The Tribeca Film Festival hosted the 25th anniversary screening of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ this Friday, April 28th, at the Beacon Theater.
After the film, the main cast—Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde), and Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink)—joined writer-director Tarantino on stage to discuss his debut feature. And sensitive readers be warned; fucks were passed around like the church collection plate. Spoilers ahead.
The panel kicked off by talking about the first screening of ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ which did not run smoothly. Apparently, the theater was missing the proper projector lens for the film, the lights came up early, and the power went out at the height of the film’s climactic standoff.
“It was a fucking disaster,” said Tarantino.
“I was at that first screening,” Buscemi said to Tarantino. “I was there the whole time. And you didn’t want me to go to the first screening. He said it would be bad luck.”
“It’s your fault!” Tarantino shouted.
The film received an early boon when Tarantino, who had been working at a video store, landed Harvey Keitel as co-producer.
“Harvey was my favorite actor,” Tarantino said. “I used to see everything Harvey would do in the theaters like, twice or three times or whatever—and that was the bad ones. Our dream was to get Harvey as Mr. White.… The next thing we know, Harvey is leaving a message on Lawrence’s answering machine saying, ‘I’ve read the script—I love it. I want to be in it. I would even like to help your produce it to get it going. Give me a call back.’ And we just—I think we danced around. It was an amazing experience, and that was the beginning of the beginning.”
Keitel still remembers meeting Tarantino: “He came knocking at my door—it was the first meeting—and I opened the door, and he goes, ‘Mr. Keetle?’ I said, ‘Keitel, come in.’ He still can’t say my last name.”
It was indeed at Keitel’s request that the cash-strapped filmmakers flew from Los Angeles to New York for a weekend to give East Coast actors a chance to be cast.
“That’s where we got Steve,” Tarantino said.
“I enjoy reminding Steve Buscemi that he owes me his career,”said Keitel.
“He owes me twenty-five bucks,” Tim Roth said.
Roth, who plays the film’s closest thing to a hero, described the role as “a complete shift” in his life, and recalled first reading the script.
“I was fuckin’ sitting in a flat, a horrible pink flat. I mean there’s nothing wrong with pink,” he turned to Buscemi, laughing. “I had just done ‘Tales From the Crypt’…so I’m riding a high. There’re these scripts coming in a little bit—I mean I was quite trendy—and then this thing arrives, this fucking script, and it’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’…and there’s this little pencil note on the front of it saying, ‘Look at Blonde and Pink.’ I don’t think even Orange was on it. And of course I didn’t know what that meant. Then I read it, and I reached for the phone about twenty pages in [thinking], gotta do this, you’ve gotta do this. I plowed on though and then the liar emerged—the bad guy, the—the good guy.”
“The rat,” Michael Madsen said, and the Beacon Theater erupted in applause.
“Michael has always thought that Tim is the bad guy,” Tarantino said. “Absolutely positively, Tim is the bad guy as far as Michael is concerned.”
Perhaps the most memorable scene in ‘Reservoir Dogs’ is when Mr. Blonde tortures a policeman and dances around to “Stuck in the Middle with You.” According to Madsen, this Mr. Blonde dance has been following him around forever.
Madsen recalled traveling to Michigan for the opening of a theater named in his honor, and said, “They sent me a memo of what I was suppose to do, and it said, ‘First we’ll announce the naming of the theater, and then Michael Madsen will come out doing the Mr. Blonde dance.’ And I was like, “oh my God, there’s no way I’m going to do that!’ I started imagining myself at like eighty years old, someone asking me to do the Mr. Blonde dance.”
“You never made me do it in rehearsal,” he said to Tarantino. “I was so intimidated by it, I didn’t know what to do. In the script it said, ‘Mr. Blonde maniacally dances around.’ I remember specifically that’s what it said. And I kept thinking, what the fuck does that mean?”
“We never actually did the dance to the song until the day we shot it,” Tarantino said. “[Madsen] breaking into the dance was the first take. I think I have a couple other cuts after that, but him breaking into the dance was the first take.”
“I didn’t know what the hell to do,” Madsen said. “I heard that music and I said, ‘Oh fuck, I better do something.’ I started thinking about Jimmy Cagney. I remembered this weird little thing that Jimmy Cagney did—I don’t remember the name of it but he did this crazy little dance thing, and it just popped into my head at the last second. That’s where it came from.”
Apparently, Madsen didn’t even do the scene during the final callback for Mr. Blonde despite Tarantino specifically requesting it from the actors, opting instead to work further on a scene he’d already auditioned.
“I couldn’t believe the balls of this fucking guy,” Tarantino said. “He’s just gonna fucking ignore what I fucking said? Like, seventeen fucking guys did exactly what I asked them to do. Oh but not you. Oh, we’re gonna do it this way instead. So I’m like, you know, very folded-arms. But he was amazing. He took it to a deeper, more solid, more lived in place that was fantastic. It wasn’t an audition scene–it was camera ready. There’s a lesson to be learned there: More than likely, you should follow what the director says; however, if you’re gonna fuck around and do some things, you do have control in that room and you can dictate shit—If. You’re. That. Good. If you do the work.”
Toward the end of the panel, Tarantino delivered the most touching story of the night. After driving along Sunset Boulevard from his mom’s in Glendale, Tarantino arrived at Harvey’s house in Malibu for a cast dinner to celebrate finishing rehearsal.
“We’re having a great time,” he said, “and I realized that a lot of the pressure was off my shoulders cinematically. I mean, these guys were so perfect in their parts, they were vibing with each other, they so understood the material—by rehearsing two weeks they knew the material—and I was like, ‘Fuck, if I keep this movie in focus, I’ve got a movie. Anything else I bring to it will just be frosting. The cake is here—it’s these guys.’ And I got that. I watched it at dinner that night. It was just a really nice thing for Harvey to do. But I remember that night getting in my car and just taking that drive all the way from Malibu to Glendale just on Sunset, everything on Sunset—all the little winding roads—and that was the happiest time of my life.
The loudest cheers of the night from hundreds of fans thundered through the Beacon Theater, rendering anything else that Tarantino may have said unintelligible.