Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
It’s clear to anyone who watches Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth and latest film, that the director took some creative license with his source material. The movie, which is kind of about the entertainment industry in the late 1960s but also kind of about the Manson family’s influence on Los Angeles, takes the traditional narrative of the Helter Skelter killings and turns it on its head. You could say it’s like watching the Manson murders while on acid, but that might be too much of a spoiler.
But among all the fictionalization (such as the existence of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth) is the skeleton of a very real — and very disturbing — crime that left a lasting mark on Hollywood culture. To tell the story, Tarantino relied on a cast of characters including many real people. Ahead, your guide to everyone in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood who isn’t a figment of Tarantino’s imagination.
The would-be victims
Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Sharon Tate is infamous now — especially since the late actress’ sister has given the movie her high praises — but the friends who joined her on what was supposed to be her last night were factually accurate, even if their fates weren’t.
Jay Sebring, played by Emile Hirsch, was Tate’s ex-boyfriend and a hairdresser to the stars — in fact, he’s rumored to be the first person in Beverly Hills to cut hair in a private room. Despite their breakup, the two remained close friends, and Sebring spent plenty of time at the house on Cielo Drive.
Joining Sebring and Tate that evening were Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski (played by Samantha Robinson and Costa Ronin). Folger was indeed the heiress to a coffee empire, as told in the film. Despite her trust fund, she had been living at the Cielo Drive house with her boyfriend, Frykowski, an aspiring filmmaker.
The Manson circle
The characters played by Lena Dunham, Margaret Qualley, and Margaret Qualley’s feet are all fictional depictions of Manson family members, but there were a few residents of Spahn Ranch who were ripped from the headlines (besides the obvious: Manson himself).
Charles “Tex” Watson, he of Austin Butler portrayal, is just as real and just as terrifying as he’s shown in the movie. Watson found his way to Spahn Ranch and the Manson family by total coincidence: The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson was once his hitchhiking passenger.
George Spahn (Bruce Dern), for his part, really owned the ranch but isn’t known to have associated with any of the Manson family members.
The Hollywood circle
Director Roman Polanksi (Rafal Zawierucha) was Tate’s husband and the father of her unborn child (or rather, the still-to-be-born child, if we’re discussing the alternate universe of Once Upon a Time). He lived at the Cielo Drive house among the rotating cast of Hollywood hangers-on and threw infamous parties. At the time of the murders he was in London, and he was reportedly informed of the crime while at a party.
Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Mike Moh, and Damien Lewis each play onscreen versions of real-life actors: James Stacy, Wayne Mauder, Bruce Lee, and Steve McQueen. McQueen was close friends with both Tate and Sebring (the scene in which he describes their non-traditional romantic dynamic, while fictional, is certainly plausible). In a Tarantinian twist, McQueen reportedly carried a gun to their funerals out of paranoia, according to the Manson exposé Chaos. Because sometimes truth is stranger than even Tarantino fiction.