“Quentin has an encyclopedic knowledge of film. All kinds of films. When I met with him to discuss ‘Django,’ he told me, ‘You’ve been on my radar for a long time. I’ve seen all your movies’
“And I said, ‘Come on, all my movies? You’ve actually seen ‘Dead Women in Lingerie?’ And he said. ‘Sure I have. It was a piece of crap. But you were great. Anyway, why wouldn’t I see I movie titled ‘Dead Women in Lingerie?’ Who could resist that?!”
So recalls Dennis Christopher about one of his first meetings with director/auteur Quentin Tarantino.
Dennis is perhaps still best known as cute, blond, bicycle-riding teenager in 1979’s famous coming-of-age movie, “Breaking Away.” (Which also jump-started the careers of Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley and Hart Bochner.) But he has worked steadily since that movie in every medium, on screens big and small ( terrific in HBO’s much-lauded “Deadwood” and on stage, which is his first love. (“I’m just a theater rat, really.”)
I had a phone chat with Dennis the other day, as he busily promotes “Django Unchained,” 2013’s most controversial, deliriously reviewed film starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, and a dozen other famous names, some of whom have little more than flamboyant cameo appearances.
“Django” is about a former slave who becomes a bounty hunter and wreaks savage revenge on his oppressors. I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds like typical Tarantino – sometimes I can take that, sometimes I can’t. I did love “Inglourious Basterds,” with its wicked fantasy twist on World War II, so maybe if I squint a bit during the really violent scenes, I’ll get into “Django.” (A friend of mine said, “Liz, you will be squinting through the entire movie!”)
Anyway, I found Dennis, who plays a character named Leonide Moguy, to be full of excitement, energy, super smart about showbiz, and a passionate cinephile who says he would gladly “lock myself up with my giant monitors and DVDs – if I didn’t enjoy working so much.”
So how did “Django” come to Dennis?
“I had just finished the L.A. production of ‘The Temperamentals,’ trying to wind down a bit, when a script arrived at my house,” Dennis explains. “There was the title, ‘Django Unchained,’ hand-scrawled across the front, and a signature. I realized it was Quentin’s own handwriting. After I pulled myself off the floor, I read the script – and boy, people don’t realize what a great writer Quentin really is. I wanted in, of course, but I noticed that my character seemed to be around the same age as Leonardo DiCaprio’s. I called Quentin and said, ‘You realize it’s been 30 years since “Breaking Away.’” And he said, ‘Of, course. Don’t worry. I’m rewriting it just for you.’ So after I picked myself and my cellphone off the floor, we agreed to meet. My agent gave me the typical three words of encouragement agents have been giving their clients since silent movies: ‘Don’t blow it.’
“We did finally meet and had an incredible three-hour conversation. I was shy and in awe at first, but he was not a – what’s the male of diva, a divo? – in any way. I was knocked over by his love and respect and knowledge about movies. I can honestly say, even if he’d decided against using me, I wouldn’t have regretted one of the most stimulating afternoons of my life!”
Tribune Media Services