The Cinema Source - December 26, 2012
Leonardo DiCaprio: "Havin' Some Fun with Candie"
written by Rocco Passafuime
Interview by Dan Deevy
Leonardo DiCaprio’s work in films like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Basketball Diaries, Romeo And Juliet, Titanic, Catch Me If
You Can, Gangs Of New York, The Aviator, Shutter Island, Inception, and J. Edgar has spanned every genre and character type. Now
the 38 year-old steps to his most unusual role yet as slaveowner Calvin Candie in Quentin Tarantino’s newest film Django Unchained.
The film tells about a slave named Django, played by Jamie Foxx, who becomes a bounty hunter in exchange for his freedom and to
rescue his wife Brunhilda, played by Kerry Washington, from DiCaprio’s character Candie. The actor comments on the fact that this
is the first film in ages that he’s not the only major star, which he shares with Foxx, Washington, Christoph Waltz, and Samuel L.
“It sucks!” Leo says, with a laugh, “It’s very uncomfortable for all of us.”
Leo talks about what made him want to take on this role, especially a villainous one.
“Obviously, Mr. Tarantino here was a major factor,” DiCaprio says, “We all read the script, there was a lot of buzz about this script
for awhile, 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 Inglorious Basterds and created his own history, and tackle something as hard core 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 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,” he adds, “Even
though he was integrated his whole life with black people, even 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. The fact that he’s this Francophile but he
doesn’t speak French point 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 characters I’ve ever read in my entire life. 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.”
DiCaprio talks about what he learned from playing Calvin Candie.
“What was great about doing this role, honestly, was the sense of community and the support mechanism that I had every single day,”
he says, “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,”
Leo continues, “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 shit was good! Be even worse to me, next take.’
Leo talks about a scene involving Calvin with a skull.
“That sequence where we talk about phrenology,” DiCaprio remembers, “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,” he adds, “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.”