Interview with Omar Doom

omar doom image

 

by Andrew J. Rausch

Omar Doom is an actor, director, musician, and artist. After meeting Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker convinced him to shorten his birth name (“Omar Makhdomi”) to the shorter stage pseudonym. The Reservoir Dogs helmer also persuaded the young musician to consider acting. “Quentin told me I’d be great in movies,” Doom would later say in a press junket. “He really pushed me. I decided to go for it. I took his advice and I studied acting.” This would ultimately pay off for the would-be actor, who landed his first role in Tarantino’s Death Proof as Vanessa Ferlito’s love interest. Tarantino would later cast Doom a second time as Private First Class Omar Ulmer in Inglourious Basterds.

Tarantino and Doom remain good friends, and Tarantino often invites him to his home for movie marathons. One year Tarantino threw the actor a birthday party in which he screened cartoons and movies, including Hammerhead and The Mack.

When did you first meet Quentin Tarantino?

We met through mutual friends around 1998.

Were you a fan of his work prior to meeting him? Did he influence you as a filmmaker?

I was and have always been a huge fan of his work. I still watch his movies pretty regularly. Everything I’ve learned about making movies I learned from watching him work. You’ll be able to see what I come up with in the near future.

I understand that Quentin actually came up with your stage name, “Omar Doom.” Tel me about that.

When I was twenty-three, I was having lunch with Quentin at the restaurant Toi on Sunset in Hollywood. I was telling him that I was thinking of shortening my name from Omar Makhdoomi to Omar Makhdoom. He said, “Why not just be Omar Doom?” I had never thought of that, and at first I thought it was a little too ridiculous, but after a while I was convinced. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna do it.” And I’ve never regretted it.

What do you see as being Quentin’s biggest strengths in terms of directing?

People normally praise him for his writing, but I think he is also a phenomenal director. He has a very artistic way of blocking his scenes and framing his shots. As with everything he does, he shatters any rules or conventions. Also, he has very strong convictions. He was so adamant about doing real non-CGI high speed car chases in Death Proof that he built a supercharged camera truck that he sat in, driving over a hundred miles an hour to get those amazing shots.

What’s the most interesting conversation you’ve ever had with him?

That’s a hard one, because there are so many. I don’t know which is the best, but one that stands out in my mind was about his meeting Bob Dylan. Apparently Bob Dylan boxes and has his own boxing ring. And Quentin and Bob Dylan actually boxed. The thought of that happening just blows my mind.

How did you become involved with Death Proof?

I got ahold of the script and basically begged him to read for it. He may have already been planning to bring me into the fold, but I didn’t waste any time making sure it happened.

What were your thoughts on the script the first time you read it?

It was like reading any of his scripts for the first time. They’re always read in one sitting because they’re just impossible to put down. And the endings always make the hairs on my arms stick straight up and I get chills down my neck. But with Death Proof in particular, knowing that he names characters after his close friends, and then seeing that he’d named a character Omar was just an incredible thing. I was basically in the movie before I was in the movie.

What was that cast like to work with?

We were mostly all the same age on that set, so we hung out a lot. I made some lifelong friendships on that movie. That doesn’t usually happen on movie sets. But something about Quentin’s sets makes it really feel like everyone is part of a big family. There’s no set like a Tarantino set. Everyone knows that the next movie set experience you have after working on a Tarantino movie is gonna suck, no matter what the movie is. Quentin told me that himself. Except it turned out that he was all wrong because my next movie ended up being Inglourious Basterds. I remember asking Quentin, “Remember telling me my next job was gonna suck? You were wrong.”

I’ve heard that he screens movies for the cast and crew sometimes. Did he do this on the two movies you worked on, and if so, what were some of those films?

Usually they have something to do with whatever we’re shooting or the actors we’re working with. For example, during Death Proof we watched Used Cars with Kurt Russell. That was quite an experience. Kurt got a real kick out of that, just as we all did.

What was Kurt Russell like to work with?

He’s a very humble guy who, like the rest of us, really felt that working with Quentin is just really something special. He didn’t treat it like it was just one of the hundreds of movies he’s worked on. For me personally, as a big fan of his work, it was an absolute joy just to be around him.

You worked pretty closely with Eli Roth on that picture. What’s he like?

I worked on both Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds with Eli Roth, so we had already become friends. He’s a great guy. Before meeting him I saw Hostel with Quentin opening night in New York City, and I was just blown away. It’s such a fun movie. Eli and I have a lot of similar interests film-wise. We both love a lot of the same horror/Giallo films and he has introduced me to some great ones I had never seen. Eli and the rest of the Basterds all formed a brotherhood on that picture. We would all hang out on and off the set. It was a great time. Filming Basterds in Berlin is one of my fondest memories.

What are your thoughts on the final film Death Proof?

I love Death Proof. Quentin can pull off any genre, and it was a real treat to see his take on grindhouse horror/car chase films. I don’t think anyone could have done it better. People have very short attention spans, so they weren’t really ready for such a long double feature in theaters. But it’s become a cult favorite since then. I get recognized a lot for that movie even though my role wasn’t all that big.

How did you end up working on Inglourious Basterds?

I didn’t go through the same audition process as I did for Death Proof on Basterds. Quentin just called me two weeks before I got on the plane and gave me an enthusiastic and bloody description of what I’d be doing—that I would be scalping and slaughtering Nazis left and right with Brad Pitt. He finished by saying, “Basically I want you to come to Berlin and be a Basterd.” I just said, “Quentin, I’ve been preparing for this role my entire life.”

What was working with Brad Pitt like?

Brad Pitt is a great example of how actors should conduct themselves. He’s the chillest, most humble actor I’ve ever worked with. Some of the other big names showed up with a thick entourage of men in suits, while Brad just showed up with a six pack for the Basterds, saying, “You guys want a beer?” He was very encouraging to me during a lot of scenes with him, telling me that I had really come into my own throughout the film. It meant a lot to me. I hope I get to work with him again sometime.

Were you at all nervous going in to act in a big film like Basterds, where you’d be working alongside so many talented performers?

I actually wasn’t. Working on Basterds was a pure joy. I was excited to get up and go to the set every day. Even when I was working in front of three or four hundred people, it was nothing but fun. Something about the way that Quentin works makes acting for him easy and such a thrill.

You were quite good in that film. Do people come up to you and recognize you from Inglourious Basterds?

I do get recognized for Basterds more than anything else. People ask me to do the Italian hand gesture for a picture, or say the Dominic DiCocco line. Depending on how many drinks I’ve had, I just might do it. I’m more proud of the work I did on that film than on anything else in my life, so it’s nice to be recognized for it.

What was your favorite scene on that film, and why?

Busting through the door and killing Hitler and Gobbels with Eli would have to be my favorite day on set. When is someone ever going to have a chance to say they killed Hitler? In a Tarantino movie, no less! Well, I can now. I feel like I should make a business card that says “OMAR DOOM. I KILLED HITLER.”

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