In response to making a film dealing with slavery, Tarantino said, “I always wanted to do a movie that deals with America’s horrific past with slavery but the way I wanted to deal with it is if it was wrapped up in genre. So many Westerns that take place during slavery times have just bent over backwards to avoid it. As is America’s way, which is actually kind of interesting because most other countries are forced to deal with the atrocities that they’ve committed and, actually, the world has made them deal with the atrocities that they’ve committed. But it’s kind of everybody’s fault here in America: White, Black, nobody wants to really deal with it. Nobody wants to stare at it.”
Foxx was asked how he became involved in the film and his feelings on playing a slave. He joked, “I wasn’t asked to play. I actually saw that the movie was already going and someone else was supposed to play it and I thought wow, here’s another project I hadn’t heard about. Actually I had a management change.”
Regarding the racial aspect of the film, Foxx said, “I’m from Texas so being from the South there’s a racial component. I love the South; there’s no other place I’d rather be from but there are racial components in the South. Me being called nigger growing up as a kid. So when I read the script I didn’t knee-jerk to the word 'nigger.' Someone from New York or LA would knee-jerk because that’s something I experienced. What I did gravitate to was the love story of Django and Broomhilda. There’s not many movies that deal with slavery. We never get to see the slave fight back.”
Foxx continued, “For me it was about the work and we knew coming into it there was going to be a lot of things said and everything about it but it’s been a fantastic ride thus far.”
Washington elaborated, “I think a lot of times people in the past may have felt nervous about playing a slave because so many of the narratives told in film and television have been 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 is an agent of his own power. He’s a liberator; he’s a hero. There’s nothing shameful about that. It’s really exciting andhopeful and it’s a love story particularly in a time when in American history where black people weren’t allowed to fall in love and get married because marriage and that kind of connection got in the way of selling human beings. So to have a story between a husband and a wife when black people weren’t allowed to be husband and wife was not only educational but hopeful.”
Jackson was asked to talk about the psychology of his character. “To tell this story you have to have that particular character especially in this setting. I got the script from Quentin. He just called me and told me he wrote a Western and he wanted me to read Stephen. I complained about being fifteen years too old to play Django. When I read the script 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, let’s get on that. 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 it’s head in a powerful way. It also gave me a great opportunity to do really nasty shit to the person who got the role that I should’ve had [laughing].”
He continued, “To tell this story you have to have that guy. Stephen is the freest slave in the history of cinema. He has all the powers of the master and he is really the master during most times and when Calvin is off Mandingo fighting he makes the plantation run. Everyone on the plantation knows him, everyone on the plantation fears him. He has a feeble persona that makes people regard him in an interesting way. They fear him but think he’s physically not able to keep up but he’s around. We used to refer to him as the Basil Rathbone of the antebellum South. That’s what we tried to do, but I wanted to play him honestly. I wanted everyone to understand. When Django shows up that’s a Negro we’ve never seen before. Not only is he on a horse but he’s got a gun and he speaks out. The thing I have to do is let all the other Negroes on the plantation know that that’s not something you can aspire to be. So let me put him in his place as quickly as I possibly can. You’ve got to correct that and let him know you’re in the place you’ve got to be and there is no other place you can be. This nigger is an anomaly. Don’t even think about trying to be that. I wholeheartedly embraced that.”
Tarantino said, “One of the things that really needs to be taken into account is that we know because we have historical perspective that slavery is on its way out. It’s two years before the start of the Civil War. They don’t know that. They have to think that at least for the next one hundred and fifty years at least that this is the way it is. There is no end in sight. All those Northerners, those bleeding heart liberals can say anything they want, it don’t mean nothing down here. They don’t understand us and there ain’t nothing you’re going to be able to do.”
This is Leonardo DiCaprio’s first film in a long time where he wasn’t the main character. He was asked what made him want to take on the role. DiCaprio explained, “Obviously Mr. Tarantino here was a major factor but we all read this script. There was a buzz around this script for a while. People were talking about the next Tarantino movie that was about to come out. The fact that he tackled this subject matter like he did with Inglorious 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 with this lead character that sort of obliterates the cankerous rotting South was completely exciting and he wrote this incredible character. As soon as I read it I was incredibly excited. I mean this character as Quentin put it represented everything that was wrong with the South at the time. He was like a young Louis XIV. A young prince that wanted to hold on to his position of privilege at all costs and justified a way. Even though he was integrated his whole life with black people, brought up by a black man, and lived with them his entire life he had to find a moral justification to treat people this way and continue his business. He had a plantation to run. He’s a Francophile but doesn’t speak French. He’s a walking contradiction. He lives and is brought up by black people and yet he has to regard them as not human. There was absolutely nothing about this man I could identify with. I hated him and it was one of the most narcissistic, racist, horrible characters I’ve ever read in my entire life and I just had to do it. It was too good not to do. It was too good of a character in that sense. [Tarantino] just writes incredible characters. And it was also of course the opportunity to work with all these incredible people.”
Waltz was asked about reuniting with Tarantino. He joked, “There was no reunification and there was no working again. That was just a mushroom of the fungus that was growing subcutaneously in me all the time.”
Tarantino said, “I had the same problem with Sam [Jackson] for about a decade. It’s hard not to write characters for these guys. They say my dialogue so well. For seven months of writing Kill Bill, Bill sounded just like Sam. They say my dialogue so well. The way I write my dialogue, I always fancy it as poetry and they’re the ones that make it poetry when they say it. They come out of my pen. Sometimes it’s not even appropriate but I can’t shut it off. I’ve been wanting to do this story for a long time. There was never a German-dentist-bounty hunter in the story, alright, but the next thing I know I sat down and wrote that opening scene and he just flew right out of the pen like in the tenant of God. Boom!”
Waltz was asked about the physical training he did for the role and about the injury he sustained early in shooting. “I worked very hard and succeeded gloriously in falling off a horse very quickly. Very early on in the training my work was a little slower for a few months then I got back up on the horse.”
Waltz wasn’t only the only one that injured himself during the filming. Foxx recounted a particular take where DiCaprio acting across Jackson smashed his hand onto a shot glass breaking it and cutting himself. The actor kept delivering his performance through the injury so the scene that made it into the film is really DiCaprio bleeding.
Johnson was asked about working with Tarantino for the first time. “He said you sing in my key. I looked at Big Daddy Bennett as a character who had his fiefdom and was fully engaged in his fiefdom and enjoyed his fiefdom. As everyone mentioned they thought this was going to go on forever until these two motherfuckers showed up. They messed up everything so they got to go. Tarantino was a joy to work with. There’s no dialogue question. I’ll finish a take and turn around and look at him and he’ll give me some sort of hand signal like one of those navy signalman and I know exactly what he means. I don’t know how I know it. Then we do it again and I’m like yeah, that was right. Bright that aircraft in on another carrier. So, it was fun!”
Django Unchained opens in theaters on December 25th!