How Danny DeVito played a pivotal role in the creation of Quentin Tarantino film ‘Pulp Fiction’
Danny DeVito, the actor synonymous with comedic roles and perhaps one of the most universally loved stars of his generation, has a creative CV which is nothing short of prolifically eclectic and wonderfully poignant.
While his roles in television series such as Taxi and, more recently, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have earned him a cult following unlike any other, DeVito’s film credits boast titles such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and L.A. Confidential which would prick the ears of any respected cinephile. It’s a heady mix which has led to a long and beloved career.
While enjoying success as an actor, DeVito teamed up with Michael Shamberg and founded Jersey Films, a production company that would go on to play a crucial role in the creation of some incredible pictures. Perhaps most importantly, it helped Quentin Tarantino’s now-iconic feature film Pulp Fiction get off the ground.
Shortly after creating the company Jersey Films, DeVito had a role to play in a handful of projects before recruiting Stacey Sher, a prolific film producer who became an equal partner in the company—a move which proved a significant moment in the Pulp Fiction history books.
At the 1991 premiere of Terminator 2, Tarantino would meet Sher who would soon become the President of production at DeVito’s company and they began to chat about new ideas. The seeds of one of the greatest films of the modern era were being sown.
Tarantino, the director who had shot himself into the limelight following the release of Reservoir Dogs a year earlier, was introduced to DeVito. “I listened to him for about 10 minutes, thinking, I may be meeting someone who talks faster than Martin Scorsese,” DeVito remembers. “I said, ‘I want to make a deal with you for your next movie, whatever it is,’” and that is exactly what happened when Tarantino pitched his early idea for Pulp Fiction.
“I hadn’t seen Quentin direct or act. I hadn’t even seen Reservoir Dogs when I bought his next project, which wasn’t even written,” DeVito once told The Guardian. Instead for DeVito, he was sold on the character of Tarantino himself, “It was just about him. I liked the way he was talking about it. The guy was just so cool. It seemed simple to me.”
DeVito added, showing off his nose for a great movie: “It was like, when friends of mine said, ‘You’re going to make a movie called what—Erin Brockovich? What the fuck is that? Nobody is going to see that movie!’ I said, ‘It’s the woman’s name, what are you going to do—change it?'”
The actor, who had a first-look deal with production company Columbia TriStar, later explained: “A script arrived at my house, the title page read Pulp Fiction, and I loved it,” about how the development of the project continued.
The problem, however, occurred when former TriStar chairman Mike Medavoy had a conflict of interests. “I had just spent a weekend at the White House, and there was a lot of talk that there was too much violence on the screen, and Hollywood should address it,” Medavoy said in an interview with Vanity Fair.
“So I read the script, which I liked a lot, and there was one scene that is really extremely violent, where they shoot someone in the back of the car and there are pieces of his brain splattered all over. The director and I had a discussion, and I said, ‘That is really over the top, and you’re going to get blowback.’ He said, ‘But it’s funny!’ It turned out he was right. The audience thought it was funny, and it did not get the blowback I thought it would get.”
Tristar passed on the opportunity in fear of a negative reaction to Pulp Fiction. Undeterred by the setbacks, DeVito marched into offices and took the script to major studio houses and, eventually, settled with Miramax Films who took the project to the next level.
Miramax, now owned by Disney, committed to the movie and made Tarantino’s effort the first feature film that they had completely financed alone. The decision, famously, proved out to be a profitable one as Pulp Fiction went on to become the first independent film to gross more than $200 million.
The film’s legacy, of course, would revive the career of John Travolta, propel Tarantino into international stardom, kickstart the careers of Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman and cement DeVito’s Jersey Films as a key player across Hollywood.