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Warning: SPOILERS for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ahead!
At the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is a down on his luck actor, no longer sure he has a place in a changing industry. But the film is ultimately a fairy tale, and Rick gets something of a fairy tale ending. Things begin to look up for the actor after he barbecues a Manson Family member with his flamethrower and goes next door to hang out with Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate.
Many fans were left wondering what happened next for Rick Dalton, and to the surprise of no one, Quentin Tarantino has a pretty good idea. The director revealed what happened to Rick Dalton after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s fiery ending, saying:
The whole incident with the flamethrower and the hippies got a lot of play. No one quite knows what a big deal that was, but it was still a big deal. And it’s a big deal that he killed ‘em with the flamethrower, with the prop from one of his most popular movies. So he starts becoming in demand again. I mean, not in demand like Michael Sarrazin at that time was in demand, but he’s got some publicity and now all of a sudden The 14 Fists of McCluskey is playing more on Channel 5 during Combat Week and stuff. And so he gets offered a couple of features — low-budget ones, but studio ones.
Like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Quentin Tarantino has a whole history in mind for his version of 1969 Hollywood and the career of one Rick Dalton. The director has gotten super into imagining what’s next, and as he tells The Wrap, things improved for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character after he, you know, burned a cultist and would-be murderer alive in his pool with a flamethrower.
Rick Dalton’s heroics, befitting one of his TV characters, naturally got a lot of play in the media. All press is good press, but this was really good press. The 14 Fists of McCluskey, the film where Rick Dalton got the working flamethrower prop from, was back in rotation on TV, and there was much greater awareness around the actor and his work.
The incident was a big deal for Rick Dalton’s career. Suddenly he was back in the spotlight and, accordingly, back in demand. While he didn't become the biggest movie star in the world, he didn’t have to leave the country to go shoot Spaghetti Westerns either. Rick Dalton got offered a couple of features, and although they weren’t the biggest films, they were studio films.
Quentin Tarantino goes on to say that Rick Dalton does better in the TV realm as well post-flamethrower. He gets prominent work as a guest star on bigger TV shows and he earns better money that comes with that status.
This is all a much more elaborate and positive outcome for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character than Quentin Tarantino’s previous musings on the subject. The director previously speculated that Rick would have a little more success, winding up back on TV in the '70s and '80s as something like a police captain.
So all in all, the flamethrower changed everything, not just for Sadie’s skin texture and existential status, but also for Rick Dalton’s career. Rick Dalton ultimately did okay, getting his comeback and a happy ending. Quentin Tarantino's such a softie.
This just goes to show how much the filmmaker loves and thinks about his characters. It’s one thing to craft an elaborate and fleshed out backstory for a character heading into the film, but another entirely to have the whole trajectory of their life after the film’s runtime mapped out in your head.
We saw that level of care with the creation of the characters and the world in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, so I guess it should come as no surprise. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will compete for 10 Oscars at the Academy Awards ceremony on February 9, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Rick Dalton.
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