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Leonardo DiCaprio Interview
For Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’

 

Set in the South two years before the Civil War, Quentin Tarantino’s ’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 hunger Dr. King Schultz (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 chose 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 (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago.

Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of ‘Candyland’, an infamous plantation. Exploring the compound under false pretences, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candy’s trusted house-slave. Their moves are marked, and a treacherous organisation closes in on them. If Django and Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they are to choose between independence and solidarity, between sacrifice and survival. ‘Django Unchained’ lands in cinemas on December 25th in the US and January 18th in the UK. My other interviews for the film can be found via the following links (more to come): Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson.

 

What was your initial reaction when you were first told by Quentin Tarantino about your character Calvin Candie and the story of ‘Django Unchained,’ this sort of recreation of a terrible time in history? I know you’ve said in the past that you’re a big fan of Quentin’s….

Leonardo DiCaprio: Yeah. I’ve been a fan of Quentin’s work for a long time, and I love the fact that he was recreating his own history in a deeply American context, with the Spaghetti Western, sort of Sergio Leone genre mixed into it – which is something only Quentin Tarantino can do (laughs). And this character really reminded me of a young Louis the 14th, he was rotting on the inside. And as Quentin put it to me, he’s somebody that really represents the moral decay of the South during that time period. He was the worst of the worst of plantation owners. It was too well written to pass up, and I’d always wanted to work with the likes of Jamie Foxx, the great Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson… there’s too many elements of this movie to ever look away. It’s a fantasy film in a lot of different respects, you know? Just like ‘Inglourious Basterds’ was, he’s sort of recreating history. But yet there’s nothing in this film that isn’t historically accurate, as far as what these people were like at that time period.

And how was it working with Quentin on this character he created, and adding your own characteristics to him?

Leonardo DiCaprio: That was one of my favourite things about working on ‘Django Unchained.’ It was great having one on one conversations with Quentin about how to develop this character even further. I think we created something incredibly distasteful, narcissistic, self-indulgent, racist and horrible – really horrible! It was a wonderful experience to work with him. My God, everyday was not only a challenge, but exciting!

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this film, compared to Hollywood’s depiction of slavery in the past, was that Django took matters into his own hands, he was self-empowered….

Leonardo DiCaprio: Yeah. I think what’s so different about this movie is the fact that you have Jamie Foxx as this man who’s been enslaved his entire life, who’s becoming self-empowered, and freeing himself. We’ve never seen anything like that cinematically, ever. Its always been a much different dynamic. Of course we show the atrocities of that time period and the way that these slaves were treated. But to see the self-empowered hero take matters into his own hands, it’s recreating history in a lot of ways. Like I said, none of this was historically inaccurate. Everything in this movie, things like this did happen – only that we get to see it through Quentin Tarantino’s eyes.

How was it working with this ensemble cast? Each character has very interesting dynamics with each other, especially given the harsh, brutally disgusting realities of the backdrop?

Leonardo DiCaprio: Oh man. To work alongside some of these people was amazing. And what was really great about the ensemble that we had was that everyone was so incredibly supportive of each other. I remember with some of the earlier read throughs we had, we would all sit down at a table and Jamie, Kerry, Christoph, Sam and myself, we would be talking about our characters and different aspects of them, ways that the relationships would connect. And to hear Sam Jackson and Jamie Foxx say, “Look, I know this is a troubling character, I know he is difficult to do, but if you don’t go the distance with this guy and make him as despicable as possible, people aren’t going to embrace that as the truth. They’re going to think we’re sugar coating the subject matter. So the further you go with the character, the more truth you’re going to speak.” That really helped me.

For me, Calvin Candie and Stephen’s dynamic in ‘Django Unchained’ is particularly interesting. There’s a vile and bizarrely codependent relationship there. How was it working with Samuel L. Jackson?

Leonardo DiCaprio: He’s an amazing actor, first off. He’s such a powerful force when he comes on set. You read your dialogue and you think about the scene in a very specific way, and then this tornado comes in that is Sam Jackson (laughs). You really need to step up to plate and try to bring yourself up to that energy, because he just takes over. It’s amazing. What he did with this role is astounding.

As a movie fan yourself, what is it about Tarantino’s films that particularly appeal to you?

Leonardo DiCaprio: I love how he breaks all the rules. You can just imagine him as that clerk in the video store watching pulp films over and over again, saying, “Some day, I’m going to do an amalgamation of all these things that I love.” And Quentin Tarantino, if anyone tried to duplicate what he does, I think they would be sued for copyright infringement, because he’s so got his own specific style (laughs). When you see a Tarantino movie, you know you’re going to be incredibly entertained and there’s going to be things and elements that not only character wise and story wise, but music wise, that are going to be completely shocking. It will take you a second to adjust to, but like in this film, bringing hip-hop into a pre-Civil War period piece, it’s so audacious but it works. He’s amazing.

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