Oh look, it’s Elvis…
For many attendees, Elvis Presley was the first thing they noticed as they passed through the ornate entry doors of The Theater at Ace Hotel DTLA en route to Film Independent’s December 16 Live Read of Quentin Tarantino’s classic cocaine-caper screenplay, True Romance directed by Jason Reitman.
But the Elvis impersonator in the lobby entertaining the crowd before the show was only the first of many surprises.
Over the past few years, Live Reads have become one of LA’s premiere events, with Reitman assembling diverse—and often brilliantly nontraditional—casts to perform cold reads of scripts ranging from American Pie to American Beauty.
December 16 marked the fourth Tarantino script to undergo the Live Read treatment. But this time, the big twist was the return of Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater, who reprised their iconic roles as mobster-and-cop dodging pop culture obsessives Alabama Whitman and Clarence Worley.
Entering the stage to rowdy applause, the leads eagerly sank back into their characters like Tony Scott’s 1993 film version was just yesterday. Arquette even appeared in costume, complete with blonde bob and blue sunglasses. Which raises an interesting question: is it possible to cosplay as yourself?
They were joined by an all-star cast including Keegan Michael-Key, Paul Scheer, Mae Whitman, Jon Favreau, Jay and Mark Duplass, Kevin Pollak, Jason Segel and JK Simmons—bringing the total of reigning Oscar winners onstage to two.
The group gelled perfectly, with each actor making the most of Tarantino’s copious and profane Jenga-tower wordplay…
The crowd went bonkers as Pollak conjured up his legendary Christopher Walken impersonation to play Sicilian mob heavy Vincenzo Coccotti.
Favreau was eerily reminiscent of the late James Gandolfini as unhinged Alabama-abuser Virgil—a bear-shaped mountain of calm menace.
Raising an eyebrow at the character’s description as a “GQ blow-dry boy,” the bald-headed Scheer fully embodied Bronson Pinchot’s coke-connect dupe Elliot Blitzer.
Key more than equaled Gary Oldman’s hyper-weird white-boy gangsta pimp Drexl before pivoting to do double-duty as an Uzi-toting 3rd Act heavy.
Taking on Nicholson and Dimes, two LA cops whose bark is worse than their bite, Jay and Mark Duplass swapped one-liners like Abbott and Costello.
Playing cross-gender, Live Read vet Mae Whitman turned Michael Rapaport’s Dick Ritchie into a hilarious, squeaky-voiced neurotic.
JK Simmons grounded Clarence’s estranged father Clifford with the same low-key dignity Dennis Hopper brought to the original, in addition to handling a variety of bit parts.
Surprise guest Segal stayed in character the whole night, making the most of his small role as Dick’s stoned roommate Floyd, memorably originated by Brad Pitt.
The cast enjoyed themselves, pantomiming fight scenes with water bottles and whatever else was at hand. More than once, the group found themselves fighting through the giggles when blindsided by Tarantino’s well-aimed jokes and prose.
Reitman explained before the show that they were reading an early draft, and told the crowd to be on the lookout for discrepancies between the Live Read and the original movie. These were most obvious in a handful of location swaps—like a scene at the LA Zoo that happens at Six Flags in the movie.
But no performance of True Romance, filmed or otherwise, would be complete without an Elvis cameo—and the December 16 Live Read did not disappoint.
As Pollak adopted a thick Graceland drawl to play Clarence’s imaginary BFF, the Elvis impersonator reappeared, bedazzled in ivory calfskin finery from spur to cowlick, pointing finger guns and thrusting his hips to punctuate every syllable.
Oh look, it’s Elvis!
As Reitman turned the final page and the crowd rose for a standing ovation, it was clear the night had been something special.
Hans Zimmer’s original score began to play and the doors opened. And as the crowd filtered out under the neon bulbs of the Ace Hotel marquee, the film’s signature catch phrase floated up into the air like cigarette smoke.
You’re so cool. You’re so cool. You’re so cool…
Matt Warren / Film Independent Digital Content Manager