Quentin Tarantino Recalls Pushing Back Against Johnny Depp Being Cast For Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean
(Image credit: Miramax/Disney)

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction has one of the most incredible casts in movie history. It contained several established stars, revitalized the career of some, and it also made a few new stars to boot. Tarantino had no idea at the time who might star in his film, and he put together a significant wish list of possibilities for every major role. And while the director didn’t know who might say yes, he knew who he wanted to ask first, which led to him pushing back at a studio executive who wanted to cast Johnny Depp.

In a recent appearance on YMH, Quentin Tarantino talked about the casting process of Pulp Fiction and the list he put together. For the role of Pumpkin, Tarantino wanted to cast his former Reservoir Dogs star Tim Roth, but he says the studio executives wanted to offer the role to another name, Johnny Depp, first. This led to the director asking a very simple question…

‘Do you think Johnny Depp playing the role of Pumpkin in this movie, which is the opening scene and the closing scene that’s it, do you think that will add that much to the box office?’

The executive in question, Mike Medavoy, apparently admitted that getting Depp in such a small role would add nothing to the box office, but said “it would make me feel better though.” Tarantino sees the whole thing from a pragmatic perspective now. He says he understands why decisions like this are made, as it essentially allows the exec to cover their ass. If Pulp Fiction had been a flop, the executive gets to say they did all they could by getting big names in the roles.

Tarantino wanted to offer the role of Pumpkin to Tim Roth first, and only move on from there if Roth could not do it. Interestingly, Tarantino says he wanted to offer the role to Christian Slater if Roth couldn’t do it, and only go to Johnny Depp if Slater said no. This does contradict a version of the Pulp Fiction casting wish list we’ve already seen, which makes Depp choice number two, but does include Slater, who appeared in the Tarantino penned True Romance

The director explained that he put together the massive list because he wanted to have the freedom to cast the best available choices for the various roles. Since Pulp Fiction was his first big studio movie, he wanted to get the studio’s approval on the entire list first, so he could then go out and figure out who he wanted, knowing the studio would ultimately approve. He explained… 

I didn’t know exactly who I wanted to play this part or that part, so I wrote a giant list with a ton of names. I wanted to get them all pre-approved sure and I didn’t know if it’s gonna work out, if I would like vibe with the person or if they would even do a good job but I wanted to get them approved.

In the end, the writer and director got what he wanted. Pulp Fiction was a massive hit, making his own career, and getting Tarantino his first Oscar to boot. 

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.