Quentin Tarantino’s voice is unmistakable, so when it suddenly appears early in the new Showtime limited series “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber,” there’s no question who it is. Only how he got there.
As it turns out, it was Tarantino’s fandom of the Showtime series “Billions” that paved the way for his surprise role in “Super Pumped,” which charts the rise and fall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The limited series hails from “Billions” co-creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien, as well as Beth Schacter who serves as the current showrunner on “Billions.”
“What David [Levien] and I knew was in the last two years – if you listen to the podcast you know what a big deal Quentin’s work is to us – he wrote to us that he had become a really big ‘Billions’ watcher and fan,” Koppelman told TheWrap in a recent interview. “He watches it very closely and is very engaged with every reference and every character’s journey. So that’s why we thought maybe it was possible he would do it. We knew he liked our work to some extent, or was engaging it.”
As the team was working on “Super Pumped,” Koppelman was also reaching out to Tarantino to be a guest on his podcast “The Moment.” That appearance happened in July 2021, but Koppelman told TheWrap he asked Tarantino to narrate “Super Pumped” at the same time he invited him on the podcast. “When I asked him to do the podcast, in the same email I asked him to do this,” Koppelman said. “He said yes to both and I wrote back, ‘You know you said yes to both things?’ and he said, perfect Tarantino-ish, ‘Yeah I know what I said yes to.’”
Tarantino’s narration accentuates the story of Kalanick while also providing context to the tech world terms and figures we meet along the way, in a manner that’s slightly reminiscent of “The Big Short” but with Tarantino’s unique flair.
But what was it like giving a director of Tarantino’s caliber notes on a performance? Especially after Tarantino directed himself as the narrator of his 2015 film “The Hateful Eight?” Levien told TheWrap that Tarantino was “totally open” to feedback, but it turns out the filmmaker didn’t really need any. “He was amazing because he showed up like a performer and was totally open to our input and wanted us to be happy with it,” Levien said. “He didn’t bring his directorial authority to it, he was like, ‘Let me just read it out loud, you’ll hear what I do, and then you’ll tell me,’ basically. And of course he was basically right on it when he read it, and we would just give tiny thoughts about things. He was so enthusiastic and game, honestly it was surreal and one of the most fun things we’ve ever done in our career.”
There was one moment, however, when Tarantino had a note – except it was on him to fix it. Koppelman recalled with a laugh: “The only time Quentin got directorial at all, we did two sessions and the second session he was over in Israel where he lives part of the time so it was over Zoom, and the only directorial thing was he was like, ‘I don’t really love how this camera is with the Zoom,’ and we were like, ‘You know what, you set that up!’”
But why Tarantino in the first place? What made him an obvious choice for this story of Uber? Koppelman responded, “When people ask why Quentin Tarantino the only answer I can come up with is, ‘Because he said yes.’”
The first episode of “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” premieres Sunday, Feb. 26 only on Showtime.