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Quentin Tarantino Reveals His Fictional Star Rick Dalton Pursued Role in John Carpenter's The Thing

The star of Bounty Law and The 14 Fists of McCluskey didn't want to play "second fiddle to a monster."

By Josh Weiss
Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019); The Thing (1982)

Last week, Quentin Tarantino announced that Rick Dalton (apocryphal hero of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood played by an Oscar-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio) had passed away at the age of 90 in his Hawaii home. The unfortunate news was confirmed on Twitter through The Video Archives, a cinephile podcast hosted by Tarantino and his Pulp Fiction co-writer, Roger Avery.

Buckle up, things are about to get meta.

As a purely speculative exercise, yours truly took to social media to wonder aloud what film roles Dalton might have landed after preventing the infamous Tate–LaBianca murders in that fateful summer of 1969. Stuart Cohen — producer of John Carpenter's The Thing — was kind enough to play along, recounting how he and Carpenter pursued the star of Bounty Law and The 14 Fists of McCluskey for the role of Garry (the Outpost 31 station chief ultimately portrayed by the late Donald Moffat).

RELATED: Iconic Dog Creature from John Carpenter's The Thing Transforming into an Action Figure

"Their meeting at Tail 'O The Cock didn't go well," Cohen wrote. "[Rick] hated snow, he said, and didn't want to play 'second fiddle to a monster,' as he put it. We looked elsewhere..."

A true shame — Rick's prowess with a flamethrower would've come in handy against the movie's fire-averse antagonist. Funnily enough, the whole "second fiddle to a monster" thing was a genuine concern of agents throughout the movie's casting stage. 

"We had difficulty securing the people we wanted to initially meet and it was only when I got them to read the script that they began to understand what we were up to and how well the characters were developed," Cohen notes in SYFY WIRE's massive oral history celebrating the 40th anniversary of the sci-fi/horror masterpiece.

Okay, here's where things get really cool: the fictional anecdote above caught the attention of Tarantino and Avery, who made it a part of the latest episode Video Archives, which takes an extensive and sincere deep dive into Dalton's official career history. "I also heard that Rick wanted the Donald Moffat part in The Thing," Avery says. "He didn't get it."

"Oh, wow. That would've been amazing," chimes in Tarantino. "I can't even imagine how awesome that would be."

"And you know I love Donald Moffat, he was my neighbor," Avery continues. "But I actually thing Rick Dalton would've brought something really cool to that."

Upon learning that your humble author had unintentionally inspired a small corner of Rick Dalton's Hollywood tenure, I reached out to Mr. Cohen for more intel. The producer once again proved himself more than happy to oblige, reaching back through his multiversal memories. Carpenter "was disappointed" by Rick's decision to pass on the now-seminal project," Cohen told me over email.

"He'd seen the actor's Italian Westerns growing up in Bowling Green and thought him a more believable protagonist than Clint Eastwood — the films themselves becoming a formative influence. 'Horror found me,' [John] would say. I got into the movie business to make Westerns.' I know John hoped to cast Rick in Somebody's Watching Me! (the role eventually played by Charles Cyphers) but was dissuaded by studio brass who didn't want 'that cowboy actor,' as they put it, in the part. Here, John thought, Garry was the best role Rick had seen in some time and was prepared to expand it, but was taken aback by the actor's response to the rugged working conditions everyone would face. John needed someone who would be in one hundred percent with no questions asked and in Rick's parting 'All in all, John, I'd rather spend December in Hawaii,' we knew it wouldn't work. A missed opportunity for us. R.I.P. to a legend."

In a follow-up email, Cohen — who also debunked longstanding rumors that Dalton shot test footage for The Thing — clarified that Carpenter "did work with Rick in a way" during the filmmaker's days as a student at USC film school in the late '60s and early '70s. "One exercise in Cinema 325 had each editing student receiving 16mm dailies of a gunfight scene from Bounty Law (courtesy of the Editors Guild), which he or she would assemble in their own way. The results would then be screened and critiqued."

EDITOR'S NOTE: the Cinema 325 in our reality utilized episodes of Gunsmoke.

The Thing (along with its divisive 2011 prequel) is available to purchase from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

In the mood for more creature features? Terror of Mechagodzilla, Jumanji, King Kong, and Cocaine Bear are all streaming on Peacock.