Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Novel Will Reveal Cliff Booth's Backstory

Quentin Tarantino‘s novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is almost as highly anticipated as his Oscar-winning 2019 film was, if only because it invites us to once again hang out in that world of 1960s Hollywood. A world that Tarantino plans to expand upon in his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood novel, which will throw in a some deleted scenes as well as expand on the characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Notably, we’ll learn a little more about Pitt’s morally questionable stuntman, Cliff Booth.

In the latest episode of the Pure Cinema Podcast (via Entertainment Weekly), hosted by Elric Kane and Brian Saur, Tarantino went into detail about what to expect from his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood novelization. Tarantino described it as more than just a “few extra scenes” but more like a “complete rethinking” of the film:

“I think if you’re a fan of the movie, I think you will get a kick out of reading the book, and exploring the characters further and deeper, and learning secrets that you didn’t know, and were not in the movie. It’s not just me taking the screenplay and then breaking it down in a novelistic form. I retold the story as a novel. So it’s not like, ‘Oh, okay, well he obviously had a few scenes left over, so he just took the screenplay and novelized it and threw in a few extra scenes.’ It was a complete rethinking of the entire story and not just a rethinking as far as throwing some scenes that were left out of the editing room. But I did so much research.”

Tarantino had been developing the idea of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for some time, sketching out the story and the characters over the course of five years. This is what went into the novelization, things that never made it into the movie, but the “edification” that helped him “understand the characters.” Tarantino said, “It made me learn things about them.”

The director further explained, “If the book existed first, then the movie would be me making a movie out of that material. You know how you take an unwieldy novel and try to turn it into a movie? Well, to me, the movie is that. This is the unwieldy version of the movie.”

In this unwieldy version is a more fleshed out version of Cliff Booth’s backstory. In the film, Cliff is kind of a mystery, the best bud of DiCaprio’s fading star Rick Dalton, but also a man who may or may not have killed his wife. Tarantino said that the book will go deeper into Cliff’s past:

“In the movie, Cliff is a real enigma, you’re kind of like, what’s this guy’s deal? And one of the things in the book is, there’s these isolated chapters that tell you, like, this whole chapter will be about Cliff’s past. It goes back in time to tell you about Cliff at this point in time. And then you go further on with the normal run of the story and there’s another chapter that goes back in time and tells you about Cliff’s past. And every isolated chapter that’s just about Cliff’s past is like a weird little pulp novel unto itself starring Cliff.”

The enigma was part of the appeal of the character, but hopefully Tarantino’s backstory for Cliff Booth will maintain that aura of ambiguity that made Pitt such a scene-stealer.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel is due to hit shelves on June 29, 2021. It will first be rolled out as a Harper Perennial mass market paperback, alongside e-book and digital audio editions. A deluxe hardcover edition will follow in the fall.

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