Jackie Brown is the third film from director Quentin Tarantino and the only one of his movies not based on his original material (it’s a liberal adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch). Considered by many fans and critics to be one of Tarantino’s most “mature” cinematic efforts—its pace and bravado stand in stark contrast to Pulp Fiction—Jackie Brown is one of those rare movies that only gets better with age and subsequent viewings. On the 20th anniversary of its debut, here are 12 facts you might not have known about the Oscar-nominated crime drama.
1. QUENTIN TARANTINO ALMOST ADAPTED ANOTHER ELMORE LEONARD BOOK INSTEAD.
After Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s production company purchased the rights to three Elmore Leonard novels: Rum Punch, Freaky Deaky, and Killshot. He thought one of them would make a great next project, but was unsure of exactly which one. “I thought I was gonna do another one of them,” Tarantino explained in a bonus interview on the Jackie Brown Blu-ray. “I didn’t think I was gonna do Rum Punch. [So] I was just getting ready to give Rum Punch to another director that I knew. And in reading it again that night, I fell in love with it the exact same way I did a couple of years before.”
2. TARANTINO WAS WORRIED LEONARD WOULD HATE THE SCRIPT.
Tarantino made some significant changes to Leonard’s material—most notably changing the title from Rum Punch, making Jackie’s last name Brown instead of Burke (an obvious homage to Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown character), and changing Jackie’s race from white to black. Though Tarantino had purchased the rights to the novel and was allowed to take whatever creative liberties he wanted, he was concerned that Leonard would disapprove.
“He called me right before he went into production on Jackie Brown,” Leonard recalled. “He said, ‘I’ve been afraid to call you for the last year.’ And I said, why? Because you changed the title and the color of the main character? He said, ‘Yeah!’ I said, well that’s alright. Do what you want, you’re the filmmaker!”
As it turns out, Tarantino’s fears were unfounded. “[Leonard] really liked the script,” Tarantino said. “Then he came back and he said not only that he thought it was the best adaptation of his work he’d ever read, he thought it was maybe the best script he’d ever read.”
3. TARANTINO DID NOT SET OUT TO RESURRECT THE CAREERS OF ROBERT FORSTER OR PAM GRIER.
Tarantino has garnered a reputation as a filmmaker with the ability to revive the careers of some of his favorite, albeit often forgotten, actors. But Tarantino doesn’t see it that way. “People do come up to me and go, 'Who are you gonna bring back next time? Who’s next on the radar? Who’s next on the list?'” Tarantino explained on the Blu-ray interview. “I’m not coming from that place. I’m trying to cast the best actors or the coolest actors in whatever role. And I’m just not using the hot star list in order to do it.”
4. GRIER AND TARANTINO WERE DESTINED TO WORK TOGETHER.
Speaking of Pam Grier: Tarantino had long been a fan of her work, and had recruited her to audition for the role of Jody, Eric Stoltz’s wife, in Pulp Fiction. Grier auditioned but Tarantino was convinced there was no way that Stoltz (who had already been cast) was going to tell Pam Grier to shut up. So the role ultimately went to Rosanna Arquette. But Tarantino made Grier a promise: “He said, ‘We’re gonna work together one day,’” Grier recalled. “And I said, ‘Yeah, right!’”
When Grier walked in to audition for Jackie Brown, “there were all my posters from 20 years ago, when I was just a piss and vinegar kid,” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Did you put these up because I was coming over?’ And he said, ‘No. I was gonna take them down because you were coming over!'"
5. ROBERT FORSTER’S RESERVOIR DOGS AUDITION GOT HIM THE JACKIE BROWN GIG.
Like Grier, Tarantino had promised Robert Forster that the two of them would work together after the actor auditioned for Reservoir Dogs. “I was reading for the part that Lawrence Tierney eventually played,” Forster recalled in an interview on the Blu-ray. “But when I read for him, Quentin said, ‘You know what? This may not work out. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. One of these days I’m gonna use you.’”
Years later Tarantino ran into Forster in a restaurant and deemed the meeting fate. He gave Forster the Max Cherry role on the spot. In 1998, Forster earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod for Jackie Brown (the film’s sole nomination).
6. TARANTINO WAS UPSET THAT GRIER DIDN’T RECEIVE AN OSCAR NOD.
“Pam and Sam didn’t get nominated for an Oscar, and Robert did. And I was shocked by that," Tarantino said. "I was really surprised. And it was weird because I was really happy that Robert got nominated for an Oscar, but I was like really sad that Pam didn't get nominated … I really wanted Pam to be the first black actress to ever win an Academy Award [for Best Actress].”
7. ORDELL’S LOOK IN THE FILM WAS CONCOCTED BY SAMUEL L. JACKSON.
“That was all Sam’s idea,” admitted Tarantino of the look for Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Ordell Robie. “The whole thing with the long hair and the goatee, the whole kind of samurai, mad priest, mad kung fu priest on the mountain look he had—Sam came up with that. And it was just terrific. It just made it.”
8. MICHAEL KEATON WAS HIS OWN BIGGEST OBSTACLE IN GETTING THE ROLE OF RAY NICOLETTE.
According to Tarantino, Michael Keaton desperately tried to talk the director out of hiring him for the role of FBI agent Ray Nicolette. “His whole process was to convince me that he’s not right for the role,” Tarantino said. “But he never quite convinced me … Michael’s whole thing is to deny himself and to say he’s not right.”
Eventually Tarantino was able to convince Keaton that he was the man for the job and the rest is history. In fact, the following year, Keaton went on to reprise the role of Ray Nicolette in Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Out of Sight.
9. SYLVESTER STALLONE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF LOUIS GARA.
In an interview with Maclean’s, Sylvester Stallone said he turned down roles in two Tarantino films: Louis Gara in Jackie Brown and Stuntman Mike in Death Proof. Ultimately the role of Louis went to Robert De Niro.
10. PETER FONDA MAKES AN APPEARANCE IN THE FILM.
During a scene where Louis (Robert De Niro) and Melanie (Bridget Fonda) are watching television at her apartment, they are watching the film Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. The film stars Peter Fonda, Bridget's father.
11. TARANTINO SPENT A MONTH WATCHING THE MOVIE IN THEATERS.
Tarantino wanted to gauge the audience reaction to key moments in the film, so he spent the first several weeks following the film’s release watching it in theaters. “I saw that movie … like 13 times at the Magic Johnson Theatre,” said Tarantino. “The whole first four weeks it was there, I just lived there.”
12. TARANTINO CONSIDERS THE FILM HIS RIO BRAVO.
Tarantino compares Jackie Brown to Howard Hawks’ classic 1959 John Wayne western. “It’s a hangout movie,” he explained. “Jackie Brown is better the second time. And I think it’s even better the third. And the fourth time … Maybe even the first time we see it we go, ‘Why are we doing all this hanging out? Why can’t we get to more of the plot?’ But now the second time you see it, and the third time you see it, you’re not thinking about the plot anymore. You’re waiting for the hangout scenes … To me, [that’s] the thing that Rio Bravo did. I remember the first time I saw Rio Bravo, but I remember more the fifteenth time I saw Rio Bravo. It’s about hanging out with the characters.”
Jackie Brown Blu-ray extra features