Over the weekend, The New York Times shared actress Uma Thurman’s accounts of abuse from producer Harvey Weinstein and her hospitalizing car crash from the Kill Bill series in a Karmann Ghia she called a “deathbox.” Director Quentin Tarantino, who told Thurman the road she had to drive the car on was straight and that it would be fine, responded to the story by saying: “I don’t know how a straight road turns into an un-straight road.”
That weird, roundabout vibe is present throughout Tarantino’s interview with Deadline, which the author, Mike Fleming Jr., introduced by saying he “offered Tarantino the opportunity to clarify because at this moment, stories get written and then picked up across the globe, often getting twisted to suit convenient narratives in this #MeToo moment.”
Tarantino, who’s currently under fire for defending director Roman Polanski’s rape of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer in 1977 as “she wanted to have it,” told Deadline Thurman’s crash was “the biggest regret” of his life, but his detailing of the incident doesn’t totally match up with hers.
Thurman’s description in the Times of the events that led up to her crash on the set of Kill Bill Vol. 2, which caused her to leave the hospital in a neck brace with damaged knees and a concussion, went like this: Tarantino came to her trailer, angry, and wanted her to do the scene although she was scared and didn’t feel comfortable in the Karmann Ghia on set. She called the car a “deathbox” and said the seat wasn’t screwed in properly, but said Tarantino told her the car was fine, the road she had to drive on was straight, and that if she didn’t get up to 40 mph and make her hair blow correctly, he’d make her do it again.
Thurman said the road wasn’t straight, and set footage obtained by the Times shows that it wasn’t. The Times reported that Tarantino did not respond to requests for comment on the crash before its story published, but he talked to Deadline for a story that published on Monday—a couple of days after.
Tarantino told Deadline he gave that footage to Thurman, who told the Times she sought it after the crash to sue Miramax. She said she couldn’t get it from the studio unless she agreed to release the company from the legal consequences of her pain and suffering, and she did not agree.
Here’s how Tarantino described the events leading up to the crash to Deadline, including that the company “spent all this money” converting the car from a manual transmission to an automatic just for the shot. It isn’t at all close to what Thurman said, emphasis ours:
I start hearing from the production manager, Bennett Walsh, that Uma is trepidatious about doing the driving shot. None of us ever considered it a stunt. It was just driving. ... I’m sure when it was brought up to me, that I rolled my eyes and was irritated. But I’m sure I wasn’t in a rage and I wasn’t livid. I didn’t go barging into Uma’s trailer, screaming at her to get into the car. ... Anyone who knows Uma knows that going into her trailer, and screaming at her to do something is not the way to get her to do something. ...
Instead, ... I heard her trepidation. And despite that we had set up everything in this shot, I listened to it. What I did was, I drove down this road, this one lane little strip of road with foliage on either side, in Mexico. I drove down it, hoping against hope that it would be easy and safe enough for Uma to drive. ... There are no weird dips, there were no gully kinds of things, no hidden S-curves. Nothing like that. It was just a straight shot.
Uma had a license. I knew she was a shaky driver, but she had a license. When I was all finished [driving], I was very happy, thinking, she can totally do this, it won’t be a problem. I go to Uma’s trailer. Her makeup person, Ilona Herman was there. Far from me being mad, livid and angry, I was all…smiley. I said, Oh, Uma, it’s just fine. You can totally do this. It’s just a straight line, that’s all it is.
The footage from the Times shows the road taking an abrupt S before Thurman’s crash, as shown from the camera mounted on the back of the vehicle. Tarantino admitted that having a heavy camera on the back of a small car, rear-engined like that pretty much doomed it once it got in trouble, and that the car “was almost hydroplaning on the sand” at one point.
Jalopnik’s resident Volkswagen expert Jason Torchinsky, who had a similar wreck in a Beetle as a teenager, said it’s easy in this kind of situation for the back end to get loose and the driver to overcorrect, sending the car into a spin. It also takes different skills to handle a vehicle like the Karmann Ghia when a lot of people are used to cars with engines and weight biases in the front, especially on a loose dirt road.
But Tarantino told Deadline he ultimately thinks what caused the crash was the direction Thurman was driving, which was the opposite of what he’d done when testing the car. The change in direction was made because of the lighting at the end of the day, and Tarantino said he assumed it would be alright because the road was straight. From the interview, emphasis ours:
Could we go from west to east? It didn’t affect the shot. I didn’t see how it would affect anything. A straight road is a straight road.
After the crash, when Uma went to the hospital, I was feeling in total anguish at what had happened. I walked the road, going the opposite direction. And in walking the road, going in the other direction…I don’t know how a straight road turns into an un-straight road, but it wasn’t as straight. It wasn’t the straight shot that it had been, going the other way. There is a little mini S-curve that almost seemed like it opened up to a mini fork in the road.
That is just not the way it looked, going in the opposite direction. Maybe the opposite direction there was kind of an optical illusion. This other way, there’s a little bend and if you look at the footage, that’s where she loses control. She’s flying along, and she thinks it’s a straight road and as far as she can see, it is a straight road out her windshield. And then it takes this little S-curve, and she’s not prepared for it. ...
Tarantino said he felt “just horrible ... watching her fight for the wheel [and] remembering ... hammering about how it was safe and she could do it.” From the interview:
Emphasizing that it was a straight road, a straight road…the fact that she believe me, and I literally watched this little S curve pop up. And it spins her like a top. It was heartbreaking.
There’s more on Tarantino’s perspective on the crash at Deadline. Thurman told the Times after she got out of the hospital, she was upset and wanted to see the car. She and Tarantino had “an enormous fight,” she said, in which she accused him of trying to kill her and he “was very angry at that” because he didn’t feel like he’d tried to kill her.
Speaking with the Times, Thurman called the car crash a cheap shot:
“Harvey assaulted me but that didn’t kill me,” she says. “What really got me about the crash was that it was a cheap shot. I had been through so many rings of fire by that point. I had really always felt a connection to the greater good in my work with Quentin and most of what I allowed to happen to me and what I participated in was kind of like a horrible mud wrestle with a very angry brother. But at least I had some say, you know?” She says she didn’t feel disempowered by any of it. Until the crash.
Tarantino, who admitted to being well aware of Weinstein’s sexual-misconduct allegations for decades, called the crash “beyond one of the biggest regrets” of his career in the Deadline interview. It’s one of the biggest regrets of his life, he said, “for a myriad of reasons.”