Quentin Tarantino has done it again. The visually stylistic director has managed to work historical events into a gripping, witty, dark comedy with an explosive ending that, like most Tarantino helm-ed films, will leave you wanting more. Set in the dirty south two years before the Civil War, Tarantino presents a western with some panache, that only he could brilliantly weave together without breaking a sweat. In a way the film pokes fun at its genre at every turn, with pan-zoomed crash shots on winking moments, and its general tone set by its ensemble cast.
At the center of the story is a German retired dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Dr. King, get it?) (Christoph Waltz) and a timid slave Django, (Jamie Foxx), who he has acquired to help him find brothers that are on a bounty. However, the film is less about their journey to find the brothers, and much more about Django coming into his own. Django’s story centers more around the character’s perseverance in trying to reunite with his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who has been sold to a flamboyantly flashy plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Being granted onto the plantation, albeit under false pretenses, leads the duo to face a host of racism, and dangerous men of the south. In addition to Foxx’s highlighted performance, DiCaprio, who is usually on the big screen in a charming role, plays one of his most complex and dehumanizing roles to date, and succeeds.
As a whole, overall the story is very much that of a revenge story. Seeing Foxx come into his own swagger from being a commodity, for the ultimate revenge on the south is possibly the most enjoyable part of the film that just misses its three-hour mark.
The Inquisitr’s very own Niki Cruz attended the press conference for Django Unchained this morning for an interview with director Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Don Johnson, and Walton Goggins. The hour kicked off at 10 am est. with lots of laughs from the cast and ended on a similar celebratory note, as press was invited to sing “Happy Birthday” to birthday boys, Jonah Hill, Don Johnson, and Jamie Foxx.
You’ve talked about wanting to make a western but it’s impossible to watch this movie without thinking about slavery as a subject that is largely absent from Hollywood. What sense of responsibility did you have in terms of making this movie that brings slavery out front and center like this?
Quentin Tarantino: Well, I always wanted to do a movie like this that deals with America’s horrific past with slavery. The way I wanted to deal with it is, as opposed to doing a straight historical movie with a capital “H” I actually thought it would be better if it was wrapped up in genre. It seems to me that so many westerns that take place during the Civil War time just bent over backwards to avoid it as is America’s way. Nobody really wants to deal with it. I think it’s like in the story of all the different types of slave narratives that could have existed during this time, there’s a zillion dramatic, exciting, adventurous, heartbreaking, triumphant stories that could be told. Living in a world now where everyone says there are no new stories, there’s a whole bunch of ’em. So I wanted to be one of the first ones out the gate with it.
For Jamie, Kerry, and Sam, when you read the script, what was your first impressions about being asked to play slaves?
Jamie Foxx: Well, I wasn’t asked to play. I actually saw that the movie was already going and someone else was playing it, and I thought, “Wow, here’s another project I haven’t heard about.” [LAUGHS]. First of all I didn’t care what it was, it’s Quentin Tarantino and all these people on this stage, and I feel these people can tackle absolutely any subject matter. Reading the script, I’m from Texas, so being from the south and the racial component, and I love the south, but there are racial components in the south. Me being called a n*gger growing up as a kid, so when I read the script, I didn’t knee-jerk to the word n*gger. That was something I experienced.
Samuel L. Jackson: At home. A lot. [LAUGHS]
Jamie Foxx: But what I was attracted to was the love story between Django and Broomhilda. When you see movies about slavery, we never get a chance to see the slave actually fight back. In this movie there’s a lot of firsts. It was about the work and we knew that coming into it. There was going to be all the other things said, and everything about it, but it’s a fantastic ride.
Kerry Washington: I think a lot of times people in the past may have felt nervous about playing a slave because so many narratives that 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. He’s an agent of his own power, he’s a liberator, and he’s a hero. There’s nothing shameful about that. I said to Quentin in our first meeting, I feel like I want to do this movie for my father, because my father grew up in a world where there were no black superheros and that’s what this movie is.
Sam, can you talk about the psychology of the character you play? It’s the most interesting character of the film with the sort of relationship he has both to Calvin Candie, but also to the other slaves and the sense of the small power that he’s holding on to.
Samuel L. Jackson: I’m the power behind the throne. I’m the Spook Cheney of Candyland [LAUGHS]. I got the script from Quentin and he just told me he wrote a western and wanted me to read Stephen. I called him back and said, “So you want me to be the most despicable negro in cinematic history?” We both kind of laughed together and said, “Yeah!” Not only was that a great artistic opportunity and to create something that was iconic, and to take what people know as Uncle Tom and turn it on its head in a powerful way, but it gave me an opportunity to do nasty sh*t to the person whose role I thought I should of had. [LAUGHS]. Stephen is the freest slave in the history of cinema. He has all the powers of the master and literally is the master. He has the plantation run, everybody on that plantation knows him. Everybody on that plantation fears him. I wholeheartedly embraced that.
Leo, this is the first film you’ve been in quite a long time where you’re not the only name above the title and–
Leonardo DiCaprio: And it sucked. [LAUGHS]
You are one of the biggest villains of the piece. Can you talk a little bit about what made you want to take this role?
DiCaprio: Well obviously Mr. Tarantino here was a major factor. We all read the script, there was a sort of buzz around this script for awhile. People were talking about the next Tarantino movie. 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 the genre of having it be this crazy spaghetti western feel to it. It was completely exciting. This man, as Quentin put it, he was a character that represented everything that was wrong with the south at the time. He was a young prince that wanted to hold onto his position and privilege at all costs, even though he was integrated his whole life with black people. He had to find a moral justification to treat people this way and continue his business. He had a plantation to run. The fact that he’s a francophile but he doesn’t speak French — he’s a walking contradiction. There was nothing about this man that 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 entire life. I had to do it.
I understand in the scene where you break the glass that you actually broke that glass?
Foxx: That was crazy. We were doing the dinner table scene and that whole day people were coming up from the offices to see Leo doing the scene. Him and Sam were just going to work. The shot glass somehow slid underneath where he was always slapping his hand down, and one take he slams his hand down and the shot glass goes through his hand. Blood is shooting out of his hand, and I’m thinking, “Does everybody else see this? This is crazy!” And he keeps going. It was amazing to see the process from my end from these two guys making it real. At one point when we were in rehearsal, and Leo is saying his lines, n*gger this, and [he said] “Buddy, oh, this is tough” And then Samuel pulled him to the side and said, “Hey, mother f*cker, this is just another Tuesday for us.”[LAUGHS]
Dr. King Schultz, Mr. Christoph Waltz, can you talk about reuniting with Quentin on this movie? Was there any hesitation on either of your side about working together again so soon after this very iconic character in Inglourious Basterds?
Christoph Waltz: Neither. There was no reunification, and there was no working together, it was just another mushroom of the fungus that was growing subcutaneously in me, all the time. Next question. [LAUGHS]
Tarantino: I had the same problem with Sam. It’s hard not to write for these guys. They say my dialogue so well. Bill, for seven months of writing Kill Bill, Bill sounded just like Sam! The way I write my dialogue, which I always kind of fancy it as poetry and they’re the ones that make it poetry as they say it. They come out of my pen.
Jonah, you play a role named Bag Head # 2. Did you ask to see the script at that point? Did it take awhile to find Bag Head # 2?
Jonah Hill: I got in this business to work with great filmmakers, so I don’t care if he wants me to be an extra in one of his movies. I don’t even know what the f*ck I’m doing up here. It’s kind of an ego stroke that you want me here.
Leo, what did you learn by playing Calvin Candie? Has being an actor become all you’ve wanted it to be?
DiCaprio: Wow. Yes. I love acting. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do my entire life. I hope to continue doing this for a long time to come. It’s the greatest job in the world. We’re all lucky bastards up here. What was great about doing this role was the sense of community, and the support mechanism that I had every single day. This was really my first attempt in playing a character that I had this much disdain in and hatred for. It was an incredibly uncomfortable environment to walk into. I’ve dealt with, and seen racism in my surroundings but to the degree that I had to treat other people in this film was incredible disturbing. One of the pivotal moments for me in this character was the initial read through that we had where Sam and Jamie told me, and I think I brought up the point of, “Do we need to go this far?” at times. I think it was Sam and Jamie that both said, “Look man, if you sugarcoat this people are going to resent the hell out of you.” At the core of it was to have a group of actors that were all mutually there for one another to support and drive each other further.
Were there any moments where you got really uncomfortable and had to change anything on set?
Tarantino: There was only one thing that I felt uncomfortable about. Not shooting, but at the very beginning stages upon finishing the script. It’s one thing to write, exterior Greenville, where the slave auction town was. One hundred slaves walk through this deep-sh*t mud in chains, wearing masks and metal collars. This whole town is built over this black Auschwitz. It’s one thing to write that, it’s another thing to get 100 black folks, put them in chains, and march them through the mud. I started to question, “Could I do it?” I never thought that about anything when it came to my work before. I started thinking, “Can I be the reason that that is even happening?” I went out to dinner with Sidney Poitier, and I was explaining my scheme of escaping, and maybe doing this, and maybe doing that. He basically told me I had to man up. He goes, “Quentin, for whatever reason, I think you were born to tell this story and you need to not be afraid of your own movie.”
Django Unchained hits theaters December 25.