Set in the South two years before the Civil War, “Django Unchained” stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (played by Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django with a promise to free him upon the capture of the Brittles — dead or alive. Success leads Schultz to free Django, though the two men choose not to go their separate ways. Instead, Schultz seeks out the South’s most wanted criminals with Django by his side. Honing vital hunting skills, Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (played by Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago.
Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation. Exploring the compound under false pretenses, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (played by Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave. Their moves are marked, and a treacherous organization closes in on them. If Django and Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they must choose between independence and solidarity, between sacrifice and survival. Quentin Tarantino, who wrote and directed “Django Unchained,” won his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “Django Unchained.” Waltz also won his second Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor) for “Django Unchained.” The movie had sneak-preview footage shown at 2012 Comic-Con International in San Diego, five months before the movie was released that year. Here is Tarantino, Foxx, Washington, Waltz, Jackson, DiCaprio and other “Django Unchained” co-stars Walt Goggins, Don Johnson and Jonah Hill said at a New York City press conference for the movie.
You’ve talked about wanting to make a Western, but it is impossible to watch “Django Unchained” without thinking about how slavery as a subject has been largely absent from Hollywood cinema in the roughly 100 years since “Birth of a Nation.” What sense of responsibility did you have in terms of making a movie that brings slavery out front and center?
Tarantino: 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 — as opposed to doing it as a huge historical movie with a capital H — I thought it could be better if it was wrapped up in genre. It seems to me that so many Westerns that actually take place during slavery times have just bent over backwards to avoid it, as is America’s way. It’s actually kind of interesting because most other countries have been forced to deal with the atrocities they’ve committed, 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 or black, nobody wants to deal with it; nobody wants to stare at it.
I think, in the story of all the different types of slave narratives that could have existed in this 245 years of slavery in America, there are a zillion stories, a zillion dramatic, exciting, adventurous, heart-breaking, triumphant stories that could be told. And living in a world now where people say 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.
This question is for Jamie, although Kerry and Sam if you want to jump in on this, too …
Tarantino: Black question. Don’t hold back, Jonah.
When you read the script, what were your first impressions about being asked to play slaves in this movie?
Foxx: Well, I wasn’t asked play anything. I actually saw that the movie was already going and someone else was supposed to play the role. And I thought, “Wow, here’s another project that I haven’t heard about.” Actually, I had a management change.
To tell you my acting hustle I said, “I don’t care what it is, it’s Quentin Tarantino and all these people here.” These people here can tackle any subject matter through artistic ability. That’s the first thing: reading the script.
I’m from Texas, so being in the South, there’s a racial component and I love the South, there’s no other place I’d rather be from, but there are racial components in the South — my being called “ni**er” growing up as a kid — so when I read the script I didn’t knee-jerk to the word ni**er like someone from New York or L.A. would knee-jerk, because that’s something I experienced.
Tarantino: At home.
Foxx: Exactly. What I did gravitate toward was the love story of Django and Broomhilda, and the firsts about everything in this film. When you see movies about slavery, as Quentin has made mention to this, we never get the chance to see the slave fight back, actually do something for himself.
In this movie, there’s a lot of firsts. When we were shooting the movie we would comment on how these are some things you are going to see for the first time. For me, it was about the work and we knew that coming into it there would be a lot of other things said about it, but it’s been a fantastic ride, thus.
Washington: I think a lot of times people in the past may have felt nervous about playing a slave because so many of the narratives that have been told in film and television about slavery are about powerlessness. This is not a film about that. This is a film about a black man who gets his freedom and rescues his wife.
He is an agent of his own power, he’s a liberator, and he’s a hero, so there’s nothing shameful about that. It’s really exciting and hopeful and inspiring. I was very moved by the love story, particularly in a time of our history when black people weren’t allowed to fall in love or get married, because that kind of connection got it the way of the selling of human beings.
So to have a story between a man and his wife, at a time when a black people weren’t allowed to be husband and wife, was not only educational, but again, hopeful. We’ve seen this love story a million times about star-crossed lovers. It’s just that they don’t come from two different Italian families, like Romeo and Juliette. The thing that stands in the way of them being with each other is the institution of slavery.
Django’s out to get his woman, but he’s got to take down slavery to get her, take down Calvin Candie. The other thing, in terms of firsts, was 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 superheroes, and that’s what this movie is.”
Sam, the character of Stephen…
Jackson: You ask one question …Oh, now you’re changing the question? You don’t want to know how I felt about all this?
You can mention that, but you’ve worked with Quentin so many times, I feel like the more interesting thing to ask you…
Jackson: I have intelligent things to say about this sh*t.
What about the psychology of Stephen, who may be the most interesting character in the film. The relationship that he has to Calvin Candie, but also to the other slaves, and the small power he’s holding onto…
Jackson: Small power? I’m the power behind the throne. I’m like the Spook Chaney of Candyland. Yeah, I’m all up in that. To tell this story, you have to have that character, specifically in that type of setting. I got the script from Quentin, he called me and told me he wrote a Western and he wanted me to read Stephen, and I complained about being 15 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 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, it also gave me the opportunity to do some really nasty sh*t to the person who got the role I should have had.
Tarantino: Payback’s a b*tch!
Jackson: Yeah, it is. It was written beautifully that way, so I could do that. To tell this story, you’ve got to have that guy. Stephen is the freest slave in the history of cinema. He has all the powers of the master and literally is the master in the times when Calvin is off Mandingo fighting, he makes the plantation run.
Everyone on that plantation knows him everyone on that plantation fears him. He has a feeble persona that makes people disregard him in an interesting way, even though they fear him. They think he’s physically unable to keep up and do other things, but he’s around. We used to refer to him as the Basil Rathbone of the Antebellum South, and that’s what we tried to do.
I wanted to play him honestly, and I wanted everybody to understand that when Django shows up, that’s a Negro we’ve never seen before. Not only is he on a horse, he got a gun, and he speaks out. The first thing I have to do is let all the other Negroes on the plantation know that’s not something you can aspire to, so let me put him in his place as quickly as I possibly can.
You’ve got to correct that and them know, “You’re in the place you’re going to be, and there’s no other place you can be. This ni**er’s an anomaly, so don’t even think about trying to be that.” I whole heartedly embraced that.
Tarantino: One of the things that really has to be taken into account — 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 150 years, this is the way it is, there’s 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 ain’t nothing going to ever change.”
Jackson: Even at the end you hear me saying, “There’s always going to be a Candyland. This ain’t going away. This is here to stay.”
Tarantino: You can’t kill all the white folks in the world! [He laughs.]
Leo, “Django Unchained” is the first film you’ve been in, in quite a long time where you’re not the only name above the title…
DiCaprio: And it sucks! It’s very uncomfortable for all of us.
But also, you are perhaps not the biggest villain of the piece, but a villain nonetheless. Can you talk about what made you want to take on this role?
DiCaprio: Obviously, Mr. Tarantino here was a major factor. You know, we all read the script, there was a lot of buzz about this script for a while, and 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 “Inglourious Basterds,” and recreated his own history, and tackle something as hardcore as slavery and combine it with the genre of having it be this crazy Spaghetti Western feel to it, with this lead character that obliterates the cankerous, rotting south was completely exciting. He wrote this incredible character, and as soon as I read it I was incredibly excited.
This man, as Quentin put it, is a character that represents everything that’s wrong with the south at the time. He’s like a young Louis XIV, he’s this young sort of prince that’s trying to hold onto his privileges at all costs. Even though he was integrated his whole life with black people, being brought up by a black man, and live with him his entire life, he has 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 points out that he’s a walking contradiction. He’s lives with and is brought up by black people, 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, self-indulgent, racist, horrible characters I’ve ever read in my entire life.
Jackson: You had to do it.
DiCaprio: I had to do it. It was too good, not to do. It was too good of a character in that sense. This man just writes incredible characters, and of course, it was the opportunity to work with all these great people, too.
Is it true that in the scene where you had to break a glass, you actually broke that glass?
Foxx: That was crazy. He didn’t see what was going on. We were doing a dinner-table scene, and that whole day people were coming up from the offices wanting to see Leo doing the scene. He and Sam were just going to work, it was amazing. What happened was, the shot glass somehow slide over what he was always slamming his hand down on.
In one take, he slams his hand down and the shot glass goes through his hand. Now blood is shooting out of his hand and I’m thinking, “Does everybody else see this? This is crazy!” And he keeps going. I almost turned into a girl just looking at it.
What was amazing was that he was so into his character that even when they finally said “cut,” he was still this guy. To be honest with you, I think people were ready to give him a mini-ovation at the time. It was amazing to see that and amazing to see the process from my end, of these two guys making it real.
At one point, we were in rehearsals, and Leo is saying his line “ni**er this and ni**er that,” and he was like, “Buddy, this is tough.” Then Sam pulls him to the said, and I’m paraphrasing, but Samuel Jackson pulls him to the side and said, “Hey mother f*cker, this is just another Tuesday for us, let’s go.”
Washington: That sounds like an exact quote.
Foxx: They were trying to really go back to that time. I don’t know if you remember this, but I spoke to Leo the next day and I said, “Yo, what’s up Leo,” but it was almost like you didn’t hear me. He didn’t speak to me that day. They actually went into these characters and made these characters come to life.
Dr. King Schultz, Christoph Waltz, can you talk about reuniting with Quentin on this movie and was there any hesitation on either of your parts on working together again so soon after the very iconic character that you played in “Inglourious Basterds”?
Waltz: Neither, there was no reunification and there was no working again. This was just another mushroom of the fungus that was growing subcutaneously in me, all the time.
Jackson: Process that!
Tarantino: I had this same problem with Sam for about, a decade. It’s hard not to write for these guys. They say my dialogue so well. For 10 years, I’d write something cool. For seven months of the year and half I spent writing “Kill Bill,” Bill sounded just like Sam. They say my dialogue so well.
The way I write, I always kind of fancy it as poetry, and they’re the ones that make it poetry; 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 and there was never a German, dentist, bounty hunter in the story. The next thing I know, I sat down and wrote that opening scene, and he just flew right out of the pen, like it was the tenant of God. Boom!
Christoph, can you talk about the physical training for the role, because you injured yourself pretty severely at one point.
Waltz: I worked very hard, and succeeded most gloriously in falling off a horse, very quickly. This was very early on in the training. Then on, my work was a little slower for the first few months, then I got back up on the horse.
Don, your performance is very exuberant, which is something we seem to think of when it comes to Quentin’s actors, they always seem to be having a lot of fun. What is it about working with Quentin that brings this out in a performance?
Johnson: As Quentin told me, he said, “You sing in my key.” I looked at Big Daddy Bennett as a character who had his fiefdom and he was fully engaged in his fiefdom. As everybody has mentioned, they all though this was going to go on forever, until these two mother f*ckers showed up. They messed up everything, so they’ve got go.
Jackson: You tell ‘em, Big Daddy!
Johnson: I enjoyed working with him. We all have what I think is a second hand or this look. There’s almost no dialogue needed. I’ll finish a take and I’ll look at Quentin and he’ll give me some sort of hand signal, and he looks like one of those Navy signal men or something like that, and I know exactly what he means, but I don’t know how I know it. We’ll do it again, and I’ll see him and this time the signal means something like, let’s bring that in on the other aircraft carrier. It was fun.
Jackson: I remember the first day I got that, I went looking for Quentin and the day I got there the slaves were in the field you guys were coming up on the plantation for the first time, Jamie has his Little Lord Fauntleroy suit on, and I was walking down that road through the cotton field. I didn’t realize until I got to the middle of the cotton field that all these extras were out there in their slave gear, and there was cotton and they were picking it, and there where these white dudes on horses with shotguns.
Then I look back and Don was up on the porch of the big house and I was like, “Oh sh*t, we’re doing this.” It was almost like a “Twilight Zone” episode, it was crazy. I walked up there, and he had an ice-cold drink in his hand, and I was like, “Damn, this is happening.” It was so awesome, but everything started to help us do this movie.
Washington: We were shooting on an actual slave plantation called Evergreen Plantation in Louisiana. That lent itself to all of us kind of disappearing into the story because you felt like you were making the film on sacred ground. You felt like you were re-enacting this behavior where these crimes against humanity were actually committed. It started to infiltrate everybody’s acting and behavior, choice and relationships.
Jackson: Crazy stuff like that happened, like [he says to Washington] when you got whipped, all the bugs stopped making noises and the birds stopped singing. It was kind of like, “Oh sh*t is this back?”
Johnson: My dresser, who helped me get my costume every day found out that her ancestors were buried in the cemetery on the plantation. That was a serious day, when she came to work and told me that.
Washington: And they were German.
Johnson: That’s right, they were German. I forgot about that.
Jonah, when you get a call from Quentin Tarantino asking you to play a role called, Baghead #2 in a movie a movie about slavery, do you even ask to see the script at that point? Did it take you awhile to find Baghead #2, or did you just say yes?
Hill: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know about you guys but I got into this business to work with great filmmakers, and so I don’t care if he wants me to be an extra in one of his movies. I mean, I don’t even know what I’m doing the f*ck up here with these guys. I only worked for like two days on the film.
It’s kind of an ego stroke that you even want me here, because I don’t really have anything to do with it. I think it was the weekend that “Moneyball” had come out, and I met with Quentin and he asked if I would do it, and I was just overjoyed. There wasn’t any thought about it, he wanted me to be in the film and I was just so excited to be there.
Mr. Walt Goggins, as a Southerner and someone who’s made a lot of films…
Goggins: Am I the only one? I thought we had a lot of Southerners: Tennessee, Texas.
Washington: South Bronx.
Did you have any sense of a cultural responsibility or social responsibility in bringing this chapter of southern history to life?
Goggins: The scene in the barn for me, what was so difficult about that and the responsibility I felt as an actor was showing literally and metaphorically, taking a man’s ability to spread his seed in my hands and rendering that impotent. I think that’s what slavery did to African Americans in this country for 245 years. I just tried to be as truthful and as honest as I could in order to respect the pain endured by African-Americans in this country. I was just grateful to be given the opportunity to do that.
The thing about Billy Crash and what Quentin does so well is for poor whites in our country at that time, there weren’t a lot of economic opportunities. One place you could get a job was on a plantation, and you could rise through the slave corporation. If you were smart, and I guess if you were ruthless enough, you could really rise to a position of power.
Unfortunately, that was at the expense of a lot of human beings. For me, it was about showing a person who had something to loose by Django being there. It was not just the color of his skin, but it was also my character’s way of life, economically speaking. I was so happy that Quentin gave me that in to this guy, it made it really three-dimensional.
Jackson: All that came though, too.
Is it true that a lot was cut from “Django Unchained”? What will we see in the future, everything you cut?
Johnson: I’m not exactly sure. I’m going to wait ‘til after the film plays, goes around the world, does what it’s going to do, and then I’m going to make a decision. I always write these huge scripts that are almost like novels, and they’re not blueprints for a movie. In fact, I think if I had this to do this whole thing all over again, I would have actually just published this as a novel, and then done an adaptation of that, after the fact. Maybe next time.
I could very well do like what Kevin Costner did when he did the expanded version of “Dances With Wolves” on laser disc, I could very well do that. I wouldn’t be surprised if I did, but it’s too soon right now. I’m all in on this version. I’m all in on it. So let’s get this version out there, play it, everyone gets it, because if I put some of that stuff in, it’s going to change the story. That’s good, that can be cool, but I want this story to be the story for awhile.
For the cast, what types of external sources did you use to help further create or further develop your character?
Waltz: In a way I think “outside source” is a contradiction in terms. I can only speak for myself, but the source is the script. The script has a source; I can point it out to you. [He points at Tarantino’s head.]
Tarantino: At the same line, we’ve got the first issue of the “Django Unchained” comic book. The thing that’s interesting about the comic book, more to the last question’s point, we keep the entire script in the comic book. Some of the sequences and big chapters we dropped, the ones we didn’t even bother shooting because we didn’t want a four hour movie, are in the comic book. I’ve got to say I’m as excited about the comic book as I am about the movie; it’s boss!
Johnson: I can tell you that that period of time is one of my favorite periods in history in early developing America, because it’s full of deceit, and it’s rich in human character, or lack there of. From the Native Americans to slavery, I’ve read a lot about it. “Blood and Thunder” is a great book that I’ve read before I started this film. There’s a lot of outside material and for me I like to start with outside information and just research.
Then start layering it into my character. You know the ethics of the time, the social graces of the time. Did they have indoor toilets? No. How were manners created? So I start form the outside and then I slowly start to bring it all inside.
Like Christoph was saying, there’s the source [he points to Tarantino] and then for the character, for me, I like to know what it’s like on that day, in that time, with that energy. I do a lot of that work beforehand, so when I show up, it just comes out, hopefully.
Leo, what did you learn from playing Calvin Candie?
DiCaprio: What was great about doing this role, honestly, was the sense of community and the support mechanism that I had every single day. This was the first character I played that I had this much disdain and this much hatred for. It was a very uncomfortable environment to walk into.
I’ve dealt with and seen racism in my surroundings in my life growing up, but to the degree that I had to treat other people in this film, was incredibly difficult and disturbing. I think it was disturbing for actors on both ends of the spectrum, but it was a very uncomfortable situation.
We were talking about it before, one of the pivotal moments for me as this character, and going to the places I had to go to as far as the treatment of other people was this initial read-through we had, I think I brought up the point of, “Do we need to go this far? Do wee need to push it this far? Does it need to be this violent? Do I need to be this atrocious to other people?”
Sam and Jamie both said, “Look man, if you sugarcoat this, people are going to resent the hell out of you.” You have to push this guy to the utter extremes because this is all, not only historically accurate, but it went even further than that with these atrocities. By holding the character back, you’d be doing an injustice to the film and people will feel that you aren’t going after the truth.”
That was sort of the thing that ignited me into going the way I do with the character. Once I did do even more research, and once I started to watch the documentaries, and read about the sugar plantations. Yes, we’re just scratching the surface of what happened in our country.
It’s a sore subject matter and it’s a subject matter that should be looked at more often and not shied away from, and I commend Quentin for making a film that combines so many different genres and is as daring as it is at actually making the subject matter entertaining for an audience.
It’s a daring concept. What was great was to at the core of it, have a group of actors that were all mutually there for one another, to support and drive each other further with subject matter that was very difficult for all of us, and I couldn’t feel like I had a better support mechanism. I honestly thought like we were cheerleaders for everyone, like, “Damn, that sh*t was good! Be even worse to me next take.”
Washington: I felt like we relied on each other because we’d be in these awful places and then Quentin would call cut and we’d all go, “Is everybody OK? All right, let’s do it again.”
Foxx: Especially for Kerry, that one scene when they had to grab your head, we were all like, “Whoa, you took a beating.”
Tarantino: For two days straight, too. There’s the real way to do it, and that’s Kerry’s way, anything else is bullsh*t, as far as Kerry’s concerned. She was taking a beating for like two days straight but I was like, “Hey, no, it’s all good. That’s how we have to be, anything else is going to be baby. We’ve got go forward.”
I was like man, she’s the real deal. There was only one thing I was sort of uncomfortable about, not shooting, but at the very, very beginning stages of finishing the script. It’s one thing to write, “Exterior: Greenville where the slave auction town was 100 slaves walk through this deep sh*t mud in chains, being moved along wearing masks and metal collars,” and this whole town that’s built as almost this black Auschwitz. It’s one thing to write that.
It’s another thing to get a hundred black folks, put them in chains and march them through the mud. The same thing about putting the cotton in, “An army of black folks dressed as slaves in the hot sun, picking cotton.” I started to question if I could do it. I don’t think I’ve ever thought that about anything when it came to my work before. I started thinking, “Can I do it? Can I be the reason that that’s even happening?”
I actually came up with an idea of possibly shooting just those sequences alone, maybe in the West Indies or shooting it in Brazil, where they have their own issues of slavery, but since this is an American story, there would be a once removed quality. Frankly, my problem was having Americans do that. I was almost trying to escape it.
“How can I do it, but get around it someway, so I don’t have to deal with the pain?” I went out to dinner with Sidney Poitier, and I just finished writing the script, and he’s kind of a father figure to me. I was explaining my little harebrain scheme of escaping, maybe doing this and maybe doing that. He listened to me and he basically told me I had to man up.
He goes, “Quentin, for whatever reason, I think you were born to tell this story. You need to not be afraid of your own movie. You can’t tell this story, if you’re afraid of your own movie. You just need to do it. Everybody knows what time it is, we’re all professionals, everybody gets it. Just treat them with love and respect, treat them like actors, not atmosphere, let them know why they’re there, and what you’re doing and what you’re trying to get across; and it will all be good. By the way, you’re going to be doing this in the South, those people need money, and they need jobs, you’ve got to do it.”
Jackson: Then you find out they played slaves in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and they’re scheduled to go into other roles as slaves when they’re done with you.
Tarantino: Yeah, there were a lot of guys who said, “Yeah man, I was just in ‘Lincoln.’ I was a slave in that. I’m a slave in this.”
Jackson: “I got that, I’m good with that.”
Washington: Well, I’ll tell you one thing that came as a result of doing that though that was one of the most profound days on our set. We were shooting one of these days of picking cotton in the Louisiana heat and everybody was really hot and exhausted. You could tell that the waking up every day and putting yourself in the mental state of somebody whose constitution says you’re a fraction of a person and not a whole human being. You know, it was just starting to wear on everybody a little bit.
We had this one background actor who was a pastor who kind of paused everybody and said, “We have to remember that we are the answer to these people’s prayers. That the people who did this work dreamt of a day where you could not be property, but own property. Where you could read, where you could vote, where you can get married, where you could have a job and be compensated.” Again, on that sacred ground it forced everybody to shift and man up, and own that fact that we can be so blessed to come here and tell this story, and not feel victimized by it, and know that it’s a story about a hero. That’s a profound opportunity.
Quentin, “Django Unchained” is probably your most straightforward, in terms of chronology. Was there an earlier cut where you fractured the timeline as you have in past films? In general, how did you find this particular movie in the editing room?
Tarantino: It was a conscious decision right from page one, not to do my normal narrative tricks, to have separate chapters, or all of a sudden look at the piece from a different character’s point of view or perspective accumulate somewhere else down the line. This had to be Django’s journey from beginning to end; it had to be his odyssey. As the terrains changed, as Django and Schultz cross all over America to get to Broomhilda.
That journey was so important. A couple of times, Harvey Weinstein would say, “Well, can we do a ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2’ type of thing?” It wouldn’t work here. It worked in “Kill Bill” because it was very episodic. It would be completely unsatisfying. People would have a right to get up in arms at the end of the first movie if we did that.
You need to see Django start his journey, and complete it, in one scenario. That’s what was really important about it. As far as the film taking shape in editing, because there are so many different emotions in this movie. There’s the exciting Western adventure aspect of it, there’s the gallous humor like comedy that runs through it — especially with the pairing of these two guys [Foxx and Waltz]. There’s the pain of the story, there’s the catharsis of the story, there’s the suspense, and hopefully at the very end, there’s the cheering.
If the audience isn’t cheering at the end, then I haven’t done my job. So balancing all those different emotions so I got that cheer at the end, was the biggest issue when the editing is concerned. Frankly, when it came to the pain, I could have gone forward, I have more of a tolerance. Part of it was, I wanted to show how bad it was, but then I don’t want to also traumatize the audience so bad that they can’t enjoy the movie, and be where I need them to be in the last reel.
Did you guys have any of your own troubles with the horses?
Waltz: I’ve been married too long, honeymoon’s over. I just fell off.
Foxx: I actually ride my own horse in the film. When I met with Quentin, he said, “I’ve got get you on a horse.” I told him, “Actually, I have my own horse that I got about five, six years ago for my birthday.”
So he said, ‘Yeah, let’s go ahead and try it.” So, my horse is actually in the film, and what’s interesting about my horse in Django is that they sort of learn together. As he learned tricks, Django was sort of evolving as a person, as this super hero, all the way until the end of the movie where you see my horse Cheetah do the trick at the end.
Jackson: The horse donuts.
Foxx: Yeah, the little horse spinouts. So, for the whole duration of the film we worked on that. The only thing that was scary was riding bareback. Quentin comes up and says, “Well, I need to get you on the horse bareback just for a little bit, just let it gallop a little bit.” The horse was used to the stunt person, so when I got on the back of the horse and onto this first track, there were people at the end of the track with their sleeves rolled up, ready to catch me, in case something happened.
The horse turns and sees the camera truck and is used to the stunt person. So off he goes, 28 miles an hour. Now, on the outside, I look like Django but on the inside, I was Little Richard. I was like, “Oh, Lord Jesus. Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus, please stop this horse, Lord Jesus stop this horse.” So I’m thinking, “We got it, right?” Of course, as directors go, Quentin pulls up and says, “Hey man, you know that was great. I need to get it one more time.”
So what happens this time is, at first the camera car was a little behind us and there was no real action cue. This time we go back and this time out of his turn, the horse sees the camera car it about 10 to 15 yards up ahead, so he now thinks, he’s behind. So out of the turn, he takes off again, only this time, I’m on the side of the horse.
Dash told me before, “Hey look, this is freaking crazy but look, if you feel like you’re about to come off the horse, just let go of the son of a b*tch, but get off.” In my mind, those words are ringing in my head as I’m on the side of this horse going 28 miles an hour.
And I’m thinking, “He’s a damn fool if he thinks I’m letting go and getting off this horse.” Now, luckily since the horse did it twice burns out just a little bit, so it allowed me to bounce back on top of it and get it done, but that was the craziest.
Tarantino: I’ve got to say though, that’s actually in my top three favorite Django shots of the movie. You with a handful of mane and a rifle in the other hand, he doesn’t even have use of his hands. That was just, damn, Burt Reynolds, Navaho Joe in every way.
Do you have any plans to show the movie to President Obama or any type of Republican politician types?
Tarantino: I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t be surprised Barack and Michelle [Obama] watched the movie. That wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world.
“Django Unchained” is one of the most outrageous and courageous films to come out of Hollywood in awhile, yet it’s being very well-received. Why do you think that is?
Tarantino: Hopefully, because it’s a good movie, and that’s not a smart ass answer. When you talk about this, you always seem to have to go down the dirt road of having to talk about the horrible time of that past, and that’s fair enough. But I hope, that if you leave your house and go to a movie theater and pay for a ticket, to sit with a bunch of strangers and watch this movie, you’re going to have ultimately by the end of it a great time at the movies. And I think so far, so good.
Jackson: Quentin always writes movies he wants to see. We watch a lot of the same kind of movies and we talk about that stuff all the time, so he writes movies that he wants to see. He generally writes a role in there that I’m going to do, because I want to see myself in that kind of movie. I think I represent a lot of moviegoers. He represents a lot of fans, also.
When you get it right, you get it right. It’s an entertaining film. Yeah, you know there’s some stuff in there, and some of it’s horrific, but it’s a great film. When you come out of there, you feel like you got your monies worth, and ultimately that’s what happens.
Washington: I also think the theme, the impetus for all the adventure and action and all of it is, love. It’s a completely universal theme. Everybody wants to be loved, so badly, that their prince would slay the dragons…
Jackson: Oh that’s some girlie sh*t. It’s “Shaft” on a horse. It’s “Shaft” in the Old West with a little Hong Kong ballet thrown in there.
Washington: Something for everybody, something for everybody.
Calvin Candie, in that scene with the skull, it’s like a mixture of a Grimm’s fairy tale “The Prince Who Feared Nothing” and Nazi doctor Mengele. Can you talk about the inspirations for that evil?
DiCaprio: That sequence where we talk about phrenology that’s when the culmination of everything in that character comes to be, in that scene there. Phrenology was that insane sort of pseudo science at the time, where people were trying to examine the inner working of the human skull to determine our motivations, our instincts, and our emotions. What Southern slave owners did pre-Civil War, during that time was use that pseudo bogus science to justify the difference between these two peoples.
Like I said, he’s this walking contradiction, he’s the Francophile that doesn’t speak French, he thinks he’s a scientist but knows nothing about real science or what the hell he’s talking about. He starts to examine and prove to these people that essentially there is a difference between “our two species.” It’s this sort of insane logic that gives him this justification for treating people the way he did. That was my connection to him.
Also, he is that prince that is so incredible self-indulgent, thinks 24 hours a day about what’s going to satisfy him without any sort of regard for human life. He was born into a world of privilege and wanted to sustain this plantation at any cost, sustain his family’s lineage. You have to understand at the time, for him, slaves were the oil of the South. To him, they were the driving force that one a daily basis produced the crop that gave him the money to sustain his business, and to take them away from him, would be to strip him of everything he’s known in his life; it would have stripped him of his identity. I don’t know if that answered your question.
Jackson: How dare you question his upbringing! I thought I did a good job.
Tarantino: You know, one thing that need to be said here is, and it’s a shocking thing to contemplate is the idea that on the planet Earth that there’s just not Anglo-Saxon humans, that the rest are sub-human — that being proved to not be the case is a relatively new idea. The idea of sub-humanity has existed for such a long time.
In fact, Winston Churchill, as late as 1947, in trying to hold onto the British Empire in India talked about how we should not be embarrassed about Angelo-Saxon superiority — it’s just the way it is, and that was Winston Churchill. This whole idea that there is no such thing as sub-humans as to humans — I didn’t use animal analogies in this movies because I already wore that out in “Inglourious Basterds,” but they would constantly use, “A horse is not a donkey; they are sub of this.” The idea that we all think that’s bullsh*t now, is a relatively, new idea.
Foxx: And what I hope to happen in your DVD when you do show all of the things that were left out — there was a very interesting conversation in this movie about Christianity, or what God deems to be true. You see it in the movie when the Brittle Brothers are getting ready to whip little Jody.
Quentin does a fantastic thing if you’re able to catch it — one of the brothers has Bible passages, tacked to his shirt, and he’s saying something from the Bible. There were actually two things going on at that time: They felt by God that they have dominion over slaves, slaves that could not read the Bible and had no idea what these people were preaching.
That was an amazing thing to see, the science and the religion, because my question had always been, just about slavery, “Do slave masters go to heaven?” We didn’t put this in the movie, but what does Django believe about God? Does Django have a beef with the man upstairs? Because the fact is, I was only born. I didn’t have anything to do with being black, but all of a sudden, all of this is heaped up on me, so what does Django actually believe?
I think the movie is going to create a lot of great conversation once everyone sees it. Let’s be honest: Black folks were just holding their breath when this movie was about to drop, and then when you see it, you’re like, “Wow, we may not feel 100 percent great about everything, but it was amazing, and it was entertaining.” I told them earlier, Stan Lathan, who we hold in high regard in his opinion; he’s been raving about the film about how entertaining it was, and how we got a chance to touch all the bases.
Tarantino: Actually, Leonardo gave me a book, because we were talking about the phrenology from a scientific angle, but we were talking about it coming from a religious angle. He gave me a book that was called “Negro: Beast of Man.” It wasn’t even written in the 1800s, it was written in like, 1904.
I had this book and it introduced a word to me that I had never heard before; the adamic man. What the adamic man means is — their whole philosophy is, the proof that black folks are sub-humans to white folks humanity is the fact that — can it be possible that black folks were the descendents of Adam and Eve? To them it was positively, no.
Now, what are they using? They’re using the stupid-ass white illustrations that they’ve seen in the bible that they actually feel is photographic evidence. But I hadn’t even heard that expression — adamic man — before.
For more info: “Django Unchained” website