How much of the script did Quentin let you read during the writing process?
I read it in little portions as he was writing it, meaning that he always collects thousands of notes and ideas and starts to put it together and he always writes it by hand.
It is really not all that easy to read. Graphically it is very interesting.
And then he puts it in a very old-fashioned word processor with little floppy discs.
He just loves that machine and then he prints it out.
Then he collects it all and then that was the first tangible form that he let me read.
My reaction, to come back to your question, was very step-by-step.
I read 20 pages and then another 20 when they were ready, over a few months really.
Did Quentin actively seek your feedback?
Feedback, I would have refused. When he said, ‘Does that work?’ I said ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ but it usually does work. I mean, come on, this is Quentin.
Feedback, I avoid and I also avoided showing too much enthusiasm, like we do with children. ‘Oh, you are so great.’ No. It is wrong because it’s in development. You don’t want to hinder development even positively.
When we tell children how great they are, that is wrong.
We can praise them for what they have done, how well they have done it, but not how great they are because that influences their course and it is the same thing when a writer or painter shows you what they are doing.
You have to refer very closely to what it is you see in front of you and not show so much emotional exuberance.
Do you think your character is a follower or a leader? It's Django's quest...
I don’t think he follows [Django]. I think he leads him and then Django takes over and that is very important for the story.
When my character is out of his depth, Django is coming into his own.
There’s one little moment where Django actually verbalizes it: when Calvin Candy says, ‘Your friend is a little green around the gills,’ when the slave gets torn apart by the dogs and Django is completely cool and stands his ground and stares at him, stares him down and says, ‘No, he is not. He is just not used to Americans, but I am.’
I think he leads Django. And why does he do that? Because he says, ‘I have never given anyone his freedom before and now that I have I feel maybe responsible.’
He has a European perspective
Yes. It means that he is an enlightened person coming from that historical period where Europe was turning upside down and America was trying to secure the status quo, especially in the South.
Really, freedom was not something that someone can give you, especially not under these ideals and all of a sudden, this man who lives by these principles is faced with someone who doesn’t have freedom and he buys him.
He actually owns him which is a completely repulsive and absurd situation for him but it is a deal and he explains why.
But then after the stipulations of that contract are fulfilled, he follows through with his promise and releases him into freedom.
Within the story freedom is the most precious thing for a human being.
Your character relishes the use of language, much like your Inglourious Basterds character...
It is the writer. The actor’s job is to do it. If the text is really good, and in this case I think it is, you have to do more work.
There’s more in it, more to it. You can’t just play Shakespeare like Inspector Morse. You could and a lot of them do! But it depends on your approach.
Tarantino says that like Samuel Jackson you are one of the actors he loves because you are so good with his lines
Sam Jackson and I are the ones who come from the theatre. I am not saying that this is the reason but it really helps to have learned and trained to understand texts, to really fathom texts, and not just to say them. It really helps to have played a whole story in one go, over and over again.
It really helps you work and that is why I have tried to take everything I do seriously. It helps not to say, 'Hey, no problem, I can do it.' Of course, you can do it but that is not the question.
The question is: ‘Is there something that I need to invest myself in and is there something worthwhile to go out of my way for and is what I have at my disposal really sufficient?’ I find that the most interesting moments come from: ‘Is the author’s mind greater than mine?’
Did you do much research into slavery?
Yes, certainly. Of course, we learn American history in a European context, sort of looking over that way, over and slightly down, but I think that that is unfair.
So, yes, we know about slavery but not as much and not in the way that the Americans do. I learnt to understand that it is, in a way, informative for that culture. The Civil War was not just a clash of ideologies.
The Civil War was nation building. It was formative for this nation and for this culture but somehow I am not sure that the major problem and conundrum was really solved.
It was solved on many levels but maybe not to the core and that is something that I started to understand.
There is another thing that I discovered, which was that slavery and the slave trade was outlawed in Europe while it was still going on in America. And why would that be?
I wondered. I don’t know. I will have to ask an historian but it was the only market place and there was no other market place for slaves.
And I found that really interesting. It’s the years that the Industrial Revolution was in full blast and the Communist Manifesto was already last year’s news and yet there was still a market place, an economical basis, for trading human beings. Fascinating.
Is the Gorbachev film happening?
It looks like it is happening. It is getting closer. You can never tell.
What was the attraction of playing him?
More or less a similar aspect. I found the most interesting aspect about Gorbachev was the fight inside the country and not outside, what he had to do in order not to have Perestroika thwarted by the old Stalinists. I was amazed at how smartly he did it and how carefully he trod and what a diplomatic masterstroke it was.
Is this an area of personal interest?
In a way, because I grew up in Vienna and I was born one year after the last Russian soldier left Vienna. It was either sheer diplomacy or others call it spinelessness.
The Austrian Chancellor at that time negotiated with the Russians, could drink more than the Russians, and that is how Austria became neutral and it was neutrality that saved their neck because if they had said, ‘We want to be in NATO too,’ the Russians would never have left! So I grew up a step away from the Iron Curtain and you could feel it in the 1960s.
In Vienna, just two hours down the road was Hungary or a little further north was Czechoslovakia, two hours further down was Yugoslavia.
You could feel that, so Westernization happened to Austrians much later than to Germans, for example. And there was very little of the Marshall Plan in Austria.