenes that doesn’t have to revolve around the story of the scene.”
Quentin describes the process shortly after the 10:00 minute mark in the below video, and Leo’s in agreement, no arguments there. Now let’s get something official on what really happened to Cliff’s wife, shall we? Well, perhaps it’s best not to know everything about these characters and let some mystery remain.