Quentin Tarantino on Django Unchained

Cult US director talks talent, soundtracks and his love of action


Another Tarantino flick, another Tarantino controversy – yet this time it isn’t about the amount of violence on screen. Director Spike Lee has aired his grievance over the film’s liberal use of a certain racially offensive ‘N’-word, while comedy star Katt Williams has ‘threatened to punch’ Tarantino for the same reason.

Meanwhile, stars such as 50 Cent have spoken out in Tarantino’s defence. ‘I don’t think he has a racist bone in his body,’ the G-Unit frontman recently stated in the US press. ‘Besides, [Django Unchained star] Jamie Foxx wouldn’t have anything to do with a film that had anything racist to it.’

Back to the film itself: the plot focuses on the plight of a freed slave (Foxx), and his journey across America to save his wife (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of a cruel plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). Released in the States on Christmas Day, talk from the critics has so far been positive, with an overall rating of 89 percent on review aggregator website Rottentomatoes.com. It was also the second biggest film over the holidays, making US$30.7 million in its opening weekend (beaten only by The Hobbit, which hauled in US$33 million). We caught up with him on set – and with a film like this in the making, now
we know why he was so very cheerful.

View Time Out's review of Django Unchained

You’ve had to work around bad weather today, but you seem relaxed about it…
If a problem happens and it’s not my fault. I don’t sweat. The rain falling isn’t my fault.

What did it feel like to shoot in a historic New Orleans plantation?
It was impressive. We shot in real shacks where people lived – you could almost feel the ghosts. You wouldn’t have that anywhere else.

You spent a while developing the film…
I’ve been thinking about this movie for about 10 years. I didn’t quite have the story then, although I had the idea of shooting a genre movie that dealt with slavery for a long time. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I wanted to call it Django Unchained.

So, more than a historical story, Django Unchained is a genre film?
Yes, it’s more along the lines of a spaghetti western. We could call it a ‘spaghetti southern’.

When did the plot first come to you?
Oddly enough it came to me during my press tour for Inglourious Basterds. I was in Tokyo, where you can get all these great spaghetti western soundtracks, and I was listening to them, when the story came to me. It’s changed since then, but I wrote the first scene in Tokyo. Then it took me six months to finish the script.

What do you believe Jamie Foxx has brought to the role of Django?
Jamie is terrific. He understands the character, cares about the subject and gets the history of it. He is acting for me and for himself, but also for his ancestors. And at the same time he’s being this iconic spaghetti western hero.

Leonardo DiCaprio is going to surprise many people as villain Calvin Candle.
Oh yes, there’s nothing to compare him with when it comes to what he’s doing with this role. His character has never really existed before in movies, and definitely not in Leo’s career.

What can you say about Christoph Waltz?
He reminds me of Lee Van Cleef. Christoph is delivering his scenes as brilliantly and magnificently as you’d imagine. And more than that, he also forms a fantastic team with Jamie. They know how to hand it back and forth. Also, their horses are called Tony and Fritz – the first two huge cowboy superstars were William S Heart and Tom Mix, and their horses’ names were also Tony and Fritz.

Your love for genre films, especially westerns, is evident in this movie.
I’ve been evoking westerns in quite a few of my films, such as Kill Bill Vol. 2 and also Inglourious Basterds. When we did the opening sequence of Inglourious Basterds, my script supervisor, Martin Kitrosser – who has worked on every movie I’ve ever made – said: ‘Quentin, this is your first western!’ Now I can stop evoking them and commit to shooting one.

What does the name ‘Django’ evoke for you?
It’s the ultimate spaghetti western hero character name. I immediately go to the Franco Nero’s Django, but I also loved the rip-offs.

And Robert De Niro is in this movie!
Yes, and initially his character didn’t seem like much on the page, but we built it up and he’s terrific in it. There is a really great moment in which the two Djangos meet each other.

Do you enjoy shooting action sequences?
I love it! It’s always the most invigorating part about a shoot. Piecing them together is fun.

What is the movie’s music like?
There will be a lot of spaghetti western sound. And, as usual, I’ll use stuff from my record collection.
Django Unchained is in UAE cinemas from Thursday January 17.

If you liked this…

Three more films that tackle the delicate issue of slavery.

Set for release in the UAE on Thursday January 31, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln features Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, with Sally Field as his wife Mary Todd. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, it centres on events in 1865, and the president’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family
Go vintage with this widely respected 1977 mini-series, which follows author Alex Haley’s family history from ancestor Kunta Kinte’s enslavement to his successors’ freedom.

Spielberg’s 1997 work on the same topic is worth watching before you catch Lincoln. Starring acting royalty Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins in the lead roles, it centres around the true story of an 1839 slave uprising and the court drama that followed.
Roots and Amistad available to buy at www.amazon.com.

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