Unless you’re a serious film buff, there are probably only a few directors whose names immediately come to mind. Maybe you remember George Lucas and Steven Spielberg from your childhood, or you’re hip enough to know that a bunch of James Cameron’s projects are currently in the works.
Either way, one of the only directors to truly reach household name status in the last few decades is obviously Quentin Tarantino. From slick gangster dramas to gritty historical pieces to classic war films, the man has done it all, and lately proved with Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood that he’s ready and willing to do it again.
Despite his notoriety, there are still a lot of things about Quentin Tarantino that aren’t common knowledge, which is why we’re counting down the following things that you probably didn’t know about him.
20. He dropped out of high school twice
To be a world-renowned director you have to be intelligent, there’s no doubt about that.
However, take a look at any pool of awesome actors, musicians or comedians and it’s obvious that intelligence doesn’t always equal academic success.
This is definitely true of Quentin Tarantino, who dropped out of his regular high school first to enrol in a special school of the dramatic arts, where he learned acting.
Tarantino soon got bored of that too, though, and dropped out in order to pursue directing full time.
In characteristic fashion, Tarantino threw himself into filmmaking and screenwriting without any formal training in either profession.
He later remarked that “trying to make a feature film yourself with no money is the best film school you can do.”
19. He once nearly had his nipple bitten off in a fight with a taxi driver
The characters in Tarantino movies are famous for a lot of things, but the one most people instantly think of is the violence.
No-one can go very long in one of Tarantino’s films without getting at least a black eye or bloody nose, so it might not be all that surprising that the director himself is the same way.
The filmmaker told Jay Leno in 2013, “I have been in two fights this year, already. One that I started, one that I didn’t.”
The director also told Leno of a recent trip to New York with his then-girlfriend:
“I was in the back of this cab and this taxi driver, who was a big guy – he was a real jerk. So I said: ‘Pull over to the side of the road and let me get out.’
“He was such a jerk, I didn’t even want to give him a 50 cent tip. He gave me my change, but then her refers to my date and says: ‘Use it to buy her a new face.'” This was too much for Tarantino, who admits he then attacked the driver.
In a truly weird moment, the driver attempted to bite off Tarantino’s nipple, which Tarantino said he would have gotten away with if he had been “less greedy, and taken a smaller bite.”
18. He only paid a dollar for the Kill Bill score
When you start out in the entertainment industry, you usually have to work on smaller budget movies before working your way up to blockbusters.
However, even making a small indie movie can get super expensive, which is why Tarantino came up with some ingenious ways to cut costs.
On fourth film Kill Bill, Tarantino got his close friend Robert Rodriguez to compose the score for only a dollar.
None of Tarantino’s films before this had used original music, and instead had soundtracks made up entirely of existing songs compiled by the director.
This deal with Rodriguez became a bit of a quid pro quo, as Tarantino had to grant Rodriguez a favour in return for the Kill Bill score.
This came full circle when Tarantino directed a scene in Rodriguez’s 2005 movie Sin City completely for free.
17. He says he’s been to jail three times – but this may not be true
Hearing about bad boy actors in the news is nothing new, but directors flitting in and out of jail is a less common story.
With that said, Tarantino is one director who it seems may have spent time behind bars, even if it’s for not so serious reasons.
The director says he has gone to prison three times, for unpaid parking fines, or unpaid parking tickets, with the longest stint being eight days.
Tarantino has said that those times definitely helped inform his work, but that he was angry that he went to prison for poverty, rather than any serious crime.
The director stated this in interviews in 2015, when promoting The Hateful Eight – but the claims have been questioned.
The New York Post accused Tarantino of lying about having been in jail, stating that the LA County Sheriff’s Department had no record of him having served any time.
16. He almost directed Iron Man
In his own way, Tarantino had a special role to play in setting the stage for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
His own films helped popularise the idea of cinematic universes, once it was established they were all set in the same world.
Indications to this include recurring brand Red Apple cigarettes, mention of True Romance’s Alabama in Reservoir Dogs, and Reservoir Dogs’ Mr Blonde/Vic Vega being the brother of Pulp Fiction’s Vincent Vega.
However, Tarantino might have played an even more significant role in launching the MCU, as he came close to actually directing the first Iron Man movie.
In 1999, reports emerged that New Line Cinema (who owned the rights to the character at the time) were in talks with the filmmaker to write and direct the Marvel Comics adaptation.
However, this did not come to pass, and Iron Man remained in development hell until Robert Downey Jr. took the role in the Jon Favreau-directed film of 2008.
15. He rewrote Django Unchained just so Leonardo DiCaprio could star
Django Unchained is one of Tarantino’s most infamous and also successful movies, winning the filmmaker the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2013.
It also features one of the most fearsome villains in all of his filmography, in Leonard DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie.
However, Candie was originally a rather different character, since the first draft of the script had him as a slave owner in his late 60s.
The change was entirely because DiCaprio read and loved the script, and immediately begged Tarantino for the part.
Once he asked, Tarantino could think of no reason why the villain wouldn’t work as a younger man, so he wrote it in.
This started what would seem to be a lasting working relationship between Tarantino and DiCaprio, as the pair have since re-united on 2019’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
14. He has apologised for not speaking out on Harvey Weinstein
Tarantino is one among a number of key filmmakers of the 90s whose body of work is now perhaps tainted by association with Harvey Weinstein.
The disgraced former boss of Miramax and Weinstein Company executive produced all of Tarantino’s films before the director moved on for 2019’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
Tarantino’s friend and collaborator Uma Thurman and his one-time girlfriend Mira Sorvino are among the many women who have revealed they were assaulted and abused by Weinstein.
Tarantino has since admitted, “I knew enough to do more than I did… I chalked it up to a ’50s-’60s era image of a boss chasing a secretary around the desk. As if that’s OK.”
The #MeToo movement also saw Tarantino come under fire when it emerged that he had persuaded Uma Thurman to perform an unsafe car stunt on Kill Bill which resulted in her being injured.
Tarantino has declared this his “most horrendous mistake,” and Thurman has since spoken in his defence, stressing she has forgiven him.
13. He’s going to retire after his next film
When you’re in a somewhat normal job, the case is usually that your retirement date is set for you, as there’s an age where you probably can’t work the same hours in the same job anymore.
However, when you work in the arts, it’s completely up to you how long you stick at it for.
Most directors keep going for as long as possible, or at least until they don’t believe they have anything more to say – but Tarantino has planned his retirement in advance.
According to Quentin, he will stop directing as soon as his body of work reaches ten films – and he’s currently at nine.
Tarantino has claimed that when he puts filmmaking behind him he will focus solely on writing, including novels and plays.
At present it’s still unknown what his next, presumably final film will be, although he has been linked to a new Star Trek movie, and has long hinted at a third chapter to Kill Bill.
12. He wore pink scrubs while directing his episode of ER
It’s not uncommon for a director to be tough on their actors on set, but some of the best in the profession try to make their cast feel as comfortable as possible instead.
That’s exactly what Tarantino did on the set of ER, when he guest-directed an episode back in 1995. Each day of shooting, Tarantino dressed in the scrubs of every different kind of role represented in the hospital.
This ranged from the pink of the nurses to the blues and greens of the doctors and surgeons.
Tarantino surprised many by directing an episode of the hit TV show, as this was his next job after winning the Best Screenplay Oscar for Pulp Fiction.
ER isn’t the only TV show on which Tarantino has served as guest director; he also directed a two-parter of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in 2005.
Tarantino also worked on the TV series Alias as an actor, taking the small recurring role of villain McKenas Cole.
11. His 1987 debut film is now lost
1992’s Reservoir Dogs is generally regarded to be Quentin Tarantino’s first film – but this is not entirely accurate.
Tarantino actually made his directorial debut in 1987 with an ultra-low budget independent production called My Best Friend’s Birthday.
As well as directing, Tarantino played the lead role and co-wrote the film with his friend Craig Harman.
A broad comedy with a similar plot to Tarantino’s later True Romance (which was written by Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott), My Best Friend’s Birthday was filmed over a number of years on a 16mm camera borrowed from filmmaker Fred Olen Ray.
Once finished, My Best Friend’s Birthday was originally 70 minutes long – but a fire in a lab where the film was developed meant half of the footage was lost.
Sadly, only 36 minutes of My Best Friend’s Birthday survived. This fragment of Tarantino’s true film debut has been screened at film festivals.
10. He was a video store clerk before he became a director
Before Tarantino made the leap into filmmaking, he indulged his love of film in the best way available at the time: by working in a video rental store.
The future filmmaker spent five years working behind the counter at Video Archives, based in Manhattan Beach, California.
Tarantino’s co-workers at Video Archives included Roger Avary, QT’s co-writer on Pulp Fiction who also helped shoot My Best Friend’s Birthday.
Many former customers recall entering into lengthy conversations with the knowledgeable clerk who was known for making good recommendations.
Once Tarantino became famous, Video Archives grew ever more popular, apparently often receiving job applications from other fledgling filmmakers.
When Video Archives finally went out of business like most VHS stores, Tarantino bought up their entire inventory.
9. He got his first Hollywood jobs working on The Golden Girls and a Dolph Lundgren exercise video
Anyone starting out in the film business knows they need to take whatever jobs they can get.
Even so, Tarantino’s first professional roles in the entertainment industry may come as a bit of a surprise.
His first official film job came in 1986, on Dolph Lundgren’s home workout video Maximum Potential.
Tarantino and Roger Avary both served as production assistants on the video starring the Swedish action star, who’d not long since shot to fame in Rocky IV.
It wasn’t until two years after this that Tarantino got his first on-camera acting role – in TV sitcom The Golden Girls.
In what seems a fitting first role in hindsight, Tarantino was one among a group of Elvis impersonators in the 1988 episode Sophia’s Wedding: Part 1.
8. From Dusk Till Dawn was the first film Tarantino ever wrote
Fans will likely remember that Tarantino wrote and co-starred in Robert Rodriguez’s 1997 vampire movie, From Dusk Till Dawn.
However, what’s less well known is that this project had actually been in the works far longer than the films on which Tarantino made his name.
From Dusk Till Dawn was actually Tarantino’s first professional job as a screenwriter, as he was hired to pen the script by Robert Kurtzman.
Kurtzman – a big name in special make-up effects, and co-founder of FX company KNB – came up with the basic story for From Dusk Till Dawn, and originally intended to direct it himself in the early 90s.
However, when this failed to get off the ground, Tarantino took the project to his friend Robert Rodriguez to direct instead.
From Dusk Till Dawn was also notable for giving George Clooney (with whom Tarantino had worked on ER) one of his first major film roles.
7. He worked on the scripts for Crimson Tide and The Rock
As well as becoming a major filmmaker in his own right, Tarantino was also in-demand as a screenwriter for hire in the 90s.
Shortly after Reservoir Dogs broke big, two of Tarantino’s earlier screenplays – True Romance and Natural Born Killers – were also made into successful films.
While Tarantino did not get along with Natural Born Killers director Oliver Stone, he hit it off with True Romance director Tony Scott.
Because of this, Scott was able to lure Tarantino to do some rewrites on his 1995 submarine thriller, Crimson Tide.
While Tarantino did not receive screen credit, his contributions are pretty obvious because of their pop culture references (Star Trek and the Silver Surfer comics notably come up).
Later, Tarantino also made uncredited contributions to the script of Michael Bay’s 1996 action movie, The Rock.
6. He still records films off the television onto VHS
When Tarantino bought up the stock of his old employers Video Archive (in the region of 8,000 VHS tapes and DVDs), this wasn’t purely out of sentimental attachment.
The noted film buff remains a devotee of the VHS medium, even though it’s long been considered dead.
Not only this, but Tarantino is steadfast in his refusal to watch movies online via Netflix, Amazon Prime or other streaming sites.
Quoted in 2015 book I Lost It at the Video Store, Tarantino says, “I am not excited about streaming at all. I like something hard and tangible in my hand. And I can’t watch a movie on a laptop.”
Not only this, but Tarantino declares, “I still tape movies off of television on video so I can keep my collection going.”
A devotee of analogue technology, Tarantino still insists on shooting on film and has blasted digital cinema projection as “just television in public.”
5. He was an in-demand actor for a while
Early on in his career, Tarantino insisted he was every bit as serious about acting as he was about filmmaking.
Famously the director gave himself prominent roles in his films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, as well as Robert Rodriguez’ From Dusk Till Dawn.
However, Tarantino actually worked up a fairly sizeable CV of supporting roles in the 90s, including Sleep with Me, Somebody to Love, Destiny Turns on the Radio, Girl 6 and Desperado (his first collaboration with Rodriguez).
Other surprising Tarantino appearances include Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky, and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz.
Tarantino also took a stage acting role in 1998, in a 16-week run on Broadway of the play Wait Until Dark.
However, reviews of Tarantino’s acting were never as favourable as for his writing and directing, and aside from a few cameos he’s since largely stayed behind the camera.
4. He once blew up at an interviewer who asked him about movie violence
From the very beginning of his career, Tarantino’s name has been closely associated with the never-ending debate about the possible effects of movie violence.
Reservoir Dogs was briefly banned in the United Kingdom over fears that its violence was too extreme and glamorised.
Tarantino has always dismissed the suggestion that violence in films directly influences violence in the real world – and it isn’t something he likes to talk about.
In 2012, whilst promoting Django Unchained, Tarantino got into a rather heated argument with British journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy when the subject of movie violence was raised.
The filmmaker angrily responded, “I refuse your question. I’m not your slave and you’re not my master. You can’t make me dance to your tune. I’m not a monkey.”
Tarantino continued, “I’ve said everything I have to say about it. If anyone cares what I have to say about it, they can Google me and they can look for 20 years what I have to say. But I haven’t changed my opinion one iota.”
When Guru-Murthy tried to press the matter, Tarantino flatly declared, “I’m shutting your butt down!”
3. He only writes ‘two kinds of scripts’
Some directors make a name for themselves by being able to tackle any genre or style, while others have a strict formula that they perfect and never deviate from.
Tarantino is unique in that he’s kind of a mix of two, having two very recognisable styles that he deliberately writes.
Tarantino has said in interviews before that he writes two kinds of movies: “movie movies” and “realer-than-real” movies.
Realer-than-real movies are the ones like Pulp Fiction that deal with stylised reality, and the characters within them are designed to enjoy watching the more imaginative and obviously fictional “movie movies.”
These “movie movies” would include the more outlandish fantasy worlds of Kill Bill and Death Proof, his half of 2007 double bill Grindhouse.
The “movie movies” approach may also explain the way his films blatantly rewrite history, as in Inglourious Basterds and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
2. He considers watching sport to be like “torture”
Every director is passionate about what they do – in fact, the same thing could be said for anyone working in any kind of creative industry.
With that said, most artists have other hobbies they love to fulfil them in their spare time, or at least other things they can tolerate.
One thing different about Tarantino is that one of the most popular pastimes worldwide, sport, is something he absolutely can’t tolerate.
The filmmaker once declared in an interview, “To me, torture would be watching sports on television.”
Tarantino went on, “One thing I don’t understand is that average American movie-goers cannot watch a movie for three hours, yet they’ll watch a stupid, boring, horrific football game for four hours.”
This question is close to the director’s heart, as many of his films have been criticised for being too long.
1. He tries to write villains he can understand
We’ve already said that Tarantino has a history of writing great villains, and there’s no doubting that it’s one of the things he’s most famous for.
When it comes to certain movies, they’re what you think of first, and they’ve become pop culture icons in their own right.
It turns out, the reason Tarantino writes such awesome villains is that he tries to write bad guys people can understand and empathise with, even as they’re doing terrible things.
In 2016, Tarantino stated at an event in Israel that Hans Landa, Christoph Waltz’s character in Inglourious Basterds, “is the best character I’ve ever written and maybe the best I ever will write.”
The director went on, “I didn’t realise [when I was first writing him] that he was a linguistic genius. He’s probably one of the only Nazis in history who could speak perfect Yiddish.”
However, he did say that he couldn’t go through that same process with the villain of Django Unchained, Calvin Candie, as he just hated him too much.