My dad’s favourite film is The Sound of Music. When I was a kid, we watched it more times than I can count. When I told him that I’d spoken to Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp) he nearly lost his mind. It was a pretty special moment for me too. I’d seen Hammond dozens of times and most recently in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Not that I knew it was him at first.
Hammond plays real-life director Sam Wanamaker who directs DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton in an episode of Lancer. His costume in the film obscures Hammond’s own features so at first, I didn’t realise who I was watching. Learning it was Hammond was a shock and a thrill.
As a larger than life character, Wanamaker is impressed by Dalton’s performance following the latter characters panic attack in his trailer.
It’s an important moment in the overall story of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the importance was not lost on Hammond. However, he told me how relaxed and enjoyable shooting the film was and how generous both Tarantino and DiCaprio were.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Having been an actor most of his life and having worked with all manner of actors, directors and the like, I asked Hammond what the atmosphere was like on set. I wanted to know what it was like to act opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and to be directed by Quentin Tarantino.
“It was fantastic,” he told me. “It was such a great experience. You know, you think working with these big names and big stars is going to lead to some egos clashing and some issues but there was none of that. Quentin is so supportive and willing to try new and different things and Leo too.
“They were both so giving that it was really easy and a lot of fun.”
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in the 1960s, a time that Hammond actually was in Hollywood working. I asked him how accurate the film is at depicting the Hollywood of that time. He told me it was perfect. He explained that everything in the movie looked like it was supposed to from the sets to the clothes and everything in between.
Hammond was particularly excited the first day he was on set and he looked up to see the old lighting rigs that would have been used way back in the day. “It took me right back to those days,” he said, which of course, helped in getting into character and into the spirit of the piece.
Something else that helped Hammond immensely was the freedom Tarantino gave him and DiCaprio to improv during their scenes. He told me that at one point, Tarantino simply told the two actors to have a conversation as if they really knew one another and he filmed the resultant 5-10 minutes. It was in this improvised scene that Hammond felt he and DiCaprio locked into each other and really got a feel for their characters and their relationship.
Sadly, non of the improvisation made it into the film, though it may exist as a special feature on the DVD/Blu-ray.
So good was the chemistry between DiCaprio and Hammond, that the latter told me Tarantino tossed out his schedule to instead delve into these two characters and dedicate more time to their scenes.
I asked Hammond about this, especially as it seems like Tarantino is the kind of director who would meticulously plan his films and strictly follow his own scripts. Hammond explained that Tarantino wasn’t married to anything and was always looking for ways to make the film better.
“Everyone was,” he told me. “We wanted this to be the best possible film it could be at the end of the day, so changing lines and improvising were all part of it.”
Hammond and I discussed how DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is a great analogue for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood itself. The film portrays this version of Hollywood that didn’t really exist but one that could have. Dalton is the same. He’s an actor that Tarantino created and DiCaprio brought to life, but he’s just as real as the Hollywood the film shows us.
And while Once Upon a Time in Hollywood might show a version of events that never happened and a Hollywood that never existed, Hammond says that it still felt like he’d stepped right into the 1960s and right back in time to when he was much younger and a wide-eyed actor, just starting out.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘ is out now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.
Thanks to Nicholas Hammond for his time.