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 what Waltz said during a “Django Unchained” roundtable interview that he did with me and other journalists at Comic-Con.
How much work do you put into mapping out the characters you’ve played in Quentin Tarantino movies?
It’s not that academic. It’s not that scientific. I know that lately, over the past few decades, the arts have this tendency to usurp scientific terms and content. I’m not so sure. Real scientists laugh about that. No, seriously.
It’s not scientific, nor is it scientific in any way. These are human beings. They are different every day, every morning, according to what happened biochemically or whatever and the air pressure and the weather or whether you feel good or bad. It all sounds very indulgent, but it does play an important part in it.
And then, every scene as it’s written demands a different approach. Every story as it’s written demands a different perspective and a different shift of thinking maybe. And then when you put all these things together, you really have very few concrete or closely defined coordinates. You do your intention, your talent, your willingness to put in many hours and hard work, but to say, “What did you do?” Not really.
Did Quentin Tarantino provide you with any cinematic or pop-culture references to prepare for your role?
I’m 56 years old. I’m from Europe. I saw the Spaghetti Westerns when they came out. I have a different approach to the genre than the people here in America would. First of all, I saw [the original] “Django” not exactly when it came out because it was R-rated.
“Once Upon a Time in the West,” I tried for two years to see it. Finally, I did when I was about 15. But I saw all these movies because when I grew up, that was the era of Spaghetti Westerns. So of course, I knew all of the [Sergio] Leone ones and the [Sergio] Corbucci ones too.
“Django” in Europe has a completely different connotation. To everybody, when we were young, Django was an icon. Everybody knew Django. There was Django this, Django that.
Every Spaghetti Western had in its title “Django,” especially in its German version. “Djanjo Shoots Them All.” “Django Rides Again.” “Django in the Desert.” It didn’t have anything to do with Django. Does that make sense?
But they just put it in because it was such an iconic term. “Django” meant a Spaghetti Western. And we all knew Franco Nero was a superstar all over Europe.
Can you talk about Franco Nero’s cameo in “Django Unchained”?
I never know about cameos, because I never know what it’s supposed to be. Often, it’s just to have a well-known face up here on top of everybody else. But in this case, it was almost the über-father, the superego who is kind of overseeing the new version. At least that’s how I refer to it.
Dr. King Schultz has to show a lot of bravery. What do you think scares him the most?
Probably stupidity, ignorance to the degree of inhuman behavior.
How does “Django Unchained” examine this time in American history?
I was familiar with the broader aspects of the South, the North, the Civil War, what led to the Civil War, what were the results, the nation-forming factors of this conflict that, in a way, exist to this day, why they exist to this day, going backwards, and the reason why we should study history. But the finer points I never really looked into that much, because the history in Europe is predominantly European.
Not that we pretend that something else didn’t happen, but to actually learn or find a view and a perspective on what I see today and that it has historical background and that it is not just what I thought it was: market economy and destructive forces of market economy, but that it actually has a historical foundation. And by looking into more details of American history, it makes more sense into what’s happening today. That was really one of the greatest rewards of doing this job.