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Quentin Tarantino Says 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Character Meant to Have Undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” takes viewers back to the gritty glam of 1960s Hollywood with Westerns actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Not only does the film take viewers back in time, but it comes with a mental health backstory. In a new video from Vanity Fair, the Oscar-winning director revealed DiCaprio’s character has undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

On Wednesday, DiCaprio and Tarantino sat down for an episode of “Notes on a Scene” to talk about the inspirations for Rick Dalton, one of the main characters in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Set in 1969 Hollywood, the movie explores life in Los Angeles through the eyes of actor Rick and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) who came of age during the golden age of Hollywood. In the interview, Tarantino revealed Rick’s back story includes a history of undiagnosed mental illness.

“Now, we already had Rick a drinker, but the whole thing about undiagnosed bipolar and not knowing how that works, and the weird pendulum swings of emotion you would have especially if you don’t have a medical understanding of why you feel that way, that became a really interesting thing that we thought Rick could deal through,” Tarantino said.

Tarantino added he based Rick in part off actor Pete Duel, who played an outlaw in the popular 1970s Western TV series “Alias Smith and Jones.” Duel died by suicide at age 31 in 1971. Tarantino said his research showed Duel struggled with alcohol use that may have been Duel’s attempt to self-medicate undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

In the film, Rick is seen getting emotional on many occasions. For example, one scene shows Rick having a breakdown in his trailer after he forgets his lines for a scene during his guest role on a TV show. However Rick’s mental health isn’t specifically named or addressed in the movie, which was an intentional choice to add complexity to Rick’s character but not make mental illness be his whole story.

“We never say the word ‘bipolar,’” Tarantino said. “And that gave Leo a good, solid ground in which to work and build a character and have a subtext going on inside of scenes that doesn’t have to revolve around the story of the scene or doesn’t need to be told overtly to an audience we can just show in the day of a life.”

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” premiered on July 26 and is in theaters now.

Header image via “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Facebook page