- While Quentin Tarantino's first career is making movies, he's quickly developed a second career giving second chances to actors long forgotten by everyone but him. The most dramatic example of the Tarantino career rescue program is, of course, John Travolta, the $20 million-a-picture star brought back from oblivion a couple years ago by Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction." But lately other actors are benefiting. Michael Parks, for example, has been set in a lead role in "Hangman's Daughter," the P.J. Pesce-directed prequel (written by Robert and Alvaro Rodriguez) to the Tarantino-scripted From "Dusk Till Dawn." The casting is noteworthy, and not just because Parks played a Texas ranger blown away by Tarantino's psycho character in "Dusk's" opening scene. Parks' career peaked in 1969 with the one-season NBC drama "Then Came Bronson." Little has gone right since then -- until he met Tarantino. As a director, Tarantino is doing it again with "Jackie Brown," giving the two leads to former blaxploitation queen Pam Grier (Foxy Brown) and Robert Forster, who had little luck after a strong start in the early '70s with short-lived series "Nakia" on ABC and "Banyon" on NBC. Sure, Tarantino got Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda, Robert De Niro and Michael Keaton for supporting roles. But would any other director have gambled on those two for the leads of his follow-up to "Pulp Fiction?" Forster, after reading for hundreds of roles he didn't get, was down to giving free motivational speeches while trying not to give up on himself. "The last five years, I hadn't gotten a job for more than scale, and terrible, junky stuff that you take when you've got a kid in college and an ex-wife. Then Quentin comes along and says, 'You've waited long enough. Now you're going to work again.' I can't describe the feeling." Tarantino says he's happy to help down- and-out actors, but his motivation is to make movies his way, and that's with casting gambles that are as adventurous as his writing and directing. If he has to watch old TV shows to find the right actor, so be it. "I think there is far less artistry in the casting of most mainstream movies than there should be," he says. "There are certain movies that should have big stars, but there are also movies where it doesn't make a dime bit of difference at the box office who plays a character." With few exceptions, Tarantino feels casters don't go beyond the usual hot list. "The biggest problem is that most of the mainstream movies are working from this list, so in a given year, you see the same character actor who happens to be hot at the moment. You see them for a period of five years, and it changes a little bit around the sixth year." Luckily for Parks, Forster and Grier, Tarantino's hooked on the '70s. So while most of the "Dusk" dialogue was scripted to be delivered in rapid-fire bursts, Parks' ranger character was the exception. "I wrote that Texas ranger role just for Michael Parks, for his lazy Texas drawl. He's always been one of my favorite actors in the world. On 'Then Came Bronson,' Michael gave these Brando-like performances, the most naturalistic acting I've ever seen on a TV show." "Dusk" star George Clooney says it was clear Parks still had the goods. "Michael just blew the roof off in that scene, and he was so good, it seemed the movie would just be about him, until he got killed," Clooney says. "Quentin's in that great position in that he can get films made with those people. It's the great advantage of being Quentin, and he's taking full advantage, which is not just admirable but smart on his part." With a thesp who takes acting jobs to eat, Tarantino says, the trick is figuring if that diet of bad films has sapped his craft. "A lot of these actors, after they lose their heat, move to television or exploitation films," Tarantino says. "Sometimes that takes it out of an actor. But sometimes it doesn't, and they're hungry for new material. When they get it, you see that light in their eyes." He points to Martin Landau. "Before (Francis Ford) Coppola's 'Tucker,' you could buy Martin Landau for $1.95 and he was doing the cheapest exploitation movies. In 'Tucker,' you saw the excitement of his craft again." Tarantino wouldn't name other forgotten actors ripe for resurgence, not wanting to raise hopes until he can employ them. But he brought up one actor he was unable to help. "I'm a fan of blaxploitation movies, and I was thinking about Ralph Meeker, who was in 'Kiss Me Deadly' and (Stanley) Kubrick's 'House of Glory.' He fell on hard times, doing bad roles in really bad movies. I mean, he was not even the big boss guy, but rather his stupid deputy in 'High Riders,' this movie about drag racers. This was Ralph Meeker! Where were these filmmakers of the '70s? If I had been doing movies back then, I'd have cast him in a great role. He's dead now, and that opportunity is gone forever."
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