Burt Reynolds passed away before he got to shoot his role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but fellow ‘70s icon and friend Bruce Dern is now set to replace him in the forthcoming film, per Deadline.
Dern takes over as George Spahn in the Manson murders-era period film, playing a real-life figure with an unsettling relationship to the Manson Family prior to the infamous 1969 murders. A near-blind, 80-year-old man, he rented out his L.A. ranch in the months leading up the murders, which is where the Manson devotees reportedly planned the 1969 murders of Sharon Tate and six others. In exchange for rent, Manson would coerce his female followers into sleeping with Spahn and serving as his seeing-eye guides. Spahn gave nicknames to each Manson woman, including “Squeaky” Fromme, whom he named after the squeaking noise she’d make when he touched her, and who would go on to make an assassination attempt against President Gerald Ford.
Tarantino designed the role as a swan song for Reynolds, who he’d never worked with before, but Reynolds passed away at the age of 82 before he got the chance to shoot his parts. Dern, meanwhile, is a repeat Tarantino collaborator, having worked with him on 2012’s Django Unchained and 2015’s The Hateful Eight. Paste also looked back at Dern’s extensive filmography around the release of The Hateful Eight in 2015.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is also said to be similar in structure to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, all set in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969. Casting updates have been prolific on the film’s star-studded ensemble cast, which currently includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis, Kurt Russell, James Mardsen, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Timothy Olyphant, Lena Dunham, Emile Hirsch, Luke Perry, Scoot McNairy and James Remar. Last month, it was also reported that Justified’s Damon Herriman had been cast as the film’s Charles Manson, as well as Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman, who made news earlier this year when she shared her life-threatening experience working with Tarantino on Kill Bill: Vol 2.
It’s good to hear that Tarantino will get to honor what would have been Reynolds’ final role, although the details on his character are a bit disconcerting. Tarantino has a better track record than some would expect when it comes to depicting scenes of violence against women in his often hyper-violent revenge fantasies, but the direct relationship between Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the real-life circumstances of the Manson Family raises the question of whether he should be the one to tell this story. Tarantino has proven people wrong before, though, and could very well do the same this time around.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood premieres on July 26, 2019.