REVIEW: Damian Lewis is Steve McQueen in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

STOP. Do not read any further unless you can handle spoilers.

The day has finally come – the day when Damian Lewis plays Steve McQueen on the big screen. It’s July 26, 2019 and I’m planning my early escape from work to see an 11:00 a.m. showing of Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. I purchased my $8.72 matinee ticket online on July 17 around 4:00 p.m. and it has been burning the proverbial hole in my pocket ever since. 

Fiddlesticks. I do not escape the office at the exact moment I had planned because my pesky co-workers, whom I adore, have thwarted my early getaway by chatting me up like it’s Monday instead of Friday. For the entire conversation I do not compute what they are saying to me. It’s like Charlie Brown’s muffled teacher and all I can hear is that little voice in my head saying, “You’re going to have to speed to get there on time.” On the drive to the theater (going 68 mph in a 65 because I’m a chickenshit) I go over the plan of action rolling around in my head like a 35mm black and white film countdown on loop:

  1. Park
  2. Check-in
  3. Pee
  4. Popcorn

Anndddd loop…

I’ve arrived at my destination. I hastily park and immediately abandon the plan of action, inserting a step between park and check-in. Ahhh, the marquee. MUST GET PHOTO. A little foreshadowing here…Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) does a similar bit in the movie.

While you can show the usher your QR barcode and scan from your phone for entry, I want some memorabilia. I check-in at the front desk and request a hardcopy ticket, hoping and wishing it will look like the Hollywood premiere night tickets…

But I know better and settle for this remittance stub instead…

On to step three, restroom break. I know you hear me ladies when I say your weakened bladder from childbirth and/or age knows when you’ve stepped into a new place, be it a store, event, or theater and it demands to mark that territory immediately. I listen and obey since it’s a three-hour movie if you count the previews and I’ll be damned if I’m going to risk missing Damian’s scene because of a tinkle tragedy.

I grab some popcorn and settle in for the previews. Like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, I have “a spot” I favor in theaters – second to the last row, middle of the row. I prefer to see the screen in it’s entirety while facing forward so I do not have to move my head from left-to-right like I’m watching a tennis match.

Blimey. My plan of action is shot to hell. I realize as I’m settling into the recliner that I have forgotten to prep my phone. It is very important my phone is prepped – you’ll figure out why later 😉

I quickly set the popcorn in the empty seat to my right, reach for my phone in my bag, both mute the volume and silence it (two separate settings on the iPhone….why????), fumble quickly through the settings to disable ‘lock screen’ when not in use and decrease the screen brightness, then ready my phone in the empty cup holder to my left like Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) slides a 6-shooter in his leather holster or Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) slides a can of beer in his tool belt.

I’m ready. I have survived the additions to my original plan of action just in time for the theater lights to dim. However, a few kernels of popcorn did not survive.

Can I just say the previews seem to be one-degree of separation from Damian? Sure, us super fans see things and relate them to Damian in a way that no other person does, but still.

Tom Hanks will play Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and I think to myself, “Tom Hanks. Band of Brothers. Damian.” Playing opposite Hanks is Matthew Rhys and I think to myself, “Rhys, Wales, Damian.” Followed by, “Rhys, The Americans, Noah Emmerich, Billions, Damian.” Either way, I’ll be seeing that movie this November!

Then a preview for Knives Out begins with captions like ‘whodunnit?’ and ‘murder mystery.’ I think to myself, “Whodunnit play. Damian.” Playing the character Joni in the movie is none other than Toni Collette and I think to myself, “Collette. Dream Horse. Damian.” Playing another character in the film is Daniel Craig. I think to myself, “Daniel Craig. Bond. James Bond. Damian.”

Next up is a preview of The Kitchen about 1978 Hell’s Kitchen housewives and I think to myself, “Hell’s Kitchen. New York. Billions. Damian.” I mean, Damian does live in New York about 5-6 months of the year, right!?!?! Also, don’t forget Damian’s character Axe on Billions is stored in Krakow’s (Danny Strong) phone under contact name “Bullitt,” which is a Steve McQueen movie. “Steve McQueen. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. Damian.” See? Can’t help it. Too bad Danny Strong’s part in OUATIH ended up on the cutting room floor.

Enough of the previews. Here we go! Fasten your seatbelts, the movie has begun and it begins with opening credits. I fumble for my phone and snap a picture of Damian’s orange name on the screen, which is superimposed on Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as they drive from the airport to their home located at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon.

Other true life former residents of this homestead include Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Doris Day’s son Terry Melcher with Candice Bergen, in which Charles Manson visited the house during their occupancy, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. Throughout the movie Sharon Tate (Robbie) plays Paul Revere & the Raiders vinyl records in the home.

It’s February 8, 1969 as Polanski and Tate head out to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion party where, unbeknownst to us the audience, Steve McQueen and Jay Sebring await their arrival.

I recognize the large gated driveway that sweeps through a petite redwood grove before it circles up around a huge water fountain at the front of the mansion. The camera pan during the drive is brilliant in that Tarantino makes you feel like you’re in the backseat.

This is it. I know Damian’s scene is at the Playboy Mansion from social media – clue number one – and yet I am still surprised how quickly his scene is before my eyes, about 49 minutes in. I hurl my popcorn to the empty seat to my right, grab my phone and watch through my camera. I scan the partygoers for Damian and hone in on the back of this tall, slender-framed man in white jeans who is standing off in the distance with two others next to that famous circle drive. I’d recognize Damian anywhere in a crowd.

McQueen is flanked by Michelle Phillips and Jay Sebring. A black crew neck pullover under a black leather jacket complements McQueen’s white jeans. Polanski and Tate’s car approach the three, Tate bounces from the car over to McQueen, his arms open wide as he says:

“Heyyyyy, how you doin’ baby?”

They hug, he picks her up and twirls her around in the air.

Tate replies,

“Hey, [giggles] how are you?”

After McQueen greets Sharon, she happy-hops over to the dance area as he lights up a marijuana cigarette and watches her dance carefree from afar.

Damian as McQueen, far right corner, kneeling and watching

McQueen and a female partygoer (Dreama Walker as Connie Stevens) continue to people watch together as he points and explains to her the sordid Hollywood relationships that are all within three feet distance from one another. Gossipy McQueen indeed.

“I’m gonna tell you a story. She is engaged to him. Then she flewwwwwww to the U.K. to make a film with him, and broke off her engagement with him. And married him. Then they moved to Los Angeles and the three of them have been inseparable.”

The “three” that McQueen refers to are Jay Sebring (McQueen’s hairstylist), Roman Polanski, and Sharon Tate pictured here back in 1968.

Dismayed she asks,

“Really? What’s up?”

McQueen replies,

“Jay loves Sharon. That’s what’s up.”

McQueen passes her the joint, she takes a puff…

McQueen continues,

“And he knows – as sure as God made little green apples – that one of these days that Polish prick’s gonna fuck things up and when he does…Jay’s gonna be there.”

The female partygoer states,

“Well one thing’s for sure….”

McQueen asks,

“Yea? What’s that?”

She answers,

“Sharon absolutely has a type. Cute. Short. Talented guys who look like 12-year-old boys.”

McQueen quips back,

“Yeah, I never stood a chance.”

To watch the beginning scene where McQueen and Tate hug, view here:

To watch the rest of the McQueen scene in its entirety, view here:

Or here:

The real McQueen, Tate, and Polanski in 1968

I’m having a freak out moment in the movie theater. I’m not sure if McQueen’s little green apples reference is a nod to O.C. Smith’s Little Green Apples but OMG I have this song on my playlist – it’s one of my favorites! I couldn’t believe it was coming out of Damian’s mouth! Also, green apples, Charlie Crews, Life, Damian, whhhhhaaaaaaa????

And just as quick as Damian’s McQueen is on the screen to lament about Tate, he’s gone. But his presence lingers.

At one point later in the film Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) mentions he was on the shortlist to play the breakout Steve McQueen role in the 1963 classic The Great Escape, then the film cuts to an imaginary version of what it would have been like to watch Dalton in the movie instead of McQueen. Then Dalton says he never stood a chance. The symmetry is ironic in that big movie star McQueen never stood a chance with THE girl and Dalton never stood a chance on THE big screen. It is this interlude that serves to connect McQueen and Dalton.

Time and place. This film, from start to finish, never lets you forget the bygone era of cutoff, frayed jean shorts, cigarettes, Carnation milk, Good Humor ice cream, Pan Am airlines, flower fabric suitcases, STP logo stickers, tv trays, hippies, acid, California Dreamin’ and Hollywood. Just like New York plays a big role in Billions, Hollywood is the largest character for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. It oozed nostalgia.

From the cameos of Ovaltine and Tang to the music, I was time-warped to a place in time. But nothing could prepare me for the wormhole of traveling instantaneously from 2019 to 1968 like seeing that old Taco Bell facade. I may not have been around in the 60’s, but I was in the 70’s and that’s exactly the way I remember Taco Bell – with it’s colorful block letters, clay-tile roof, stucco building with several arches, a metal bell displayed in an open cavity at the top, and that combination sombrero-bell sign.

Tarantino shows you the world of the movie industry through the eyes of the stars. He also weaved threads of commonality from his other films into OUATIH. His love of bare feet.

Sharon (Robbie) rests her feet on the back of a movie theater seat, dirty feet at that.

There are shots of her barefoot most of the time while inside her and Polanski’s home. Booth (Pitt) picks up a Manson girl hitchhiker who presses her bare feet against his windshield for the majority of the car ride, and yes, dirty feet.

The camera seems to focus on Dalton’s (DiCaprio) feet while he’s fully clothed and floating in a lounge chair in his pool.

All the hippy flower children at George Spahn’s Movie Ranch are running around barefoot in the dirt, at one point focusing on Squeaky Fromme’s (Dakota Fanning) feet in a recliner.

All these feet reminded me so much of Pulp Fiction – when Vincent Vega asks Mia if her husband Marcellus threw a man out of a window for giving her a foot massage and also when Vincent and Mia slip off their shoes, Mia barefoot, as they dance the twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant.

Another familiar Tarantino attribute in OUATIH was the fictional Red Apple cigarette brand. They can also be seen in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Grindhouse’s Planet Terror, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms, and Inglourious Basterds. The Red Apple cigarettes remind me of Inglourious Basterds and my mind connects the following, ‘Inglourious Basterds. Billions. Bobby Axelrod. Damian.’

Bobby Axelrod can’t get enough of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It’s mentioned in Billions season one, episode five when Bobby and Lara have a private moment while laying outside on the grass together after a bow chicka wow wow pool scene and also in season three, episode four here:

And who is responsible for those Inglourious Basterds references in Billions? Showrunner and co-creator Brian Koppelman is a known Tarantino fan:

Koppelman even took the entire Billions Writers Room to see Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood:

Moreover, during a Q&A on Twitter, Damianista had the chance to ask Brian Koppelman if he knew Damian would play Steve McQueen before the rest of the general public did, because the writers listed Axe as “Bullitt” in Krakow’s mobile phone contacts in Billions season three back in 2018. Sure enough, Koppelman responded that yes, he had some indication.

My Favorite Supporting Actors of the Ensemble In Addition To Damian

OUATIH was such a large ensemble cast that it would behoove me to mention other noteworthy performances. In addition to Damian’s McQueen, I greatly enjoyed Bruce Dern’s role as George Spahn. Dern is one of my favorite actors of all time. I’ll admit, I was worried I would crave the late Burt Reynolds as Spahn, but I cannot fathom Spahn being played by anyone other than Dern. He played a perfect senile old man. While the camera spanned Spahn’s trashy home at the Movie Ranch, I am almost certain I recognized a Remington statue similar to that of Axe’s in Billions season two from the Sandicot asset seizure. Wonder if Damian borrowed the prop. 😉

Media outlets seem to be Camp DiCaprio, but I have say this is Brad Pitt’s movie (IMHO). The Oklahoma-born really shines with that typical ‘Brad Pitt’ swag, from his countless Bloody Mary’s and rugged speed racing, to each scene he shares with his dog Brandy, who, in my opinion, stole the show regardless that she prefers raccoon or rat flavored ‘Wolf Tooth’ brand dog food…yanno, the good dog food for mean dogs.

Turns out my hunch was right in the eyes of the National Board of Review, as they awarded Brad Pitt for Best Supporting Actor 2019 for his OUATIH performance. More over, Brad is nominated for a Golden Globe 2020 for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture. And that’s not all. Brad is also nominated for a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role. UPDATE: Brad won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Oscar), the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor-Motion Picture, the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actor, and the AACTA International Award for Best Supporting Actor. CALLED IT!

So there you have it. One scene for Damian as Steve McQueen at the Playboy Mansion. Now it makes perfect sense why Damian gave an interview to Playboy Magazine about playing McQueen for Quentin Tarantino back in April of this year – clue number two. Full circle! As Charlie Crews would preach, “Everything is connected!”

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will say Tarantino shows his love of Sharon Tate by flipping the Manson Murders on it’s head. It’s a fairytale ending for a fairytale story that begins with Once Upon a Time…

Oh, and stay after the credits for an extra DiCaprio scene.

Want to know what the critics are saying? Click here for a collection of reviews. Click here to see Damian and Helen attend the UK Premiere of OUATIH. Click here to watch Damian’s red carpet interview about playing Steve McQueen.


1.   Treat Her Right – Roy Head & The Traits
2.   Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – The Bob Seger System
3.   Hush – Deep Purple
4.   Hector – The Village Callers
5.   Son of a Lovin’ Man – Buchanan Brothers
6.   Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course – Chad & Jeremy
7.   Good Thing – Paul Revere & The Raiders
8.   Hungry – Paul Revere & the Raiders
9.   Choo Choo Train – The Box Tops
10. Jenny Take a Ride – Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
11. Kentucky Woman – Deep Purple
12. The Circle Game – Buffy Sainte-Marie
13. Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel
14. Bring a Little Lovin’ – Los Bravos
15. Hey Little Girl – Dee Clark
16. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show – Neil Diamond
17. Don’t Chase Me Around – Robert Corff
18. Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon – Paul Revere & the Raiders
19. California Dreamin’ – Jose Feliciano
20. Dinamite Jim – I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni
21. You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) – Vanilla Fudge
22. Miss Lily Langtry – Maurice Jarre
23. Batman theme song

Author: Gingersnap

Management Analyst, part-time Adjunct Professor and Computer Software Consultant by day and Damian Lewis aficionado by night.

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: Damian Lewis is Steve McQueen in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood”

  1. Wonderful post! I can feel your excitement, your enthusiasm and the magic of the movies right in there! And HUGE THANKS for being my eyes while I am thousands of miles away and will only be able to see the movie late August when I am back in the US — I am hoping it will stay at theaters for more than a month!

    Damian looks incredible as Steve McQueen in the screenshots you grabbed at the movies. The tweets I have seen so far more or less confirm that he is next best thing to Steve McQueen himself 😀 I am really hoping there is a biopic in works somewhere and they give Damian a call! And I love the other connections between Dalton and McQueen. The Great Escape is the movie in which I saw SMQ for the first type and it was love at first sight — I guess I have , like Sharon Tate, a type 😀

    LOL LOL LOL I play that “connect anything to Damian” game, too! It sort of feels inevitable, doesn’t it, when you basically spend a virtual hour or two with the man every single day!!!

    I LOVE BRUCE DERN!!! Nebraska is one of my favorite movies – what a fantastic, fantastic actor!!!

    Finally: Among the steps before seeing a movie – pee is the single most important thing!

  2. Great post! Just saw the film today, and you found a lot more to say about Damian’s few seconds on screen than I possibly could have. So wish Steve McQueen could’ve gotten a scene as full and present as Bruce Lee’s was. Damian, of course, did the best with what he got.

    The camera loved Brad Pitt and Leo completely. They looked great and performed great, like the olde tyme-y greats they are destined to be. Loved the juxtaposition of Leo’s acting on the western with Pitt’s walking into a real western on the Manson ranch. And loved the scene where Leo is acting and then not acting while all the while, of course, acting. It was a fun watch. For movie geeks by a movie geek.

    Film inspired me to learn more about the Manson girls. (could’ve done without Lena Dunham in that scene, but whatever) I remember picking up a copy of Helter Skelter (the book) when I was way too young to see such images. Crazy groovy time those late 60’s. Oh, also, do you remember Andie MacDowell (Sex Lies and Videotape among others)? The actress playing hitchhiker girl is her daughter. She was a scene stealer in The Leftovers too and I felt compelled to finally look her up when I saw she was in this. Girl’s got a future! Another one with a future is Maya Hawke, the girl who escaped from the Helter Skelter group, who is, of course, daughter to Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, and looks the spitting image of her mother.

    Overall a fun retro watch! Just saw the New Yorker reviewed the film as “regressive”. Okay, yeah, I can see that. And what was with the little girl? That was a bit on the weird side. Nonetheless would be surprised if this film is not an oscar contender. Hollywood loves films about Hollywood. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I wish he had more than 3 minutes, too. With so many characters, I knew going in some cameos would have much less screen time. I feel the audience will expect the McQueen from the movies instead of what McQueen may have actually been like IRL. The scene of Leo in his trailer losing his shit was pretty much all improv based on an interview I watched. I was aware of Maya Hawke’s parents when casting began and I knew MacDowell (Qualley) was from Leftovers but did not connect Andie was her mother. Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme was my favorite Manson girl.

      IMO this Tarantino film is not less advanced as his others. It’s easy to do gore. This film had the least amount of Tarantino gore when compared to the others. He showed the 60’s exactly as it was back then. Really felt like a love letter to his childhood memories of Hollywood, music, radio, news, advertisements, and the stars of that time – a fairy tale of “what if.”

    2. JaniaJania – just found this from Vulture article about the little girl:

      Trudi Fraser/Mirabella Lancer

      “Johnny gets more than he bargained for when he goes after a horse trader who cheated him and ends up taking care of the trader’s feisty 10-year-old niece.” That’s the IMDb plot description for a 1968 episode of Lancer called “The Heart of Pony Alice,” and it’s the closest thing in the show’s history to the episode we see in OUATIH (featuring Julia Butters as Trudi Fraser as Mirabella Lancer). The feisty 10-year-old in question was played by Eve Plumb, although it’s unclear if she applied Trudi’s rigorous commitment to her craft on the set of The Brady Bunch. Others have suggested that Trudi may be an avatar for a young Jodie Foster, who made guest appearances on shows like Gunsmoke.

  3. In your listings of the songs played during the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood you didn’t mention another Paul Revere & The Raiders song that was played during the scene what the Manson girls watching television. Their sets were tuned to the Paul Revere & The Raiders weekly ABC-TV show “Happenin’ ’69” in which you could hear the theme song from that show being played. And yes, that song was released by the group on 45 and on an album

    1. Thanks Bob! Good catch. I think the official list didn’t have TV adverts and Radio adverts included. I’ll see if I can find a full list that includes all the adverts.

  4. An amazing recap and analysis by out lovely Ginger. I saw this movie and will not argue again you. Mean while our dynamic and lovely host is semi-stranded in Turkey but will catch up later in a few weeks. Be careful in your running there. The guys think this is female display.

    1. Thank you, Walking Man – believe me, your dynamic and lovely host (Thanks so much for the compliment!) is not semi-stranded in Turkey. I was born ands raised here on the Aegean Coast. I am spending time with my mom and extended family and old friends here every summer! The West Coast is very much westernized – there is a huge Greek heritage here – so no worries about running or wearing short shorts or swimming in bikinis or having a girls’ night out 😀 But I appreciate your concern. I am looking forward to seeing OUATIH late August — thanks to Gingersnap I have been able to Damian’s scenes – cheers!

  5. Just got home from a matinée of “Once Upon ……Hollywood “. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Leo and Brad were phenomenal. Damian was good with what he had but has anyone else a problem with that horrible wig?? Steve McQueen never had hair like that. It completely spoiled the illusion.
    I thought the woman he was speaking with was Joey Heatherton. 5 stars! Go see the movie!

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