'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Star Julia Butters Shares a Sweet Memory of Luke Perry (Exclusive)
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In a cast that boasts names like Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie and Al Pacino, Julia Butters, DiCaprio's 10-year-old co-star in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, might just steal the show. ET's Keltie Knight sat down with Butters at Crumbs & Whiskers café in L.A. to discuss bonding with Luke Perry and find out which she likes best: Working with DiCaprio or hanging out at a café with a bunch of kittens?
"Oh, that's hard! I'll probably say the cats!" she chuckles. "Nothing is better than kittens. I love cats so much. I have two at home. One is a completely blind kitten with no eyes. He's so sweet. We're a failed foster [family]. We were just going to foster him, but he was too precious. We loved him too much."
Butters booked her first role -- an episode of Criminal Minds -- when she was just 4-years-old and has since appeared on the big screen in Michael Bay's 13 Hours and on TV in Transparent and the ABC sitcom, American Housewife. Quentin Tarantino happened to be watching the latter while writing the script for Once Upon a Time.
"He said that he likes to have the TV on, just for noise, while he's writing the script," Butters says. "So, he's watching me and I'm reciting a monologue called 'Bloody Becky' -- can't imagine why he liked that one! -- and...I feel so lucky that my show was on at that right moment, at that exact time. I can't believe it. He was just, like, 'I need to audition her.'"
In fact, she was the first actor Tarantino auditioned for the role of precocious child actor Trudi Fraser in the '60s-set tale of Tinseltown. In the movie, DiCaprio's Rick Dalton guest stars on the TV Western Lancer and Trudi is his scene partner, a case of art-imitating-life and a dream for any young actor -- although Butters did not know who Leonardo DiCaprio was, necessarily.
"I hadn't seen any of his movies. I just knew his name as an actor," she admits. "We were at the table read, I was sitting down and he came in during one of the scenes and he was like, 'It's nice to meet you. I'm Leo.' And I'm like, 'Oh, hi. It's nice to meet you, too.' I didn't really know who he was. So, it was interesting to find out who he was later on."
Butters isn't old enough to see much of DiCaprio's filmography, anyway. She hasn't even seen all of Once Upon a Time, after all, because though she may be in it, it's still rated R. "It's a Tarantino film!" she laughs. She's seen "probably until the hitchhikers scene and the end," and she watched all of her scenes. "Love my scenes! Watching them brought back so many memories. Like, 'Oh, I remember that! That's when he said, you know...'"
For a 10-year-old rising actor cast amongst some of the most lauded actors in the business, there was a lot worth remembering. Butters calls DiCaprio her "mentor," saying the Oscar winner became someone she could look up to through the experience. "Most things he taught me was from how he was acting," she explained. "I was like 'OK, I need to get in character. I'm going to do what he does.'"
"I was worried. I was like, 'If he's Method, that's going to be terrifying,'" she adds of one sequence which sees Dalton toss Trudi across the floor. ("That was all me," she proudly adds. "I did my own stunts.") "But he wasn't absolutely insane throwing me on the ground. He was more quiet. In fact, he was just a sweetheart. He would say, 'Every take, I'm going to ask you if you're OK, because I would never forgive myself if I ever hurt my princess.' Exact words. And I will never forget it, those words."
Butters' other scene partner in Once Upon a Time was the late Luke Perry, who plays Lancer actor Wayne Maunder, and she has a particularly fond memory of working with him. "He was so fatherly," she says. She recalls one day, in particular, when the crew was filming at Universal Studios. "There was this rock area where you could go down and feed the fish," she recalls. "I found a pottery piece with a flower on it and I gave it to Luke, and he said, 'Oh, this is amazing! I'll cherish it forever.'"
"The last time I saw him was at the wrap party a year later, basically," she shared. "I got pulled aside by Luke and he pulled the pottery piece out of his pocket and said, 'I told you I'd cherish this forever.' That was truly amazing. He still had it and he kept it and remembered to bring it, so that was a big part of the whole experience."
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is now in theaters and quickly became Tarantino's most successful opening weekend at the box-office. For Butters, it's only the beginning. DiCaprio compared her to a "young Meryl Streep" ("I'm almost in shock about it," she says. "It's such a compliment") and some have buzzed that she could be a Best Supporting Actress contender at the Oscars. "Can you believe it? I can't! I can't believe it," Butters coos to a kitten playing in her lap, smiling brightly: "Oh my gosh, I'm in shock, really."