It’s been 20 years since John Travolta had his film career revived from “that guy from the talking baby movies” to blockbuster movie star. Pulp Fiction’s place is so cemented in modern day pop culture, that it’s difficult to picture anyone other than Samuel L. Jackson delivering the famous Ezekiel 25:17 execution speech. Like every successful movie, though, its cast went through several variations before landing on the final lineup that would help it secure seven Oscar nominations. With this week marking the two decade anniversary of the film’s wide release, let’s take a look at how different the cast could have been if these other actors had landed a part in the seedy L.A. Pulp universe…
So many Mias. The list of names floating around online for the part of Mia Wallace is a long one, including such odd casting choices as Julia Louis Dreyfus, Joan Cusack, and Kate Beckinsale, who Tarantino supposedly thought looked too young for the role. Miramax favored Meg Ryan or Michelle Phiefer for the part because they were obviously already big stars at the time, but Tarantino decided after his first meeting with Uma Thurman that she was the only actress worthy of taking home a dance trophy from Jack Rabbit Slim’s.
Paul Calderón did land himself a role in Pulp Fiction, just a much smaller one than he’d originally auditioned for. Tarantino had always envisioned Samuel L. Jackson in the Jules role, but was blown away by Calderón’s reading for the role that he briefly considered giving the actor the hitman part. Harvey Weinstein advised Jackson that he should give the read through another take and Jackson sealed the deal, with Tarantino moving Calderón over to Paul the bartender.
Tarantino wanted Michael Madsen to play Vincent Vega, but Mr. Blonde had other ambitions and passed on the role in favor of joining Kevin Costner for Wyatt Earp. The move didn’t sit well with the director and Tarantino didn’t speak with Madsen again until finishing up the first script for Kill Bill.
Daniel Day-Lewis was everything that John Travolta was not in 1993. Tarantino was always interested in Travolta for the part of Vincent Vega, but Harvey Weinstein was adamantly against casting the washed up actor. Harvey Weinstein told Tarantino that he had sent the script to Daniel Day-Lewis who was interested in playing the part, but Tarantino wouldn’t budge and eventually negotiated John Travolta for the famous ponytail-wearing hitman.
“Quentin Tarantino called once – I think it was for Pulp Fiction, the part Bruce Willis played. I didn’t even read the script. I allowed myself to get proud and angry because I could do the acting. I thought I’d have to be dead not to f***ing work.”
Bruce Willis is nearly a decade older than Matt Dillon, but Quentin Tarantino had considered giving Dillon the role of Butch before the actor’s indecisiveness rubbed him the wrong way. Tarantino’s agent, Mike Simpson, confessed that after Dillon said he would need a night to sleep on it Tarantino pulled the offer stating, “If he can’t tell me face-to-face that he wants to be in the movie – after he read the script – he’s out.”
Lance and Jody
Before Rosanna Arquette earned the distinction of being “the one with all the sh*t in her face,” Pam Grier read for the role of Lance’s bitchy wife. Tarantino had been a fan of the actress since the 70s, but felt she wouldn’t be believable to the audience as someone who would let Lance yell at them.
According to Courtney Love — so take this with a huge freaking grain of salt — the reason that Cobain thanked Quentin Tarantino on In Utero was because the director offered him the part of bathrobe-wearing, cereal-eating drug dealer Lance. “Quentin asked him to play Eric Stoltz’s part in Pulp Fiction. You can ask Quentin that, because it’s true.”