During a 2010 interview with The Playlist , Tarantino made the first indication that he was interested in shooting a western. However, his take on the classic genre would take aim at the elements of history many Americans would rather forget.
“I want to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.”
From the opening title card (“Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France”) to the delirious, vengeance-tastic finale, Inglourious Basterds was a spaghetti western in all but name. Brad Pitt and his boys were the rough and tough band of outlaws, whilst Christoph Waltz’s deliciously malevolent Hans Landa was the equivalent of a crooked Sherrif.
So had QT’s western itch been scratched by his adventure in wartime Europe? Well not quite, as it turned out…
The rumour mill
In early 2011, Italian actor Franco Nero gave the first clue as to the nature of Tarantino’s next project by claiming he was set to collaborate with QT on an upcoming spaghetti western.
“The film will be called The Angel, The Bad And The Wise and is a tribute to Sergio Leone,” Nero told Movieplayer . “It's a movie that contains humour, lots of action, but also a great plot.”
“We have already been signed by a dozen people who will be part of the project,” continued Nero. “The filmmakers involved include Quentin Tarantino, Keith Carradine, Treat Williams… we are trying to produce it outside of Italy.”
Southern not western
Although Tarantino declined to confirm Nero’s claims, some of the Italian’s inferences appeared to chime with the comments made by Tarantino to The Playlist back in 2010.
“I’d like to do a western,” said QT, “but rather than set it in Texas, have it in slavery times. With that subject that everybody is afraid to deal with. Let’s shine that light on ourselves. You could do a ponderous history lesson of slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad. Or, you could make a movie that would be exciting. Do it as an adventure. A spaghetti western that takes place during that time. “I would call it a ‘southern’.”
At the end of April, the first confirmed details were revealed by QT’s representatives, after an image of the title page of a new script was leaked on the internet. The script is entitled Django Unchained , a moniker hand-scrawled by Tarantino himself over the leaked cover page.
The film’s genre is confirmed to be a spaghetti western, and a small nugget of plot detail appears to bear out Tarantino’s idea for a “southern”, with the story said to revolve around a freed slave’s quest for vengeance…
With The Weinstein Company looking after North American rights, it was soon announced that Sony would be bringing the film to the international market.
Not only that, but the studio have also taken financial responsibility, by providing half the funds required by Tarantino and his team. And given the period trappings, big-name cast and the presence of a number of costly set-pieces, they should be expecting to dig pretty deep into those pockets…
Nero’s involvement remained unconfirmed, but there was at least a link between the Italian actor and the newly confirmed project. Nero played the title character in 1966 western Django , directed by Sergio Corbucci and considered at the time of release to be one of the most violent films ever made.
Meanwhile, Tarantino’s choice of title appears also to draw on Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django , a film in which the director himself had a small part. All the pieces fit, you see?
As the title is confirmed, various insiders claiming to have read the script contribute to a broad plot synopsis. The film is said to follow the exploits of a freed slave named Django, who gains the trust of a German bounty hunter when he assists him in rounding up some varmints.
Django is taken under the bounty hunter’s wing, and learns the skills required to become a fully paid-up badass. Newly versed in the ways of the gunslinger, Django heads for the plantation of an evil slave owner who is holding his wife in captivity…
Christoph Waltz will help Django
With the title confirmed and a plot loosely established, attention turns to the casting process, with Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds collaborator Christoph Waltz the first to officially sign on.
As you might have guessed, Waltz is confirmed to play the aforementioned German bounty hunter, a character named Dr. King Schultz. At this point, we’d love to regale you with a brief lowdown from Waltz himself, but unfortunately, the star is remaining tight-lipped.
“I don’t like to talk about the characters,” Waltz told The Playlist . “I don’t like to burden you with my view because, in the end, to you, my view should be completely irrelevant. You should get what you see and not what I say.”
Waltz is however a little more forthcoming when it comes to describing his burgeoning actor-director relationship with Tarantino. “[ There’s ] no shorthand,” says Waltz. “It would rob me of my greatest pleasure and fun to use shorthand. If anything, it’s gotten more elaborate and more detailed.”
He also trusts Tarantino implicitly, so much so that he tries to keep his own input to the character’s development to a minimum.
“You’ve got one of the greatest screenwriters ever,” explains Waltz. “You’re gonna tell him what to do? I know that there are people who would like to do that. I’m not one of them. I’m happy about everything that he writes and that I have to wrap my mind around. That’s where I get my fun and pleasure. I’m trying to understand what this is and not trying to impress on him what I want. I know what I want anyway. Why is that so interesting? I’m eager to see what Quentin wants!”
Will Smith was linked to Django
The role of Django is reported by Variety to have been written by Tarantino with Will Smith in mind. The magazine goes on to claim that the part has been “informally offered” to Smith, who they claim is willing to give up his usual $20 million fee for, “the chance to tackle different, more controversial material.”
However, whilst the idea of Smith appearing in a Tarantino film is an appealing one, Smith eventually passed up on the opportunity, with sources speculating that the racial material was a little too raw for the Men In Black star’s taste…
Chris Tucker was linked
Chris Tucker was the next big star to be linked to the role of Django, a Hollywood headliner thanks to his work on the Rush Hour trilogy, but a man whose star had waned over the past decade.
Already a Tarantino alumnus thanks to his work on Jackie Brown , would he receive the same kind of career resurrection that QT handed John Travolta with Pulp Fiction ?
Idris Elba was another contender
Well, not if Idris Elba could help it he wouldn’t. The star of The Wire was also reported to be in line for Django, and even met with Tarantino to discuss the role. “Having one of the biggest meetings of my professional life today,” Elba tweeted back in June. “Meeting a very controversial director for a very controversial part.”
We always thought Elba would be a very decent fit for the role, his performance as Stringer Bell was a masterclass in controlled fury and dominant physical presence. However, it was not to be…
Elba was close, but no cigar
Elba didn’t end up getting the role, but from the sounds of things he was very, very close. Indeed, the way he tells it sounds as though the role was his for the taking, had he and Tarantino seen eye to eye on the way the character should be portrayed.
“Quentin and I had a long meeting about it,” Elba told Blackbook , “and I have a lot of respect for him, and I think he does for me, but we both came to a place where we weren’t sure if it was going to be the right fit. We had a slightly different take on some things.”
Intriguing stuff, no? Just how controversial will this part turn out to be?
Michael K Williams was desperate for a role
Idris Elba wasn’t the only Wire alumnus to throw his name into the hat, as Michael K Williams (perhaps better known as legendary stick-up merchant Omar Little) made it plain that he was extremely interested in the role.
“Oh, that script has my name on it!” said Williams to Kevin Smith on the Clerks director’s regular Smodcast . “ Everything happens for a reason, and I feel like the planets are lining up for me right now. I just feel I’m in a point right now where, for the first time in my career, I really feel I deserve an opportunity to be part of a project like this… and I’ve never been able to say that ever. I want my shot, and I’m gonna claim it!”
Smith, a close friend of Tarantino’s even went as far as to say that he’d vouch for him. “I’m gonna make sure he hears that,” said Smith. “That’s a passionate plea, and he’s gotta know your work, man. That dude watches eyerything! I’m gonna do what I can...”
Jamie Foxx is Django
Sadly, despite getting Kevin Smith on side, Williams didn’t manage to get his hands on the role which goes instead to Jamie Foxx. And while we would be lying if we said we weren’t disappointed that Omar didn’t get it, there’s no debating that Foxx has the charisma to make the role his own.
Despite the critical acclaim Williams garnered for his work on The Wire , he was always going to be an outside shot, given his comparatively low profile. An A-lister was always what Tarantino had planned, and in the end, that’s exactly what he got.
And he can't wait to saddle up
Foxx went on to reveal his excitement at the prospect of working with Tarantino, claiming that this sort of project is the reason he got into acting in the first place.
“Sometimes we sort of forget why we’re in Hollywood as actors and actresses, ‘coz we’re doing so many other things,” says Foxx. “But at the end of the day, cinema is really what it’s all about. I’m so honoured and blessed to be working with Quentin Tarantino.”
“It’s going to be a lot of great fun,” he continues. “It’s a very challenging role, but I can’t wait. It’s Quentin Tarantino’s style. I play a freed slave that becomes a bounty hunter, and then I come back and I avenge, so it’s one of those. But at the same time it’s a western, so there’s a lot of riding horses! I can’t wait.”
Kerry Washington will play his wife
The next piece of major casting saw Kerry Washington recruited to play Django’s wife, Broomhilda, bringing about a Ray reunion between she and Jamie Foxx. Washington was apparently Tarantino’s first choice for the role, but one he wasn’t confident of securing given the reported amount of nudity in the script.
Broomhilda’s imprisonment by a cruel slave-owner is the driving force that motivates Django’s mission of vengeance, and by all accounts, hers will be one of the most challenging roles in the film. More on that later, but first, a little more on that villain…
Django will wage war on Calvin Candie
The film’s primary antagonist is one Calvin Candie, a vicious plantation owner, whose hatred of African Americans is rivalled only by his cruelty towards women. He’s the owner of a sex club known as Candyland, and also deals in fighting slaves. It is Candie who takes ownership of Django’s wife Broomhilda, winning her in a card game and forcing her to work at the club.
The Playlist describes Candie as “a typically rich Tarantino villain, both eccentric (he’s a Francophile, and insists on being called ‘Monsieur,’ even if he can’t speak French) and complex—he’s a solid gold bastard, to be sure, but he’s also charismatic and not without his depths.”
Tarantino had long had an idea for who should play him
Intriguingly enough, it appears Tarantino has long considered Leonardo DiCaprio to be perfect villain material. Rumour has it that QT pursued the Inception star for the role of Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds , before Chritsoph Waltz nipped in and made the part his own.
However, a good idea is a good idea, and if Tarantino wants DiCaprio as villain, chances are he’ll end up getting him…
DiCaprio will play Candie
Who better to play the villainous Candie, than one of Hollywood’s more clean-cut leading men? Yep, the brave soul charged with bringing the aforementioned monster to life is none other than bona fide superstar Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio’s name had long been associated with the project, and he was finally revealed to have signed on in June 2011.
It’s a brave move from DiCaprio, as the role will call for some pretty controversial racial dialogue, as well as some distinctly suspect sexual practices. However, of all the film’s casting choices, this one surely has to be the most exciting…
DiCaprio's dialogue won't please Spike Lee
If you’ll cast your mind back to the release of Jackie Brown , you’ll recall Spike Lee calling out Tarantino on his repeated use of the N-word. Well we’d advise old Spike to steer clear of Django Unchained , as some of the dialogue will make Jackie Brown sound like a nursery rhyme.
According to Rie Rasmussen, an actress and confidante of QT, some of Calvin Candie’s outbursts have to be heard to be believed.
“Just last night, he read me something,” she told The Playlist . “He’s like, ‘Oh, I just wrote this new dialogue, will you check this out?’ I can’t believe that Leonardo DiCaprio is going to say these words! I can’t believe it. People are going to stand up in their seats when this Tarantino rant is going on screen!”
Samuel L Jackson will appear
As has become customary in the majority of Tarantino’s films, a part has been written specifically for Samuel L Jackson. He will play Stephen, a character that Variety describes as, “a house slave and the right-hand man of a sadistic slavemaster.”
That would be Candie then. The script initially had Stephen as a childhood contemporary of Candie’s who fell into his employ as the years passed. We don’t know as yet whether that detail will remain – presumably if it does, Di Caprio will have to be aged-up quite significantly…
Jonah Hill turned down a role
Not every A-list guest was able to accept the offer of a cameo from Quenting Tarantino. For example, Jonah Hill was another to be given a part, only to have to turn it down over scheduling difficulties.
“I got offered the new Quentin Tarantino movie, and I can’t do it because of my schedule,” Hill told MTV . “Doing Quentin’s movie would have obviously been amazing, but my schedule didn’t work out, which sucks.”
Hill was set to play Scott Harmony, an overweight twentysomething whose father purchases Broomhilda for him as a “playmate”…
Kevin Costner won a part
Tarantino loves casting Hollywood old-stagers in his films, and this time around, that honour was all set to go to Kevin Costner as QT offered him the part of Ace Woody, a villainous trainer who takes great pleasure in whipping Candie’s fighting slaves into shape.
However, scheduling clashes soon put paid to what would have been an enjoyable piece of stunt casting, with Costner’s involvement in TV series The Hatfields And The McQueens causing him to drop out of the project. Bummer.
Costner was replaced by Kurt Russell
Fortunately, Tarantino is a man with a bulging book of contacts, and a swift phone call to Kurt Russell means that Costner’s part was filled in the blinking of an eye. Having played Stuntman Mike with sadistic glee in Death Proof , expect Russell to be similarly monstrous to the inhabitants of Candie’s plantation.
Indeed, Russell was a last-minute replacement on that film as well, stepping up to the plate when Mickey Rourke dropped out. There’s a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time…
Kill Bill's Laura Cayouette is on board
Russell is just one of many former Tarantino collaborators to sign on for Django Unchained . Next to join is Laura Cayouette, who you might remember as Rocket the stripper from Kill Bill Part 2 .
Cayouette will be playing Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwillie, the widowed sister of Di Caprio’s character who co-runs the plantation with him. Cayouette was last spotted in Green Lantern , in the pivotal role of Party Guest #1.
RZA will play a violent slave
RZA is another of Tarantino’s old pals to be given a role, with the Wu-Tang Clan supremo set to play a character named Thaddeus. A slave who works on one of the plantations, we don’t know exactly how he will fit into the overall story, suffice to say that his character is thought to be extremely violent.
RZA was the brain behind the Kill Bill soundtrack, and is currently in post production on his directorial debut, the Russell Crowe starring The Man With The Iron Fists . The producer on that film? One Quentin Tarantino…
Tom Savini will reteam with QT
Fans of From Dusk Till Dawn will be pleased to learn that Tom Savini will also be appearing in Tarantino’s latest. Savini, who played the machinegun-crotched Sex Machine in the vampire crime flick, is pencilled in to play Ellis Brittle, a suitably unsavoury character for the maestro of special effects gore.
Brittle is one of a trio of slave-owning outlaws who are responsible for the rape and branding of Django’s wife Broomhilda. Chances are Django won’t react well when he hears what has happened…
Anthony LaPaglia is playing an Australian slaver
The big-name cameos just keep on coming, with Anthony LaPaglia also joining the cast in a bit-part capacity. LaPaglia will play one of a pair of Australian brothers who encounter Django whilst escorting another group of slaves into captivity.
“It’s wildly ambitious and imaginative,” LaPaglia told IGN of the project. “It deals with that subject matter in a way that hasn’t been dealt with before.” So who’s playing his brother, then?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play his brother
Talk about pulling a surprise out of the bag! It was recently confirmed that the second of the film’s marauding Aussies will be played by none other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
JGL was reportedly so keen to do the movie that he managed to persuade Sony to delay the press for upcoming action thriller Premium Rush in order to create sufficient room in his schedule. According to those who have seen the script, JGL and LaPaglia are only on screen for a brief time, but crop up towards the end to play a significant part in the story’s narrative.
Don Johnson will play another rotter
Django Unchained looks set to boast a rogues gallery like no other film in history, with Machete star Don Johnson also bagging himself a role as one of the movie’s many villains.
Johnson will play Spencer Bennett, a slave owner encountered by Django and Schultz as the duo pursue a bounty. Tarantino reportedly pursued Johnson for months before nailing him down to the role. Which begs the question, can he really have had that much else on?
QT has roped in some more telly stars
Miami Vice star Johnson isn’t the only TV star to be making an appearance in Django , with Tarantino seemingly mining all of his favourite shows to flesh out his cast with supporting players.
And so, in no particular order, we can also look forward to seeing Deadwood stars Gerald McRaney and Dennis Christopher, Lost ’s MC Gainey, Dexter regular James Remar and CSI: Miami occasional Joey Salucci. Fair to say QT spends a decent amount of time in front of the box then…
A role was made for Michael K Williams
Having missed out on the leading role to Jamie Foxx, it briefly appears as though Michael K Williams will be appearing after all when Tarantino reportedly offers him a supporting role, thought to be muscle for DiCaprio’s villain.
However, ongoing commitments to filming the third series of Boardwalk Empire means Williams dream is dashed once again, his representatives proving unable to sufficiently juggle his commitments. No Omar this time around then…
Sacha Baron Cohen has a role
As if the cast weren’t already bizarre enough, Tarantino springs one final surprise by finding a role for Sacha Baron Cohen in his already jam-packed ensemble. According to Variety , Cohen will play Scotty, a gambler who buys Broomhilda as his female companion…
We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this truly odd collection of talent doesn’t end up as less than the sum of its parts, a la the equally promising looking but ultimately disappointing Machete . Make it so, Quentin…
Production began last November
With the casting finally done (although we wouldn’t be surprised if yet more cameos were announced) production finally got underway in the autumn of 2011. Meanwhile, New Orleans was chosen as one of the key filming locations, with cameras set to roll in early 2012.
The wide open spaces of Mammoth Lakes California are also utilised by Tarantino, whose finished article (be it southern or western) will surely be groaning with a surfeit of picturesque landscape shots. However, it isn’t long before the shoot encounters its first hiccup…
Let it never be said that Christoph Waltz is unwilling to get his hands dirty. The Inglourious Basterds star managed to dislocate a pelvic bone after falling off a horse during preparation for filming.
However, Waltz brushed off the setback in typically phlegmatic style. “It’s a western,” he remarked when asked about the fall. “Things happen in a western. You don’t do a western on a bicycle. Even though, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , there’s this big sequence on a bicycle.” Good point, well made.
Is this the plantation?
A Louisiana-based photographer going by the name of Alfonso Pompo Bresciani recently published the above image of the Oak Alley Plantation, claiming it to be the official location of Calvin Candie’s nightmarish establishment.
Whether or not that turns out to be the case remains to be seen, but Tarantino could certainly do worse than the foreboding, tree-lined entranceway depicted above. Nothing good can be at the end of that path, can it?
The script is pretty radical
Everyone who has read the Django Unchained script suggests that the project is one of Tarantino’s most controversial to date. However, according to actress Rie Rasmussen, a close friend of Tarantino’s, it is also going to shake up Hollywood filmmaking like never before.
"I’ve been around Quentin since day one when the script was being written and I’ve followed it through its development this last year and a half,” Rasmussen told The Playlist . “I knew the man was a genius, but... Jamie Foxx is going to motherfucking knock this one out of the park. He’s gonna be a young Jim Brown.”
“This movie is going to be a revolution,” she continues. “Jack Hill, gave blaxploitation films a voice, he gave Pam Grier that voice. He was giving the black revenge story a bloody voice and this is what Quentin is doing today with Django Unchained .”
Some say it's his masterpiece
AICN founder Harry Knowles was another prominent voice to pass judgment on the script, and happily for Tarantino, his report was nothing less than glowing.
“ Django Unchained is an operatic Southern,” boomed Knowles via his Twitter feed. “This is my favourite QT script. And I’ve read them all. This I absolutely love at every level.”
Meanwhile, Rie Rasmussen has yet more praise to level at the film.
“I’m thinking this is going to revolutionize,” she said. “ If this doesn’t change the face of movies, then Hollywood is really, truly motherfucking racist. I think it’s the most adult movie we’re going to see out of Quentin Tarantino.”
Others think it's an overblown mess
Obsessed With Film ’s Matt Holmes gave a very different interpretation of Tarantino’s new script, suggesting it is hamstrung by the kind of self-indulgence and slavish fanboy pandering that marred Death Proof .
“There is nothing for Joe Popcorn to cling on to here," says Holmes. "This isn't a movie that young teenagers/adults, unless they are huge fans of Tarantino, will get off their ass to see in their droves. Tarantino is playing for a niche market here – nobody has really made a movie about race like this for years, and when they did it was never for a mass audience.”
Is it exploitative?
The Huffington Post ’s Naima Ramos-Chapman suggests that in attempting to create an homage to exploitation films, Tarantino risks stumbling into the pitfalls that made such films exploitative in the first place.
She makes the point that the film essentially reinforces the traditional structures of white paternalism. Broomhilda is a damsel in distress, who requires saving by the strong male i.e. Django. However, for Django to save his wife, he must turn to the tutelage of the benevolent white man i.e. Schultz. So could it be that the traditional racial hierarchy is reinforced rather than challenged…?
Washington's role is particularly controversial
As we mentioned before, QT wasn’t confident of securing Kerry Washington’s involvement on account of the amount of nudity her role would require. Well, from the sound of things, it’s not just the nudity that will be challenging.
By all accounts, Washington spends very little of the actual film with her clothes on at all. As a forced employee of Candie’s Candyland brothel her existence is a thoroughly miserable one, and at various points throughout the movie she is reportedly raped, whipped and forced to expose herself during a public auction. Not one to take the Washington parents to then…
Sally Menke's death left a hole in proceedings
The production was recently rocked by the untimely death of Sally Menke, Tarantino’s long time editor and friend. The only editor QT ever used, the director often referred to her as his “number one collaborator”, and a nurturing influence on his work.
“I write by myself but when it comes to the editing, I write with Sally,” said Tarantino. “It's the true epitome, I guess, of a collaboration because I don't remember what was her idea, what was my idea. We're just right there together.”
A replacement was found
With Menke always having been the only choice to edit the film, Tarantino was forced to find somebody new to step into her Oscar-nominated shoes (she got the nod for her work on Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds ). Fred Raskin will now be assisting QT in the cutting room, having recently worked on Justin Lin’s Annapolis and Fast Five .
Unsurprisingly, Raskin has a past with Tarantino, having served as assistant director on Kill Bill . Let’s hope it’s the beginning of another beautiful partnership.
Robert Richardson is DOP
The responsibility for cinematography will rest with Robert Richardson, who returns to reteam with Tarantino after their success together on Inglorious Basterds . That film saw Richardson nominated for the Oscar, having previously impressed Tarantino with his work on Kill Bill .
“Quentin’s razor sharp dialogue requires sacrifice, and within this film, my blood has stained many a set,” said Richardson of Inglourious Basterds . “Quentin, being a cameraman, knows the difficulties and had some sympathy but, in truth, his objective was to place the words on the screen with the very best of deliveries. All else falls behind this goal.”
The script made the 2011 Blacklist
Django Unchained was named on the 2011 Blacklist, a collection of the best unproduced script currently floating around Hollywood. Voted on by hundreds of studio executives, the list often contains a few mega-hits in waiting, with Django Unchained undoubtedly the most high profile of last year’s choices.
Previous big-hitters that have ended up on the list include Juno and The Social Network , both of which won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay respectively. A good omen perhaps…
The title song has been chosen
This being a Tarantino film, the question of soundtrack is one of paramount importance. The film’s title song has apparently been chosen, with vocal duties going to Dutch singer Mick Harren. No, we haven’t heard of him either.
Harren will apparently be singing a multilingual version of Frank Sinatra’s My Way , which kind of makes sense in the context of the plot. Perhaps QT was won over by Harren’s almost uncanny resemblance to Reservoir Dogs star Michael Madsen…
The fans have been busy
Whilst an official poster has yet to surface for the film, there are lots of cool fan-made ones knocking about online. Take a gander below at a couple of our favourites...
The film opens on Christmas Day 2012
Django Unchained will be released in the US on 25 December 2012, making it probably the least Christmassy film ever to secure that festive release date. The film will go head to head with The Great Gatsby (also starring Leonardo Di Caprio) and Kathryn Bigelow’s untitled Osama Bin Laden drama.
Here in the UK we’ll have to wait a day longer until the 26th to see the film. After all, the Queen will be on the telly at three. Get it pencilled into the diary now. Django , that is. Not the Queen.