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7 Things You Don’t Know About ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ As Told by Quentin Tarantino and the Cast

Variety logo Variety 4/29/2017 Gordon Cox
© Provided by Variety

Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Brown: They all reunited for the 25th anniversary retrospective screening of “Reservoir Dogs” at the Tribeca Film Festival April 28. Cast members Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi and writer-director-actor Quentin Tarantino all got together to reminisce after the 1992 movie screened to a packed house at the Beacon Theater. Here are seven fun facts they revealed.

1. Tom Waits auditioned.

Tarantino let this tidbit slip as he discussed the casting process. “We had the casting director from ‘L.A. Law,'” the director recalled. “A lot of really wild people came in and read the parts. Tom Waits came in and read. I had Tom Waits read the Madonna speech, just so I could hear Tom Waits say those lines. And actually, other than Harvey, he gave me one of the first profound compliments on the script. No one had ever told me my work was poetic before.” (Roth, Madsen and Chris Penn all got their parts through those L.A. auditions; Buscemi came aboard after a round of casting in New York.)

2. Tarantino wanted to stage “Reservoir Dogs” as a play.

Keitel brought up this factoid as he recalled the film’s unusually long rehearsal process. “We had two weeks of rehearsal, which is unheard of in Hollywood,” he said. “We actually almost went to four, because Quentin thought at one time about doing a play.”

3. Madsen had never done his “Stuck in the Middle With You” dance until the day they shot the scene.

The most iconic moment in “Reservoir Dogs” is unquestionably the scene in which Madsen’s character, Mr. Blonde, tortures a captured cop (Kirk Baltz), cutting off his ear after doing a little dance to the jaunty tune of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You.” That dance was entirely spontaneous, it turns out. “You never made me do it in rehearsal, because I was so intimidated by it,” Madsen reminded Tarantino at the panel. “I didn’t know what to do. In the script, it said, ‘Mr. Blonde maniacally dances around.’ And I kept thinking, ‘What the f–k does that mean? Like Mike Jagger, or what? What the f–k am I gonna do?'”

4. Madsen eventually got his inspiration from James Cagney.

The actor didn’t even practice his big moment at home. When it finally came time for him to shoot the big torture scene, he found inspiration in an unlikely source. “I heard the music, and I said, ‘Oh, f–k, I better do something,’ and I started thinking about Jimmy Cagney,” Madsen said. “I remembered this weird little thing that Jimmy Cagney did in a movie that I saw. I don’t remember the name of it. He did this crazy little dance thing. It just popped into my head in the last second. That’s where it came from.” They only shot the scene three or four times, and the first shot of him breaking into that dance is the from the very first take.

5. Tarantino took a cue from the Coen Brothers.

The director said he had always intended for “Reservoir Dogs” to be more than a genre film. He was particularly intrigued with the idea of casting Roth because the British actor had some real art-house cred after his breakout work in 1990 films “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “Vincent and Theo.” “You were like this budding art-film superstar,” Tarantino told Roth at the panel. “And I didn’t want ‘Reservoir Dogs’ to be a straight-to-video genre movie. I wanted it to be a genre-based art film, like ‘Blood Simple,”” he added, referring to the Coen Brothers’ 1984 film.

6. Most walkouts in a single screening: 33.

Creatives relished when the movie made audience members flee during festival screenings. “I started counting the walkouts during the torture scene,” Tarantino said. “33 was the largest walkout.” He added that he had thought that at least everyone would be able to sit through it when it screened at the Sitges Horror Film Festival, where they had just shown Peter Jackson’s gore-soaked early film, “Dead Alive.” “I thought, ‘Finally, I’ve got an audience that won’t walk out.’ Five people walk out of that audience — including Wes Craven! The f–kin’ guy who did ‘Last House on the Left’! My movie was too tough for him?”

7. One of Tarantino’s favorite memories from the film didn’t happen on set.

During the panel, Tarantino reminisced about one of his favorite moments making the film, which happened at a cast dinner at Keitel’s house after the cast had spent two weeks rehearsing the material. “I really realized that gosh, a lot of the pressure was off my shoulders cinematically,” he said. “These guys were so perfect in their parts; they were so vibing with each other; they so understood the material. I thought, ‘F–k, if I just keep this movie in focus, I’ve got a movie. Anything else I bring to it will just be frosting. The cake is here. ‘”

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