This was for a new DVD and Blu-ray release of Jackie Brown in late 2011. The lovely Pam Grier talked me through a handful of stills from Quentin Tarantino’s most underrated movie. Originally published at Empire Online but only available as an incomplete archive version since the 2015 site revamp.
It’s strange now to remember the muted response that greeted Quentin Tarantino’s third film: an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s hard-boiled novel Rum Punch, that transformed Jackie Burke into Jackie Brown. Still perhaps the overlooked middle child between QT’s early films and his more recent work, it holds up on revisiting as more intricate than Reservoir Dogs and tighter in its focus than Pulp Fiction. While the likes of the Kill Bills and Inglourious Basterds have been high-concept comic books, Jackie Brown remains a love letter from Tarantino both to seventies cinema, and to his star Pam Grier. To mark the release of the fifteenth-anniversary Blu-ray, Grier took us through her photo album…
“This is the very first shot of the movie. What Quentin wanted to establish in that sequence was Jackie’s peace and her silence. He wanted to establish her life of calm and order. She looks great; she’s meticulous. She’s thinking, and preparing for work, trying to make the best of this lowly job that she’s been forced to take, and she’s really professional and she’s not taking it for granted. And then you see her realise she’s a little late and go from calm to energy. I loved the fact that he gave her this solitude and this peace at the beginning, because after today it’s going to be chaotic! She’s thinking, and you wonder what she’s thinking. It’s a long sequence of me just staring ahead, but I don’t think I struggled to keep a straight face. I was concentrating on whether I locked the front door and turned the gas off and remembered my keys and prepared for my day!”
“This picture was taken at the Del Amo Mall, and we were there about midway through shooting. There’s a reason for every location Quentin has… located, and I think this one is very lyrical. It has an essence. Everyone responds. You can’t help but enjoy it. It’s wonderful to have those memories. I looked forward to those days when he was expressing himself. It’s impossible to get into Quentin’s head. He moves at like Mach 7. We enjoyed ourselves so much, even though they were long days. We had two weeks of rehearsals to know every line, every comma, every pause, every beat. That helped everyone keep the continuity in their emotionality and their physical being. But at the same time, when you work with Quentin, it’s liberation. He’s a maestro, and the crew are his orchestra. He always plays music on the set to create a vibe and a mood. I’m going to do that when I’m a director!”
“Bridget Fonda was wonderful: so moving and so generous and so warm, and unpretentious. A lot of actresses don’t invite you to their home or talk to you when you finish work: you’re not in their circle. Bridget would be like “Let’s go have lunch!” She’s been having a family for the last few years. People say she’s “in a lull” but that’s not true at all. She’ll come back one day and be an evolved actress because of what she’s learned while she’s been away. This is a scene that didn’t make the final cut, where I’m trying to convince her not to listen to Ordell. “Do you need the money, honey? You can make it by yourself.” We were giggling and having a good time like girls, and we were so prepared and we just went right into the scene.
“When I originally was sent and read the script, I thought I’d be paying the dope ho, with the bra and the hotpants. When Quentin said I wasn’t, I asked him what role I was reading for, and he said ‘You’re not reading! You are Jackie Brown!’”
“This is where De Niro is supposed to call somebody, but by the time he’s picked up the phone and put it to his ear, he’s forgotten who he’s supposed to call. It’s hilarious. Watch him: it’s brilliant. That’s one of the funniest scenes. I watched him do it and I was crying, it was so funny. I hardly talk to him at all in that scene: I just completely ignore Robert De Niro! Jackie knows she can’t give away too much information or step over her boundaries, because Ordell will kill them all.”
“The guy in the middle is Lawrence Bender, the producer. This was taken during the scene where I was talking to Robert about whether the scheme is going to pay off and whether we can achieve it and whether he’s coming aboard. We just took that opportunity while we were all together to get a nice family shot. Robert wasn’t actually being filmed that day, but he was there giving me the off-screen dialogue. Quentin would not have a script girl or whoever read the off-screen lines: he would always have all of us on-set, even if we weren’t “officially” working for the rest of the day.”
“I sat in this room, on this set, for eight hours. I wouldn’t leave. I wanted to feel pressured and claustrophobic and that I was losing it. I wouldn’t take a glass of water. I wouldn’t eat lunch. I wouldn’t even go to the restroom. I just wanted to sit there: I was being interrogated and I wanted to feel the tension. My life was on the line. The genius of Michael Keaton’s character is that he thinks he’s on to something – and he is! I had to pee so badly that my neck hurt. If I’d stood up I would have exploded!”
“Of course, we want him to go to Spain with her! He would have a great time and never come back. He’d be doing her lingerie and cooking her breakfast! But he also had a career and he felt needed by other people, and he created that family of people that depended on him. So I’m afraid I think he stayed behind. I think he dreamed of her, and if she came back I think they would go out to dinner and go for long drives. And he might go later: he might take two weeks off to go somewhere else with her. He knows she’ll always be honest to him. In his line of work, he’s a psychologist. So if she comes back and calls him, he’ll go to dinner with her, but if she came back and didn’t call him, he’d know he made the right choice. Robert was always a brilliant actor. He says that before he did Jackie Brown his career was dead, but I can’t imagine him being in a lull and not working. He’s too good not to work. I love his mood and his look. We were the perfect age to pay those roles. He has such a great demeanour.”
“I knew Michael Keaton when he was a comedian, before he made his first film. He should have won an Oscar for Beetlejuice. Isn’t he brilliant in that? That was the first thing I said to him when we met again: his energy levels and his timing are just exhausting. He’s another one of these Mach 7 people where his brain is flying and you struggle to keep up with him. I knew he was going to grill me in this film. We talked about the good old days. He’s very intimidating because he’s so wired and so smart, and he’s the polar opposite to Jackie, who’s trying to play everything so laid-back and cool.”
“This is from that heated scene Sam and I have on the balcony, where we have the argument about everything falling apart, and he’s not going to keep up with the deal, and I’m going to get hurt, and it’s not going to happen and I’ll never bring in his money and he’ll be stuck… This picture is us just standing on the set going “Whew!” The location was Marina Del Rey, which was lovely. I used to just take my shoes off and go for a walk and zone out. There were some studio sets, but it was mostly on location, because Quentin likes the textures. You get the right feel and air and energy and moods and colours. This is a really warm picture: it’s Pam and Sam! That red dress is my own, by the way. I should probably donate it to a museum!”