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Why the cast of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood looks so familiar

There's always hype when a new Quentin Tarantino movie draws near, but the anticipation surrounding Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has been absolutely palpable. It could be because his last feature, 2015's The Hateful Eight, was a bit of a let down for some (it "indulges all of Tarantino's worst impulses," according to The Atlantic), but it could also be the fact that the director is doing his best to keep the buzz building. "This film is the closest thing I've done to Pulp Fiction," he told Esquire. "Alfonso [Cuarón] had Roma and Mexico City, 1970. I had L.A. and 1969. This is me. This is the year that formed me. I was six years old then. This is my world. And this is my love letter to L.A."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set against the backdrop of the Manson Family murders. It follows fading Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they come to terms with the changing tides in Hollywood. Australian A-lister Margot Robbie rounds out the main cast as tragic actress Sharon Tate, but there are plenty of other famous faces on display — Al Pacino and Kurt Russell both appear in cameo roles, and Dakota Fanning plays Manson follower Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme

Tarantino cast a number of lesser-known actors in supporting roles, however, and despite not being household names, they all have familiar faces. Here's why.

Damon Herriman - Charles Manson

Charles Manson isn't a main character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but his presence hangs over the movie and Tarantino needed someone who could make the desired impact with limited screen time. That someone was Logie Award winner Damon Herriman, who began his career as a child actor in his native Australia. He started booking commercial gigs at age eight, and by ten he was working in TV, playing the part of Frank Errol in WWII drama series The Sullivans. Herriman became a regular on Aussie TV in the years that followed, but today he juggles local projects with Hollywood ones.

To American audiences he's probably best known as Dewey Crowe from the FX show Justified, but he's been in a number of movies, too, usually playing a villain. He was the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby in J. Edgar (making Once Upon a Time in Hollywood a reunion with Leonardo DiCaprio), a gang member in The Lone Ranger, and more recently an accomplice to rape and murder in controversial period thriller The Nightingale. 

Playing Charles Manson is on another level when compared to all those roles, however, and Herriman is doing it twice ⁠— he's also portraying the late cult leader in the second season of David Fincher's Mindhunter. According to Collider, he was cast in the Netflix show before Tarantino came calling.

Margaret Qualley - Pussycat

When the first round of reviews dropped after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Cannes premiere, a number of critics singled out Margaret Qualley (daughter of model-turned-actress Andie MacDowell) as a standout among the supporting cast. The Hollywood Reporter said she brought "insouciant sexual authority" to Pussycat, a flirty Manson girl who catches the eye of Brad Pitt's Cliff. Tarantino's ninth flick is undoubtedly a career highlight for Qualley, but she's featured in a number of other Hollywood movies during her short but varied career.

She made her debut in Gia Coppola's Palo Alto (2013) and the following year she signed on to play the daughter of Justin Theroux's character in HBO's The Leftovers. She was still around come the third season, but her screen time was limited, so she turned her attention to the big screen. Qualley filmed a bunch of feature films in 2017, including starring roles in Novitiate and the Netflix adaptation of Death Note. The latter film didn't go down well with critics or fans of the cult anime series, but Novitiate (a decade-spanning film about abuse in a Catholic nunnery) was a hit.

Qualley is living the dream right now, but there was once a time when Hollywood wasn't her dream at all ⁠— she trained as a dancer and tried modeling before turning to acting. "I grew up never thinking about acting as a profession because that was what my mum did and often you don't want to be like your parents," she told Vogue

Maya Hawke - Flower Child

Uma Thurman has been a long-time muse of Tarantino, but the director and actress had a falling out after a car crash on the set of 2003's Kill Bill left her with injuries that still trouble her to this day. This made the news that Maya Hawke (daughter of Thurman and actor Ethan Hawke) was set to appear in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood all the more interesting. Tarantino (who called the car crash incident a "horrendous mistake") cast Thurman's daughter as the fictional character, Flower Child.

Prior to landing the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood role, Hawke had very little experience. She only began acting professionally in 2017 when she was cast as Jo March in the PBS mini-series adaptation of Little Women. "The fact that it was her first role was particularly exciting for us," executive producer Colin Callender told IndieWire. "It's a risk, but it was the right sort of risk. I loved the fact that she would come to the screen and the audience wouldn't know her, rather than finding an actress that the audience knew from something else."

The name Maya Hawke will likely be a household one by the end of 2019, and that's not just because of her part in Tarantino's ninth movie — she's also appearing in season 3 of the Netflix hit Stranger Things. According to IndieWire, she'll play an "alternative girl" named Robin.

Rumer Willis - Joanna Pettet

The reason Rumer Willis looks so familiar is her genes. The actress is the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and it shows. It isn't only her famous parents she resembles, either — her looks also made her the perfect fit to play Joanna Pettet, the English actress who was at Sharon Tate's home just hours before Tate and four others were brutally murdered by followers of Charles Manson. Pettet, now retired, is best-known for playing Mata Bond in the 007 spoof Casino Royale (1967), but what about Rumer Willis? She won season 20 of Dancing with the Stars in 2015, and in 2019 she was revealed as the Lion on The Masked Singer, but where else have you seen her?  

She made her debut in coming-of-age flick Now and Then (1995) aged just five. The following year, she played her mother's daughter in Striptease, the ill-fated single-mother-turned-stripper movie that derailed Demi Moore's career. She had a minor appearance in her dad's film The Whole Nine Yards (2000) and she got the chance to do some real acting alongside him in 2005's Hostage, another critical failureShe went on to appear in a number of forgettable feature films after coming of age, but she's had some success in TV — the celebrity scion played Zoe in Pretty Little Liars and drug-addled fallen star Tory Ash in Fox's Empire.

Mike Moh - Bruce Lee

Another Empire alum, Mike Moh plays legendary martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a real dream come true for him. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about the role, Moh (who was born in the States but is of Korean descent) revealed that Lee was a childhood hero. "As a kid growing up in suburban Minnesota I was one of the only Asian kids, so I was the class clown and a big part of that was me wanting to fit in," the actor and martial arts teacher said. "Then I saw Bruce Lee and I was like, 'Wow, this guy can kick ass, the girls want him, he is super-strong and confident.' I hadn't seen someone like that before."

Moh got a taste for the movies working with another martial arts icon — his first gig was as a stuntman in Jackie Chan film Rob-B-Hood (2006). Chan inspired him to pursue acting, and a number of minor roles followed. As well as Empire, Moh worked on House, 2 Broke Girls, and True Blood, though his big break was Marvel's Inhumans, in which he played Triton. Even playing a superhero doesn't compare to being Bruce Lee, however. "Ever since, I have had an epic hangover, creatively," Moh added. "I don't think I will ever have a moment like that again — where I felt, for the very first time, like I belonged on the A-list."

Luke Perry - Wayne Maunder

Luke Perry's shock passing means that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be his last ever appearance. The actor died at the age of 52 after suffering a stoke, devastating the cast of Riverdale. Perry played the father of main character Archie Andrews on the Netflix series from 2017 up until his death in 2019, though the show he'll be best remembered for is Beverly Hills, 90210. He played Dylan McKay for the entirety of the 1990s, making him one of the biggest teen heartthrobs of the decade.

In an interview he gave back in 1992, Perry (who grew up in small town Ohio) said that he was determined not to burn out early. "I hope to be still working when I'm 30, and 40, and 50, and for however long I want to," he said (via USA Today). "When my time here is up, I don't want to look back and see that I didn't do anything." His fame inevitably waned after 90210, but Perry achieved his goal of working into his 50s.

In the role of real-life actor Wayne Maunder (star of TV Western Lancer), Perry got to work with two of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt were the ones who found themselves starstruck. "It was this strange burst of excitement that I had, to be able to act with him," Pitt told Esquire. "Man, he was so incredibly humble and amazing and absolutely committed."

Scoot McNairy - Business Bob Gilbert

Like Luke Perry, Scoot McNairy plays "a character that's within a TV show in the movie," as the actor himself put it. He's not a huge name, but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is far from the first critically acclaimed movie that McNairy has been a part of — in fact, he was in the Best Picture winner two years running. He got his big break in Ben Affleck's Argo in 2012 and the following year he appeared in 12 Years a Slave, both of which picked up the top prize at the Oscars. He worked with Affleck again in Gone Girl and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a role that he relished

Nothing he's done to date compares to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, however. Speaking with Collider, McNairy said that watching Tarantino work was one of the "greatest experiences" he's had as an actor. "His process and the way that he does it, I've never been on a set like that in my life," McNairy said. "It feels like you're making movies from the 1930s. It's the organic, raw, way of making films, where everything is in camera. He doesn't even have a monitor. He just stares at you, next to the camera. It's fascinating."

Mikey Madison - Sadie

Dubbed "the scariest of the Manson girls" by Los Angeles district attorney Stephen Kay (via The Independent), Susan "Sadie" Atkins is said to have bragged about stabbing Sharon Tate and drinking her blood to a cellmate. Getting into the mindset of someone who would kill a heavily pregnant woman on command is no small task, but Tarantino clearly felt that Mikey Madison was up to the job, despite her limited experience. The California native only has a handful of screen credits outside of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the most prominent being Better Things, the first FX show with an all female cast.

Before that, Madison had a small role on Bravo series Imposters and appeared in a few indie flicks. "I love independents," she told Interview magazine. "Now is a time where there are so many more opportunities for women in this industry. I think it can still be better, but the characters that I have played so far have had great writing for women." The actor revealed that she and her father have always been huge films buffs, so when Tarantino came calling, she didn't have to think twice. "I grew up watching all the Woody Allen films and Tarantino, Sofia Coppola, Scorsese," she said.

Samantha Robinson - Abigail Folger

Samantha Robinson plays coffee heiress and Manson family victim Abigail Folger. Robinson was born in New York City, but spent the majority of her childhood in London, where she studied at the world-renowned Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Her time there was "integral" to her development as an actor, as she explained to Close Up Culture. "I would take every opportunity to see shows in the West End, often skipping school to do that," she admitted. "It is my training in theater and my love for it that has shaped the actor I am today."

Her first gig of any substance was as a gaming host for The 3 Minute Update (she presented 20 episodes in 2013), but feature film roles were to follow. Robinson managed to snag parts in murder mystery flick Sugar Daddies (2014), romantic drama Labyrinths (2015), comedy horror The Love Witch (2016), and psychological thriller Cam (2018). She's had a varied career to date, but the highlight has been working with Tarantino on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

"It was insane, it was so surreal," she told Diabolique Magazine. "I've always loved all of Quentin Tarantino's films, it's been like a dream of mine to work with him, and that's like the power of manifestation — I was thinking 'I have to get on that film' and somehow I did get on it so you just have to believe in yourself and anything is possible."

Austin Butler - Tex Watson

According to his proud parents, Anaheim-born actor Austin Butler's journey to Hollywood began at the age of 13 when he was spotted by an agent at the Orange County Fair. He went on to appear in the background of Nickelodeon's Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, but it was Disney who gave him his first named character. Butler played Toby in a 2006 episode of Hannah Montana, though he soon returned to Nickelodeon, featuring in both Zoey 101 and iCarly, the latter being his first ever speaking role. Those with zero interest in children's TV will likely still have seen Butler in action, however, as he's popped up in a number of slightly more grown-up shows since coming of age.

Butler played secret assassin Chase in Arrow between 2014 and 2015, and then he appeared as main character Wil Ohmsford in The Shannara Chronicles between 2016 and 2017. He's appeared in three feature films since The Shannara Chronicles was canceled in 2018, though his most recent credit stands head and shoulders above the rest — Butler portrays Charles Manson's right-hand man Tex Wastson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. According to Watson (who was originally scheduled for execution but had his sentence commuted to life in prison) he met Manson at the house of Dennis Wilson after the Beach Boys drummer hitched a lift from him and invited him in.

Dreama Walker - Connie Stevens

Manson's followers committed two more murders the night after they killed Tate and friends, slaying supermarket owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in their Los Angeles home. The residents of Hollywood were already on high alert after news of Tate's killing spree, and a second night of gruesome violence sent the place into a frenzy — according to E! News, two hundred guns were sold at one Beverly Hills store in just two days. The murders "scared the daylights out of everyone," Tate's neighbor Connie Stevens said.

In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Stevens is portrayed by Dreama Walker, whose career began in 2006 with an appearance in Law & Order. She's worked largely in TV since (she later held down parts in Gossip GirlDon't Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, and The Good Wife), but Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn't her first feature-length rodeo. The Tampa-born actor had minor parts in Ricky Gervais' The Invention of Lying, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, and the Sex and the City movie. More recently, Walker has been plying her trade from a recording booth — she's voiced a number of American Dad characters since joining the cast in 2017.

Rachel Redleaf - Mama Cass

Bruce Lee isn't the only icon of the age that Tarantino decided to include in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Mama Cass Elliott appears in the movie (she's at a Playboy Mansion party with Damian Lewis' Steve McQueen), and even though the actress playing the legendary singer isn't very well-known, she'll no doubt look familiar to Netflix subscribers. Rachel Redleaf started appearing in community theater at age four, but she had very few screen credits to her name prior to landing her part in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Luckily, the time she spent playing Beth Chapin in coming-of-age show Atypical allowed her to grow in confidence quickly.

"Being on set for an amazing series like Atypical has definitely prepared me for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," Redleaf told Pop Culturalist"Cass Elliot and I have a lot of similarities, and it was an honor to play such a legendary woman. We are both proud, singing, dancing, and over-the-top ladies!" Redleaf shot the majority of her scenes with Margot Robbie (Sharon Tate), which was "a privilege" for her. "I hope to be like her one day," the Arizona-raised actress added. "It was very humbling."