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 Foxx said during a “Django Unchained” roundtable interview that he did with me and other journalists at Comic-Con.
Have you ever worked any director who’s been bold enough to tell you to “cut the crap” and get it right, like Quentin Tarantino has?
Oh yeah! I’ve worked with Oliver Stone, who said, “You’re just not good at all, are you? You’re not a good actor at all.” I was coming from TV. This was on “Any Given Sunday.”
So everything I said was loud, because TV was loud. [He says in a loud voice] “So you’re going to the store, huh? Good! I’ll see you when I get back!”
Movies were more about my head. He said, “You suck when you do that.” He literally was like, “You’ve got to get better before I hire you.”
Oliver Stone. Taylor Hackford, who gave me heat on “Ray.” He said at one point, “If you F this movie up, I’m going to F you up.” Now let’s get it going.
Michael Mann, when doing “Collateral.” I was so thankful that Tom Cruise and Michael Mann allowed me to be in “Collateral.” I said, “Mike, how about in the cab, I do my thing?”
He said, “How about you don’t do your thing? When have you ever seen a cab driver ‘doing their thing’? Why don’t you just drive a cab? And the person in the back seat is not Tom Cruise. It’s just another fare. It’s just another Wednesday, just another Thursday.” If you do that, then you can be this character. If you do the other thing, you’re Jamie Foxx.”
Now, things get even better. We win Oscars. We’re on television shows. We get songs that are No. 1. I think that when we do things outside of acting, it hurts us because people start to identify with you, the brand.
So it was welcomed when he pulled me into the room. Remember when you didn’t have your homework for something, or someone said that you’ve got to go to the principal’s office. It’s like, “Oh, sh*t!”
He [Quentin Tarantino] was like, “I’ve got to say something to you. I was worried that you can’t get to this character because you’re Jamie Foxx.” So it made me reboot my computer and say, “First of all, I’m huge guy of being a student.” So that was the biggest help for me to let go, be the character.
And he said, “I guarantee if you let go and be the character, when the pendulum swings, it’ll be sweeter.” When you play the guy genuinely here, when he evolves and becomes this guy, it’ll be like a breath of fresh air. It’ll be like, “Wow, he evolved and had a journey.”
So that’s all welcome. You want to work with directors like that. You want to work with tough directors.
What kind of cinematic homework did Quentin Tarantino give you to prepare for your role in “Django Unchained”?
Quentin is a cinematic genius. It’s defeating when you go and start watching all the movies … but we watched the original “Django.” That was helpful in a sense because everybody’s thinking “slave movie,” but it’s the backdrop. It’s actually a Western.
Me coming from Texas, and they told me that they ordered a green jacket like from “Bonanza” … I was like, “Little Joe’s outfit for me? That’s crazy!” I’m spinning the guns and riding a horse. And I get to ride my own horse in the movie.
When they said, “You need to ride a horse,” I said, “Can I just work on my horse until you find the horse that I need?” And my horse started picking up the tricks, so the next thing I know, I get to ride my own horse.
And so by sticking strictly to the Western … Let’s be honest. When I was at BET and I introduced a clip, and I was getting ready to introduce the “Django” clip, I said, “This movie deals with slavery.” And people said, “Man, how am I going to deal with this?” And they see this iconic cowboy. And it’s really the difference.
When making “Django Unchained,” whose responsibility is to authentically depict the brutality of slavery without being exploitative?
Let me say this: Once we went into this, we were family. We were a village. There was a situation where Leonardo [DiCaprio], his best friend is Q-Tip. He’s a hip-hop guy. So his friends are mostly black. He said [to me], “Buddy,” and I said, “Listen, this has to be another Wednesday. I have to be cattle. You don’t have to get your blood boiling to say these words.”
And when you see Leonardo come in and not speak to anybody and go right into it, and watch him and Quentin Tarantino build this eloquent, evil character. That’s the difference between him and [the characters played by] Samuel L. Jackson and Walt [Goggins]. People like the real bad guys.
With that being said, we knew what it was about. We wanted to hear those words. Hearing those words and hearing them enough, it becomes secondhand. At the time, that’s the way they talked. This is actually the truest depiction of slavery. The other movies are great, but they had to dance around and didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.
But now, I think we’re all grown up. And we’re huge fans of Quentin Tarantino. I would explain to Quentin, “If I can be of any help, I’m the black expert. I am the black man connoisseur.”
And the reason for that is that I’m a stand-up comic. I know everything about our culture. I know what makes us move. I know what makes us dance. I know that if we’re watching a film, we want to joke to land in our lap.
We want to know who the bad guy is because we’re going to talking to the bad guy. We want to know who the good guy is. That was the thing of letting it be as raw as it can be because, like I said, we’re grown-up now and we’re huge fans of Quentin Tarantino.
We go into this sometimes with a little worry, but after they see that first frame, you realize we’re still doing movies. It’s still entertainment. We’re still doing something that’s dope. But you’re the courageous one that can pull it off.
And I think he [Quentin Tarantino] is a hip-hop star. Hip-hop guys are smart. He’s doing the hip-hop thing. He just leaked a trailer. Now, everybody’s buzzing. He knows what he’s doing is dope.
And that’s the one thing he guaranteed. He said, “I promise you. I’m good at this sh*t.” And I’m not being arrogant, but if you look at it, frame for frame.
Leonardo DiCaprio says he likes to look at playbacks when he’s filming a movie. Did you watch any playbacks for “Django Unchained”?
No playbacks. I don’t go to dailies. When I hear Quentin Tarantino say, “Got that!,” then I’m good. When you start watching [playbacks], you start second-guessing yourself, and I would start second-guessing what he likes.
And I know that he knows what he wants to get. And that’s why you always have to be the student and say, “Hey, let’s move on.” If you’re doing playbacks, now you’re trying to go back and relive a moment. You can’t do that.
Leonardo DiCaprio has played a bad guy before, but not a character like Calvin Candie. What was it like going head-to-head with him?
First of all, he’s 6’2”. He comes in with all the good looks. He’s in the tabloids with all the models. And everybody’s thinking, “Is he going to be that guy?” And he comes in, and he’s absolutely his character.
It makes you go back to your hotel room, really get yourself together, and know you have to be tight. I think it was great for him because I know he shies away from the “commercial” films. He wants to be a student. I saw him and Quentin in a corner going over things.
There is one scene that I think I can let out of the bag where [Calvin Candie] finds out who we [Django and Broomhilda] are. He’s angry with us, and slams his hand on the table in every take. At one point, the shot glass slid over to where his hand is. He slams his hand on the table, breaks the shot glass, it goes through his hand. There’s blood, and he’s still going.
And I’m like a little girl. If I cut my hands, I’m like, [he makes a horrified expression on his face]. His hand was dripping [with blood]. When he came up, people gave him a standing ovation. So if that’s any indication of what it is, he was amazing.
What ideas in “Django Unchained” spoke to you that you hope will speak to audiences?
The love story. Here’s the thing: Quentin Tarantino was smart in that [he said], “I’m going to drop all of this, show you all of this great stuff, but the fact that Django is not allowed to love this woman is the catalyst that allows him to go forward.” Django doesn’t want to kill a slave. He just wants to love his woman. Everybody just get out of his way.
For more info: “Django Unchained” website