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Jackie Brown: 10 Interesting Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Quentin Tarantino Movie

Pam Grier walking in an airport in Jackie Brown
(Image credit: Miramax)

Since coming onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs in 1992, Quentin Tarantino has given the world some of the best movies to grace the silver screen, including the 1997 crime film Jackie Brown. This adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch doesn’t necessarily get talked about as much as Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill in casual conversation, but its sprawling story about a flight attendant getting stuck between a rock and a hard place is a remarkable addition to Tarantino’s filmography. In partnership with Plex, where Jackie Brown is now streaming for free, we thought now would be the perfect time to see how it all went down from adapting the novel to putting it on film…

Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson sitting on a couch in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

Quentin Tarantino Found It Difficult To Adapt Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch Into Jackie Brown

Elmore Leonard, who passed away in 2013, will forever be known as one of the greatest authors of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with many of his books being adapted into films and TV shows (Get Shorty, Justified) over the years. With so many fully realized characters, memorable situations, and all around great writing, you would think that adapting Rum Punch into Jackie Brown would have been a fairly painless process for Quentin Tarantino, but that was not the case. 

When speaking with The Guardian in 1998, Quentin Tarantino said that although Elmore Leonard had been one of his favorite writers since childhood and that he always wanted to adapt one of his novels, doing so was an “interesting challenge.” One of the problems Tarantino experienced during the year-long process of adapting the novel was figuring out what to cut out. Some of those sections had important information within them so he had to find a way to “organically” insert those ideas into other parts of the script.

Pam Grier talking to a woman in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

Pam Grier Initially Thought Quentin Tarantino Wanted Her For A Different Character Than Jackie Brown

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch have the same basic premise, but the filmmaker made some major changes while adapting the story with the most notable being the name of the movie and changing the central character from a white stewardess named Jackie Burke to a black woman named Jackie Brown. When Tarantino sent Pam Grier (who previously read for a spot in Pulp Fiction) a copy of the script, she misread the note attached and assumed he wanted her to read for the smaller role of Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda), as she told Variety. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later when Grier called Tarantino did she find out he wanted her for the titular role of Jackie Brown.

Pam Grier holding a cigarette in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

Quentin Tarantino’s Office Was Decked Out In Pam Grier Posters When The Actress Came In For A Meeting

When Pam Grier went to meet Quentin Tarantino about starring in Jackie Brown, she was surprised to see various movie posters from her blaxploitation movies like Coffy and Foxy Brown all over the walls. In the Jackie Brown: How It Went Down documentary, the legendary actress revealed she initially thought Tarantino had put up the posters because she was coming over:

And I said, ‘Did you put these up because I was coming over?’ And he said, ‘No, I was going to take them down because you were coming over.’

At that point it was clear that this was an actor-director pairing that was meant to be.

Robert Forster standing in a mall in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

Quentin Tarantino Considered Paul Newman And Gene Hackman Before Casting Robert Forster For The Max Cherry Role

The late Robert Forster was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of bail bondsman Max Cherry, but a few other legendary Hollywood actors were considered for the role before Quentin Tarantino decided to go with the versatile actor. During an interview with The Playlist, Tarantino revealed that he had four choices for the role: Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, John Saxon, and Robert Forster. But after watching the 1980 satirical monster movie Alligator (which starred Forster) Tarantino immediately knew he had found his Max Cherry. Not long after, Tarantino bumped into Forster at a restaurant and decided that he should go ahead and give him the job.

Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro sitting in a car in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

Before Quentin Tarantino Built Up The Courage To Give Robert De Niro A Copy Of The Script Someone Beat Him To It

When Quentin Tarantino was working on the Jackie Brown script, he had Robert De Niro in mind to take on the role of Louis Gara, Ordell Robbie’s (Samuel L. Jackson) former cellmate, but he wasn’t sure the Academy Award-winning actor would respond to the character. In the Jackie Brown: How It Went Down documentary, Tarantino revealed that before he could build up the courage to approach De Niro and see if he would be interested in accepting the part, he found out the actor already had a copy of the script. As it turns out, Harvey Weinstein had given De Niro the script, and the rest is history.

Michael Keaton sitting on a chair in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

Michael Keaton Spent An Entire Meeting Trying To Convince Quentin Tarantino He Wasn’t Right For Agent Ray Nicolette

Michael Keaton gives one of the best performances of his career with the portrayal of ATF Agent Ray Nicolette in Jackie Brown, but the Batman actor tried and tried again to convince director Quentin Tarantino that he was not the right guy for the job. In the Jackie Brown: How It Went Down documentary, Tarantino recalled a meeting in which Keaton kept saying he wasn’t right for the role and that he should look elsewhere. Luckily for Keaton, Tarantino, and everyone who has watched the movie (and Out of Sight in which he reprises the character), the director was able to convince the actor to join the star-studded cast.

Samuel L. Jackson looking around a corner in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

Samuel L. Jackson Had To Read Two Elmore Leonard Novels To Prepare For The Role Of Ordell Robbie

Samuel L. Jackson is no stranger to playing badass mothers in Quentin Tarantino movies, but Ordell Robbie, the cutthroat gun runner in Jackie Brown is in a league of his own in terms of having irredeemable qualities. During an appearance on Charlie Rose around the time of the film’s release, Jackson explained that in order to really get to know the character he had to read two of Elmore Leonard’s novels that featured the character — Switch and Rum Punch — and pull off his charming and conniving personality. 

Once Samuel L. Jackson understood the character and his motivations he was able to really make it his own. In Jackie Brown: How It Went Down, Quentin Tarantino revealed that the long hair, goatee, and general demeanor of the character all came from Jackson’s interpretation of Ordell Robbie.

Pam Grier sitting in a dressing room in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

The $550,000 That Jackie Brown Smuggles In Her Bag Was Real Money

The central plot of Jackie Brown focuses on a bag of cash in the amount of $550,000 that the titular character smuggled into the United States for Ordell Robbie. Movie-making logic would tell you that a massive stack of U.S. currency would have been prop money, but that wouldn’t do for Quentin Tarantino whose movies don’t skimp on the finer details. In Jackie Brown: How It Went Down, props master Steve Joyner showed the documentary crew the real-life money (all $550,000 of it) that was then placed in the bag belonging to Pam Grier’s character. 

Pam Grier holding a gun in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

Pam Grier Accidentally Felt Up Samuel L. Jackson While Filming Jackie Brown

One thing that audiences might not think about whenever they’re watching a movie is the fact that studios and production companies take out insurance policies on their films. And while this is mostly used as a safety measure in the event something bad happens on set, it can sometimes lead to some fairly humorous and embarrassing moments. During a 2018 appearance on PeopleTV’s Couchsurfing video series, Pam Grier talked about the time she accidentally “felt up” Samuel L. Jackson when the two were rehearsing the scene in which she turns the gun on him:

See that gun? Well, they wouldn’t give me the gun while we were rehearsing, they only gave it to me when we did the scene. … I had to use my hand to stick between his legs during rehearsal.

When she was using her hand in place of the gun, Pam Grier accidentally touched him down there and quickly (and awkwardly) apologized for the situation after Samuel L. Jackson said “Oh” upon being “felt up.”

Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown

(Image credit: Miramax)

There Was A ‘Skirt Day’ On The Set Of Jackie Brown And All Male Members Of The Crew Wore Dresses

We will end things off with a little story that doesn’t have that much to do with Jackie Brown but instead touches on happy-go-lucky nature on its set. In Jackie Brown: How It Went Down, several crew members (and even Quentin Tarantino) go into great detail about “Skirt Day,” in which all the male members of the film crew wore skirts, dresses, and in the case of Tarantino, kilts. There is even footage of a seemingly confused Samuel L. Jackson approaching a group of crew members sitting on the set all wearing sundresses as they wait to start the next scene.

After reading all of these behind-the-scenes facts, now is a great time to go back and watch Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 crime classic all over again. And with Jackie Brown streaming for free on Plex, it’s never been easier. After doing that, check our list of 2021 new movie releases to see what’s coming to a theater or streaming service near you

Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.