As a film obsessed writer and all around fanatic of the medium, you have no choice but to jump when given the opportunity to be in the same room as Quentin Tarantino, no matter what film he’s promoting. Yes, I was that lucky son of a gun this past Sunday, as Tarantino was making press rounds for his upcoming and already widely praised spaghetti western Django Unchained, but he was not alone. Not by a long shot.
On the roster set to appear with the famed director were Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Django himself Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington (Ray), the legendary Samuel L. Jackson (Everything), Walton Goggins (Justified), and Don Johnson (Miami Vice). Star-studded, I know, but wait, there’s more! For reasons I don’t rather care about or question, Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception) and Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street) were able to participate, making a panel for the ages. I’d thought I’d died and went to movie heaven.
What transpired was something special to witness, gathering an obviously comfortable group of professionals who were bonded over greatness, as the panel joked loosely and remained extremely friendly throughout questioning. There were no stiff answers, the actors riffed off one another like dated pals, and the atmosphere amongst the conference was jubilent fun – the entire hour our participants shared numerous war stories from Tarantino’s set. From an onlookers perspective, it was a marvel to behold, like a bunch of overjoyed children giggling and prodding one another, but the common bond could not be ignored. Be it Tarantino’s phenomenal direction or ability to put these magnificently cohesive casts together, everyone could tell Django Unchained‘s cast was something special.
Jumping right into questioning, the theme of slavery was brought up to Quentin Tarantino, as his western deals with the social issue front and center in a way not done for many years. “I always wanted to do a movie that deals with America’s horrific past,” Tarantino replied, adding “as opposed to doing it as a straight forward story with a capital H, I actually thought it would be better wrapped up in genre….So many westerns that actually take place during slavery times have actually bent over backwards to avoid it…” He went on to comment how all people in America just want to avoid the issue and not bring it up, but he made a compelling argument for facing it head on, stating “of all the slave narratives that could have existed…there’s a zillion stories, a zillion dramatic, heartbreaking triumphant stories that could be told. We’re living in a world where everyone says ‘there are no new stories.’ There’s a whole bunch of them, and they’re all American stories that could be told, so I wanted to be one of the first ones out of the gate with it.”
Upon being asked about the thought of playing a slave, Jamie had a funny little quip about how he got the role as Django, saying “Well, I wasn’t asked to play [Django], I actually saw that the movie was already going, and someone else was supposed to play [Django], and I thought ‘Wow, here’s another project that I hadn’t heard about,’ and that’s when I had a management change…” Whether that was just for a laugh is up in the air, but Jamie did everything he could to hop aboard the Quentin Tarantino train. Not having any qualms about the racial material and taking to the love story, Jamie was actually most attracted to the obvious uprising of Django. “When you see movies about slavery…we never get a chance to see the slave actually fight back, actually do for himself, and in this movie there are a lot of firsts.”
Kerry Washington echoed Foxx’s same sentiments, stating “People in the past may have been nervous to play a slave because so many of the narratives we’ve told in film and television about slavery are about powerlessness, and this is not a film about that. This is a film about a black man who finds his freedom and rescues his wife.” She added this little tidbit which I also loved, saying “[Django] is an agent of his own power, he’s a liberator, he’s a hero.” She even goes on to describe Django as a “Superhero,” a term fitting and which might be more prevalent in the Django Unchained comic book.
Samuel L. Jackson was no stranger to the debate as well, although his character Stephen is one to be compared differently to Foxx’s character and Washington’s, jesting about the way racism is dealt with in Tarantino’s film. On the character Stephen, “I just complained about being 15 years too old to be Django, I was done with that.” Obviously after reading the script, Jackson came around saying “[To Quentin] So you want me to be the most despicable negro in cinematic history? We both kind of laughed at it and said, ‘yeah!'”
Touching on how iconic his unique character was, Jackson admitted there was another motive behind taking Stephen. “It also gave me the opportunity to do real nasty shit to the person who got the role I wanted.” Samuel L. Jackson embraced his more evil role though, all jokes aside, really wanting to give a performance that could rival Foxx’s good guy role, and have that person be of African descent as well. If anyone knows how to script layers of drama, Tarantino is one of the best, and Jackson damn well knows that.
Leonardo DiCaprio was quick witted as well, just like the rest of the cast, hearing a question start out “This is the first film you’ve been in, in quite a long time, where you’re not the only name above the title” and quickly interrupted with “and it sucks.” This type of humor kept the room in stitches and spirits light, making it hard to decipher some quotes as I’m playing material back myself right now.
Getting back to DiCaprio’s unusually sinister role in Django Unchained, the actor embraced his opportunity much like Samuel L. Jackson did for Stephen. Now, this quote is a tad long, but DiCaprio perfectly summarizes what a Tarantino film now means around Hollywood.
“We all read the script. There was a sort of buzz around this for a while, and people were talking about the next Tarantino movie that was about to come out, and the fact that he tackled this subject matter like he did with Inglourious Basterds and recreated his own history, and tackled something as hardcore as slavery, and combined it with genre, having it be this crazy spaghetti western feel while its lead character who obliterates the cancerous rotting south. It was completely exciting.”
Now, DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie was everything wrong with the South according to Tarantino, and DiCaprio loved delving into every sick and twisted detail. “There was nothing bout this man I could identify with. I hated him, and it was one of the most narcissistic, self indulgent, racist, horrible characters I’ve ever read in my life, and I had to do it.” Jamie revealed Leo himself struggled during readings, debating if using the “N” word so profusely was needed, but Samuel L. Jackson was there to offer an always helpful word, saying “Hey m*therf#cker, this is just another Tuesday for us, lets go!” Oh, Sammy J.
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