Ever since Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, there has been a media scrutiny about whether the film did right by Sharon Tate, and the actor portraying her, Margot Robbie, given her relatively small amount of dialogue. One person who loves the film’s depiction of Sharon, however, is her sister Debra Tate. Speaking to Vanity Fair earlier this week, the woman who has kept the memory of her lost sister alive for 50 years revealed she was brought to tears the first time she saw Robbie as Sharon.
“She made me cry because she sounded just like Sharon,” Debra said of the day she came to the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood set. It was during the filming of one of the movie’s most moving sequences—the one where Sharon buys a ticket to her own movie, The Wrecking Crew, at the Bruin Theater—that Tarantino had hidden Debra away from the paparazzi’s cameras inside of the theater. So from a small distance, she saw the sequence where Robbie’s Sharon goes up to the ticket counter.
Continued Debra, “The tone in her voice was completely Sharon, and it just touched me so much that big tears [started falling]. The front of my shirt was wet. I actually got to see my sister again… nearly 50 years later.”
Perhaps more than any project in his career, Tarantino has been extraordinarily sensitive about preserving the memory of Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the first fictional movie in my memory that depicts Sharon not as a murdered victim of Charles Manson’s cult, but rather as a vivacious spirit of her age. It is an image that Debra Tate has long fought to preserve, choosing to be very critical of anything she considered exploitative of her sister’s memory. It is perhaps for that reason Tarantino first approached Debra with a screenplay and his unorthodox vision of the film five years ago. Debra gave the project her blessing and even made herself available to Robbie. Debra revealed to Vanity Fair that she leant Robbie some of Sharon’s jewelry and a partially used perfume bottle.
“I wanted to do anything I could to help her feel as much like Sharon as she possibly could.” She is pleased with the results of a film that recasts Sharon not as a tragic victim but as an effervescent energy that was only at the start of a promising career. Debra also told Vanity Fair that she wished Sharon was in the movie more, but “that was not the movie that Quentin had written, and I knew it and I understood it. And it was his vision. I’m not going to tell anybody that has done such a wonderful job, and a respectful job of honoring a particular situation, that they have to do my version of a story.”
Debra also revealed that she shared with Roman Polanski her relief with the movie after seeing the finished film earlier this week at its Los Angeles premiere. Polanski was married to Sharon, who was more than eight months pregnant when she was murdered on Aug. 9, 1969. Given Polanski’s own later crime, he was not involved at all in the process of making Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and certainly did not attend the premiere.
“I don’t know that he’s had a chance to see it… but I shared with him what not to believe about [the film],” Debra said. “That was his life, his wife. His loss was every bit as powerful and devastating as mine was, and I couldn’t leave the poor guy… I couldn’t let him swing in the wind.”
Debra Tate provides fascinating insight into the film and the reality that informed it, more so than many immediate kneejerk think pieces have done. In the full interview, she also reveals her satisfaction with how the Manson “Family” is depicted by Tarantino (and it is far less romantic than most film versions). You can find that again here. And if you’ve seen the movie, we unpack the full power of the movie’s vision of Sharon Tate here.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is in theaters now.