Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washing and Leonardo Dicaprio grace the cover of the latest issue of Vibe magazine. Watch a behind the scenes video of the shoot and read cover story below.
Despite the site-unseen criticism of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film rebellion, Django Unchained isn’t a blaxploitati
Jamie Foxx knows what you’re thinking when you see him as a shivering slave in the trailer for his latest film, Django Unchained. This is no Roots. It’s not like he didn’t know his role in Quentin Tarantino’s latest backslap to Hollywood conventions would confuse some and infuriate others. He’s smirking atop a horse in a powder blue costume while going all badass on white folks like some Dolomite slave fantasy for goodness sake. But according to Foxx, 45, and key members of the all-star cast–Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington–they half-expecte
With Django Unchained, Tarantino adapts his familiar revenge themes (Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds) to the story of a slave gone rogue in the name of love. In this flick, the genre-splici
While Tarantino was awarded Screenwriter of the Year for Django by the Hollywood Film Awards in October, black Hollywood had a different take. Nate Parker (Red Tails, Red Hook Summer), who was also considered for the role of Django, called the script ‘‘upsetting.” Tyler Perry, who wrote the Madea series, raised questions about Tarantino’s screenplay (more on this later). But the actors in the film, which also include Samuel L. Jackson, stuck to their guns.
‘‘I wanted to go in there and try to embody somebody and an attitude that is so foreign to me and go the distance,” says DiCaprio, 38, who had his own reservations about the language and imagery. While at the photo shoot for VIBE, the most revered actor of our time puffs neat circles of smoke from his electronic cigarette. Not look-at-me plumes. More an absentminded exercise to pass the time and focus his thoughts. ‘‘I think it took me to places I didn’t even imagine,” he continued. ‘‘It really took on a life of its own.
When Foxx, DiCaprio and Washington finally sit for a chat about the film, the conversation also takes on a life of its own. Here is the story behind the story.
VIBE: Before Django was even completed, the screenplay and the trailer received criticism from black people who objected to the treatment of slavery, suggesting it is not serious. It is a spaghetti western not a heavy drama like, say, Roots or The Color Purple. Were you prepared for this type of scrutiny?
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: We knew there was going to be controversy. The question is: What is not a realistic depiction? I would argue that it is. It is Quentin’s re-creation; this character doesn’t exist. There’s nobody that is documented to do what Jamie’s character has done at the time. But the documentarie
JAMIE FOXX: Put it this way: I completely understand what you’re saying. ‘Cause as black folks we’re always sensitive. As a black person it’s always racial. I come into this place to do a photo shoot and they got Ritz crackers and cheese. I’ll be like, ain’t this a bitch. Y’all didn’t know black people was coming. What’s with all this white shit? By the same token, if there is fried chicken and watermelon I’ll say ain’t this a bitch? So, no matter what we do as black people it’s always gonna be that. Every single thing in my life is built around race. I don’t necessarily speak it because you can’t. But the minute I leave my house, I gotta put my other jacket on and say, ‘‘Hey, Thomas, Julian and Greg.” And I gotta be a certain person.
DICAPRIO: Thomas, Julian and Greg?
VIBE: Those are white people.
FOXX: No some of those people are black. But when I get home my other homies are like how was your day? Well, I only had to be white for at least eight hours today, [or] I only had to be white for four hours. Everything we do is that. When you’re talking about the script, of course it’s going to be controversy. I remember talking to Tyler Perry about it. [In Perry’s very serious voice] ‘‘Ah man, the script, man. Have you read it?” When I finally read it, I called Tyler and we had a conversation
KERRY WASHINGTON: This is not a doc. This is a Quentin Tarantino film. But I remember there was this one moment in the script where Jamie’s character was put in an awful crazy medieval metal mask. I said, ‘‘That’s some sick thing Quentin thought up.” And when I went to the production office to meet about my wardrobe, I saw into the research office. Twenty photos of real masks like that. It made me sad. I realized as much as my degrees and everything I’ve read on slave narratives [should have informed me], I didn’t even know that they wore masks like that, that people did that to us. It took a Tarantino movie for me to know that that’s not some crazy thing out of his imagination. That’s how it went down.
VIBE: Leonardo, you’re playing the bad guy, finally. Now doesn’t that feel good?
DICAPRIO: Of course, playing a bad guy opens you up to not having as many rules or restraints. I think actors have gravitated to that because it frees you up in a way. It takes you to the darkest place of where you are as a person and lets you indulge in that and give in to that and be as horrible as you possibly can without the conflicting side of what’s good and what’s right. This is the first legit bad guy I’ve ever had to play, and it is a fucking horrible [character]; the worst display of humanity I’ve ever read in my entire life. Not even just because of who he was and the racism, but because he is just the most self-indulge
WASHINGTON: Everybody went to a place they’ve never been before. Samuel Jackson went into the trailer and came out every day looking like an entirely different human being.
DICAPRIO: When Sam showed up all the volumes were like, ‘‘Oh shit; I gotta say this louder.” He left a charge in our ass.
VIBE: Kerry, you played opposite Jamie in Ray as his wife. This time, you go back in time to play his wife again. How did your previous work together figure in here?
WASHINGTON: I couldn’t have done this movie without Jamie. The trust factor. I think there is something beautiful about the fact that the film is about a husband and wife being reunited after being separated. And the audiences also get to see us being reunited. I think there is poetry in that. But the places we had to go emotionally I would not be able to go with an actor that I didn’t respect, admire, trust and love. Even days when we weren’t working it was good to know you had that person in your corner.
VIBE: What does that mean on set, for someone to be in your corner as an actor? How does that look in action?
FOXX: I got my foot on Samuel Jackson, and he said, ‘‘Now kick me. I’m gonna roll off this motherfucker
DICAPRIO: Quentin Tarantino is a great filmmaker. But what he does better than everyone is he brings people together. He is a man that is very specific about his vision. There are certain things you just can’t fuck with. There are certain things in telling his story he knows exactly what he wants. You have to create a situation in which you feel free to speak your mind or change things up. I am at my best–I think actors are at their best, when they are involved and feel the ownership of that character. He’s that unique combination of knowing the path or journey he wants to go on, but is able to go off and improvise.
WASHINGTON: He’s also not afraid to hire people who are really good at what they do. If you look at this cast, it takes a life of its own. I remember we did this one scene at this dining room table and we thought it was going to go one way and Sam and Leonardo took it to this other level. We were like, ‘‘Okay, we need to rethink the next 30 pages of the script. This is a different movie now.”
FOXX: They changed the trajectory. He got a standing ovation after one of his speeches. I’m sitting there watching it going like, ‘‘This changes the movie.”
WASHINGTON: I suddenly find myself about to cry in a moment that was not supposed to be a moment at all.
VIBE: Looks like the screenplay for Django Unchained is on the path to an Oscar nomination. All of you obviously loved it, but was there anything in the screenplay that made you think twice?
DICAPRIO: For me, the initial thing obviously was playing someone so disreputable and horrible whose ideas I obviously couldn’t connect with on any level. I remember our first read through, and some of my questions were about the amount of violence, the amount of racism, the explicit use of certain language. It was hard for me to wrap my head around it. My initial response was, ‘‘Do we need to go this far?” Quentin pushes the envelope, you know, much like Inglourious Basterds was about World War II, a heightened reality. His depiction or retelling of that time. This is his retelling of this era. But my immediate question was, ‘‘Are we going too far?”
VIBE: How did you overcome that?
DICAPRIO: Samuel Jackson was like, ‘‘You can’t pull any punches, none of this can be sugar coated.” He felt that a lot of this stuff had not been portrayed accurately. Even though this is a very isolated story about one man who defies the odds as a slave, however realistic that would have been at that time period, to him it was about really showing for the first time the horrific atrocities that haven’t really been shown in this manner before. He told me, ‘‘If you’re going to do this, you have to go all the way.” The further you go, the more people are going to embrace it for being accurate, certainly about what was going on.
VIBE: Is there anything in your life that can prepare you for playing a wicked slave master?
DICAPRIO: The thing that made him click for me was some of the conversation
FOXX: What was great is it turned into this family where everybody has each other’s back or you would fall apart. There were certain points where my man [Leonardo] would be like, ‘‘Buddy, how could this happen?”
WASHINGTON: We’ve had weeks when we weren’t sleeping. Texting each other at three in the morning, like, ‘‘Yo, what are we going to do?” We would have scenes where we would be in it-in it-in it–Cut! You okay, you okay? Then you turn around and go right back in it.
VIBE: What would you text each other at three in the morning?
WASHINGTON: I can’t sleep. Me neither. Laughs.
FOXX: What we were doing was an acrobatic routine with the highest degree of difficulty. You land perfectly, it’s all 10s. You don’t land it, you don’t get into it, you never know what the judge will give you. Every slither of this film, we thought about it. And what was great about Quentin Tarantino is he welcomed our thoughts. And like most directors this is his baby. We had to make sure we were respectful, but we also had to make sure he could trust us. For example, there was a rape scene. Obviously that’s a dynamic moment. Like, I told him, black people watch a movie different that white folks. When you watch Inglourious Basterds, Jewish people have a more quiet response. [Whispers] ‘‘I can’t believe they did that.” When black people don’t like something it’s like: [louder] ‘‘Ay dawg, why Olivia Pope went down like that. That shit is fucked up.” What I wanted to say and what we all knew was art is one thing and art is an acquired taste.
WASHINGTON: We didn’t want this story to get lost in the art.
FOXX: The way [Django] protected her, I get it. The way Quentin shot the scene still gives you the dynamic of what happened without the graphicness of us, me–Jamie Foxx, Eric Bishop–seeing Kerry Washington. Because there are certain things that we watch as black people that if we don’t agree with it, we not only turn off the movie but we turn off that person. When we feel like the character was compromised by the white establishmen
VIBE: Kerry, you had to go from playing a slave, a piece of property, to a political power player (Olivia Pope) in Scandal. How do you give both of these black female characters their due?
WASHINGTON: It was really weird. We all had to shift to our next characters much more quickly than we thought we would because this movie was a never-ending process. I felt like when I went back to play Olivia Pope, I didn’t know how to walk in heels any more because I’ve been running barefoot in the woods for six months. I didn’t know how to stand like her. I didn’t know what it was like to wear pants anymore. It was really interesting. It was like having to go two centuries in two days and what those two centuries meant as a black woman. To be from somebody who wasn’t even considered a human being in our constitution to arguably one of the most powerful women in the country because she put the president where he is. It fucked with my head a little bit.
DICAPRIO: This is the first time I did three movies back to back like this. I came from doing The Great Gatsby, which is also an American story about money and what that does to the human psychology. That it is the root of evil and what lengths people will go. And I’m doing another movie about money as well. And the effects of money on who Gatsby was, in prohibition he was a guy who got involved with gangsters to become a part of the white aristocracy of the East. And then going to the South, predating that to play somebody who wanted to own his plantation by any means necessary. There’s a relationship to all of them that I didn’t even realize as I was doing them, but it is a theme subconscious
VIBE: Speaking of the election, what is it about Hollywood that makes it a liberals-onl
FOXX: It’s the one-percente
WASHINGTON: I think our job is to step into somebody else’s shoes as actors. So I think we are open to other people’s journeys. Because our jobs is to be empathetic. To say, ‘‘How does this person see the world, how does this person think about things?” Our job is to think about the other person. I think that has a lot to do with it.
VIBE: What effect did working on an actual plantation have on you? Especially with the actors in slave costumes and horse and buggies, the genuine look of a slave plantation?
FOXX: For me, it was different. I’m from the South. It’s a tough script to read. When you’re from California or New York, it’s like reading something out of science fiction. How are these people like that.
When President Obama became president in 2008, a blemish on my hometown was the fact that it wasn’t on the front page of the newspaper. When they went down to talk to them, they went [country accent] ‘‘Hey listen, we run a newspaper, not a scrap book.” I’m paraphrasing
WASHINGTON: When is the last time you saw a movie about slavery where a black man frees himself?
FOXX: We read back in the day about Nat Turner and other guys who were not taking it. That’s why, when I read the script and we went back to the plantation, there were certain things inside me bubbling up. It was different for a black person who is there. We would play music in between. I don’t think Leo was there when we were on shack row.
WASHINGTON: He was in the big house.
FOXX: They were shooting my side of when he’s about to get lashes. Everybody there was just waiting for that moment, all the women on the set were like, ‘‘Wow this is going to be one of the hurdles in the script.” Now what was interesting was Quentin played music in between, which I thought was really cool. A lot of times he played music that kept things light. But that day, I found a piece of music from Fred Hammond, because I wanted that song to play.
VIBE: So this was your soundtrack for that day of shooting?
FOXX: Yeah. I picked Fred Hammond. What happened was Quentin was getting ready to shoot. Kerry’s character wants to take the lashes. But the song was, [singing] ‘‘No weapon formed against me shall prosperº” And when that happened, I saw a lady who had never been on a movie set before, and she was there with her kid. And her hand went up, and then I watched Quentin as he was shooting. And his eyepiece filled up with water, and he was like, ‘‘I had no idea.” I said, ‘‘Yeah, man, I know it sounds corny, but those are the ancestors saying you guys are on the right track.”