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Rumer Willis talks ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

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Actress and singer Rumer Willis says she felt like she’d been transported to a different world the day she walked onset to shoot her scenes in director Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

The winner of season 20 of “Dancing with the Stars,” Willis played Tory Ash in the third and fourth seasons of the Fox musical drama “Empire” and was revealed to be the vocalist inside the Lion costume on Fox’s “The Masked Singer” earlier this year. She said she’s used to working with directors that strive for historical accuracy but that Tarantino’s quest for period-perfection was unparalleled.

“The attention to detail in this movie is unbelievable,” Willis told The Maine Edge during an interview. “I’ve worked on a lot of things but this one was on a different level.”

Tarantino’s stylized approach to the 1969 Charles Manson family murders, and the darkness surrounding the end of Hollywood’s golden age, features a gargantuan ensemble cast of more than 50, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino and Dakota Fanning.

Willis, the eldest daughter of actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, portrays British actress Joanna Pettet (“The Group,” “Casino Royale”) – a friend of murdered actress Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “I, Tonya”).

“I was blown away when I found out that Joanna was one of the last people to see Sharon Tate alive,” Willis said. “I watched a lot of Joanna’s movies to try to get a general vibe of who she was. It’s really interesting to play a real person and Margot did an incredible job of portraying Sharon Tate.”

Willis says she approached her role carefully by studying Pettet’s style and trying to learn as much about the actress as possible.

“When you’re playing a real-life figure, I think it’s important that you try to capture their essence – not necessarily by doing an imitation of them but by trying to capture their spirit,” Willis said.

Considering the fact that the Manson family murders unfolded nearly 20 years before Willis was born, I asked her how aware she was of the story before signing on to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

“I’d read a bunch of books about it, including ‘Helter Skelter’ (written by Vincent Bugliosi – Manson’s prosecuting attorney),” Willis said. “As gruesome as it was, the story is a huge part of LA history and the history of the film industry.”

It’s not the first time Willis has been approached to appear in a movie connected to the Manson family killing spree.

“In my career, I can’t tell you how many Manson-related scripts I’ve read, but this one was different. I think the way Quentin has approached this movie is amazing because of how he shows so much of Sharon Tate’s life.”

Willis says Tarantino put her at ease while shooting her first scene in the film, where we see her driving a car.

“Quentin said ‘You’re Bruce’s daughter. I hope you can drive this car with some gusto.’ I laughed and said, ‘I want to make my dad proud.’”

It’s funny to be part of a project like this with such a huge and incredible cast. I feel so unbelievably grateful to have been a part of it. I’m as excited to see this movie as a fan as I am because I’m in it.”

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