A-List: Actors Who Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Quentin Tarantino

By Josh Spiegel

August 20, 2009

Members of the Bad Hair Hall of Fame.

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Even though he's only made six films (including the new World War II epic Inglourious Basterds), Quentin Tarantino has made a major dent on popular culture as we know it today. Whether it's anachronistic musical choices, odd turns of phrase, or quirky yet violent subplots, Tarantino's stamp can be seen on countless other movies. Moreover, he has helped further the careers of plenty of other actors and actresses through his films. There is, of course, one classic comeback in this week's A-List that you can probably already predict, but there have been plenty of actors whose careers got a major shot in the arm once they got involved with this modern auteur.

Even now, when some people could argue (in this case, some people equals me) that Tarantino has become something of a parody of himself, the actors in his films are usually given at least one or two scenes each to take the stage and do with that chance whatever they can. One thing is usually true, and doesn't appear to have changed with his latest film: Tarantino gives the role of scene-stealer, the opportunity to break out big, to just one person in each of his films. The early reviews are hailing Christoph Waltz, as a Nazi so feared he is called "The Jew Hunter," as the actor who will steal the spotlight from even uber-star Brad Pitt.

Whether the actor steals the movie out from under the rest of the usual ensemble, each of Tarantino's movies has an actor or two who was either saved from obscurity or had a career explosion after their appearance in his film. Some weren't very big explosions (the biggest role Zoe Bell, of Death Proof, had afterwards was on TV's Lost; if you don't remember, it's okay, as she's barely onscreen before jumping off the side of a freighter), but there are some actors who are forever indebted to the wily writer-director for casting them in his movies. This week's A-List, which does exclude Inglourious Basterds for obvious reasons, focuses on five of those actors, who ought to send Tarantino a royalty check every month.




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John Travolta

Let's just start with the obvious pick. Sure, Travolta's career hadn't completely flopped by this point, if you consider being a mainstay in the Look Who's Talking franchise, but...no, there's no way to spin it positively. When Tarantino came calling with 1994's Pulp Fiction, so Travolta could play introspective hitman Vincent Vega, it was the smartest decision he ever made to accept the role. His turn as the longhaired Vega got him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor; moreover, it brought him far steadier and more prominent work. The following year, he played another twist on Vega, as Chili Palmer in Get Shorty. Some of his later work included Face/Off, Broken Arrow, and Primary Colors.

Certainly, Travolta's career has had some flops post-Tarantino (we're all thinking of Battlefield Earth, so let's just acknowledge its existence this one time and then try to forget it again), but whatever stardom he has now is completely in debt to the auteur who thought he'd be a good fit as a menacing tough. What's more, it's hard to imagine many other actors pulling off a serious-minded discussion of whether massaging a woman's feet is a serious bit of adultery. Of course, just because Travolta has had a burgeoning second wind in his career doesn't mean his movies have been great; even his next project, Old Dogs, where he and Robin Williams end up taking care of two children and...groan...wackiness ensues, looks immensely terrible. Still, whether as a scenery-chewing villain, a blowsy Baltimore matriarch, or a starstruck dog, Travolta is once again a star.


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