Damian Lewis in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A First Look

“Quentin’s film is going to blow people away.” – Damian Lewis on Britannia Awards Red Carpet

Well, some dreams come true and we have been living the dream since we got word late April that Damian Lewis would play the iconic Hollywood actor Steve McQueen in Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood!

As our long-time readers know, we have been rooting for Damian to play Steve McQueen for more than three years now. JaniaJania wrote this article about why Damian Lewis should play Steve McQueen when we found out back in 2015 that a Steve McQueen biopic was in works. And she also tweeted a question to be asked to Damian at NY Times Talks in 2016 about whether he would consider playing McQueen. 

“I considered it a lot. But I’m not sure if anybody else has…

…and he’s had a reputation which I think has been revised somewhat… Steve McQueen seems to get cooler with age… because I think he had his demons… But yes Steve McQueen… American icon… And yeah If for no other reason than to just drive nice cars quite quickly and to ride motorbikes.”

You can watch Damian’s answer below and catch a glimpse of yours truly in the audience, too 😀

Well, Damian is in good company because it seems Quentin Tarantino considered it, too! 😀 And while we seriously hope he does have a chance to drive nice cars quite quickly and ride motorbikes in the movie, Damian does not give away much when asked about his part in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood at the Britannia Awards Red Carpet interviews.

While you can see Damian on Ross King LIVE on the Britannia Awards Red Carpet at 00:52 below talking about playing Steve McQueen, I am transcribing the relevant parts for our non-English speaking readers who prefer written English to spoken English.

“Yes, I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve done it. Done it with Quentin. We had too much fun, it was really really great fun… A lot of fun stuff with Leo…”

King jumps in here to ask whether there has been any competition between Leonardo de Caprio and Brad Pitt on set:

“Yeah, Leo, Brad, Damo… No. It was… Just working with Quentin was fantastic. He’s old school, he’s old school, he’s furious that movies don’t get made in LA anymore, ‘I’m going to make my movie in LA’ and he dresses up, and there is enormous generosity, and cocktails come out after every hundred reels completed, when they have every hundred reels of film shot, cocktails come out… There is a real sense of occasion and he clearly loves being on set. But it’s infectious. Everybody loves being there. It’s really really… But don’t bring your mobile phone.”

Damian is asked about how it feels to play Steve McQueen in the Red Carpet interview with Variety. You can watch his response below and the transcription of the relevant parts follows.

“It’s scary… because it’s a little bit like saying ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll play Elvis.’ You know, people have views, people have views about that. But I…hopefully we’ve had a good stab at it.”

How did he prepare for the role?

“Same way I prepare for everything. Endless material, video material, film material, literature, dialect coaching, physicalizing him, getting into his body and then….

What about wearing a pair of Ray-Bans in the film?

“And a pair of Ray…there was a pair…maybe, maybe. I’m not going to give anything away at this point.”

And, believe me, it is not only Damian that does not give anything away about the movie at this point. While we have been able to see and report on damian-lewis.com about the wonderful set on which Quentin Tarantino has created the Los Angeles of the late 1960s, information about the movie has pretty much been kept on lock.

So here is what we know about Once  Upon A Time in Hollywood, and what we think Damian’s role could be about in the movie.

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood uses Manson Family murders in the summer of 1969 in Los Angeles as a backdrop to tell a largely fictional story. The title, Tarantino being a student of Spaghetti Westerns, looks like a tribute to Sergio Leone who is credited as the inventor of the genre and his films Once Upon a Time in America and Once Upon a Time in the West. And the cast is a Who’s Who in Hollywood with Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie in the lead roles.

Tarantino describes Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to The Hollywood Reporter:

“…a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), former star of a Western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor … Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).”

“I’ve been working on this script for five years, as well as living in Los Angeles County most of my life, including in 1969, when I was seven years old. I’m very excited to tell this story of an LA and a Hollywood that don’t exist anymore. And I couldn’t be happier about the dynamic teaming of DiCaprio and Pitt as Rick and Cliff.”

Robert Richardson, the cinematographer who shot every Tarantino movie since Kill Bill describes the movie to Collider as follows:

 “I think the tone of it is – it’s difficult to describe because it’s very fresh, but it oscillates between humorous, serious, spooky; it’s playful. It’s not easily describable, but it’s very Quentin. Very, very, very Quentin.”

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

We know that Damian is one of the many supporting actors in the movie and so do not know how much screen time he will ultimately have; however, from what he shares on the Britannias Red Carpet, we gather that he may have a scene or two with Leonardo DiCaprio.

And from what we know about the relationship Steve McQueen had with Sharon Tate, and Jay Sebring, a hair stylist for celebrities, who was also murdered with Tate in her home that night, we can have an educated guess about what Damian’s role in the movie could be about.

Steve McQueen and Jay Sebring were good friends. Both men had dated Tate; in fact, Tate was engaged to Sebring at some point, before she married director Roman Polanski, and they remained close friends with the actress. Steve McQueen was getting ready on August 9, 1969, a night that would turn out to be one of the most notorious in modern U.S. history, to head for dinner with Sebring at the home of Sharon Tate. And it was his infidelities that led him to blow off the party.

Steve McQueen in London, 1969

McQueen’s first wife Neile Adams shares in an interview with National Post that McQueen “ran into a chickie and decided to go off with her instead.” The 8-months pregnant Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, along with two of their friends, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski, were brutally killed by the followers of Charles Manson that night “Going off with that girl saved his life” says Adams about McQueen. “After that, he became more paranoid and wouldn’t let me go anywhere without a gun.”

Fear obviously spread through Hollywood when the murders were discovered. Many celebrities had been to Tate/Polanski home for parties before and they could have been there that night, or they could still be on the murderer’s list. Three months after Manson Family were picked up for the murders, it turned out that there was a hit-list also known as the ‘Death List’ with Steve McQueen’s name on it alongside other big celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor.

McQueen wrote the following letter to his lawyer, Edward Rubin, asking for his gun permit to be re-instated. And once he had his permit, he carried a loaded Magnum with him everywhere, including Jay Sebring’s funeral.

We obviously have no idea if the Steve McQueen part in the movie would be limited to the events on August 9, 1969; however, The 13th Floor reports that Steve McQueen was apparently a target of the Manson family long before the dinner party at Tate/Polanski house.

“From that moment on, McQueen carried a loaded Magnum with him everywhere he went—including Sebring’s funeral.

Apparently, McQueen was a target of Manson’s long before the party. Allegedly, the Hollywood-obsessed Manson approached McQueen outside his production company, Solar Productions, several months before the murders even happened.

Manson presented McQueen with a movie script he wanted made, and when McQueen denied it, a fight occurred. McQueen allegedly broke Manson’s nose, and his pride. The altercation would place McQueen on Manson’s death list, and the rest is history.”

Well before he was cast as Steve McQueen in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in an interview back in 2002, Damian was asked about playing interior guys like Winters and Soames.

“I guess I’m just good at playing repressed individuals. I’m lucky because those are often the roles that catch people’s eyes. It’s the Steve McQueen element, all that bubbling energy bottled up inside. It’s a very compelling quality on the screen. I’ve been lucky that I seem to be able to pull it off. Of course, the two roles are polar opposites. Winters was a lion-hearted hero, a leader of men. Soames is anything but. Soames is a pathetic man in many ways.”

We cannot wait to see Damian’s version of “King of the Cool” on big screen. And while we have not seen any photos from the set, the picture of McQueen above as well as the one below with Sharon Tate and her husband Roman Polanski, both from 1969, give some hint about what kind of a look we may expect from Damian in the movie.

Steve McQueen with Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski in 1969

And the glimpse we have had of Damian when he arrived in Los Angeles late August sort of confirms it.

The hair seems just right, doesn’t it?

And in case you want to add “a pair of Ray-Bans” then this Esquire photo shoot from 2013 could help! 😀

UPDATE 11/21/2018: In a recent Q&A on Twitter, I had the chance to ask Brian Koppelman about if they knew Damian would play Steve McQueen when they put “Bullitt” as Bobby’s nickname on Krakow’s phone in Billions.

And, that is, folks, even better than knowing!

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is coming to a theatre near you on July 26, 2019. My not-very-secret hope is for Steve McQueen biopic producers to give Damian a call as soon as they see him in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Fingers crossed all the way!

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

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