Vanity Fair Daily chatted with Jamie Foxx about what he used as fuel for the Django character, how working with Tarantino compares to working with Oliver Stone and Michael Mann, and how he’s preparing to play the next Spider-Man villain.
VF Daily: What were your initial thoughts when you started talking to Tarantino about playing Django? Did you have notes for him?
Jamie Foxx: To be honest with you, he had all of these characters thought out, which makes it easier for the process. And we all—me, Leo, and Sam—we bring our bag of what we think the character could have. And Tarantino looks it over and says he likes this and doesn’t like this, and I was just like, “Whatever you need, I’m here.” I think he really crafted Django in a fantastic way, sort of an ode to the gunslinger, the guy on the horse who doesn’t talk much, the guy who is focused on getting his woman. And all of this crazy, chaotic stuff that’s going on inside the movie, Django remains the same. And that was definitely Quentin Tarantino’s thought process.
Will Smith was mentioned as one of the actors who Tarantino was also thinking about playing Django. Did you ever reach out to him to get his thoughts and compare notes?
I didn’t get a chance to talk to Will specifically about this, but I had heard he said that it is going to be an incredible part. But I have my homies. Like Tyrin Turner—he played Caine in Menace II Society—and a few of my other acting friends, they were just like, “This is a great opportunity.” And you feel fortunate to play in this type of movie, where the background is slavery and there are going to be things in it that people are going to have tough times watching. But the entertainment value of it and the fact that Django is going to be iconic, that’s what’s great about it.
Because of the importance of the role, was it also important to talk to your family before signing on?
Well, my family came to the set. My daughters came to the set; my sister worked on the set. My sister is from South Dallas, dark skin, little bundle of love, but she’s very sensitive as a black woman, so she was like, “It has to land right.” So we all took this journey together. The first time she saw me up on the horse, she was like, “I didn’t know there’d be horses!” Because when you read the script, you don’t think that these people would be on horses, so she watched the movie and I watched her watch the movie and she enjoyed it.
And that is your horse that you ride in the movie.
Yeah, that’s Cheetah, man.
Were there any other things that you did to personalize the character?
Music-wise, I listened to a lot of Biggie Smalls. Whenever there was a time when I was getting ready for my scene, I would play “You’re Dead Wrong” or “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” so there would be things like that that I would just use as fuel. I would also watch Denzel in Glory or A Soldier’s Story or watch Clint Eastwood, watch Wesley Snipes in New Jack City—characters that affected me in the sense that I had to make sure Django was quiet. He was all about the look, but when he has to talk his way back into the good graces, that’s when I use some Denzel [mumbles while imitating Denzel Washington’s voice].
You wrote a track with Rick Ross titled “100 Black Coffins” for the soundtrack. Did you know Tarantino was going to insert it into the film, too?
I didn’t know. But you can’t deny the energies of Rick Ross and Quentin Tarantino. Rick has a gritty streetness to him. I think if Quentin chose any other mainstream rapper, it wouldn’t have worked. Rick is really a representative of the street.
It certainly brings a rawness to the scene when it comes in.
Yeah. And I wrote the hook. I said to everyone, I’m not a rapper but, “I need a hundred black coffins for a hundred bad men/ hundred black graves so I can lay their ass in/ I need hundred black preachers with a black sermon to tell/ from a hundred black Bibles/ why we send them all to hell.” That being said by Rick Ross, I just don’t know how you don’t use it. And he carries the youth as well—young black, white, Hispanic—so I think when they hear that in the movie, people’s heads will be bobbing back and forth. I think it was a good fit.
But putting a modern rap song in a period film¬—are you scared how people will react?
I told them I wanted to do it. So what I found out is when you whistle back, then it meant to get ready to draw your gun. It’s going down. And my grandfather used to watch Lawrence Welk, and he used to have what I call the white cowboy-hat tenors. So I grabbed the microphone and I did [whistles, sings the “100 Black Coffins” hook]. So I crafted the track to have the spirit of the old Western married with the newness of the hip-hop. And then we dramatized it. I got my guy and we sound-designed it—there’s explosions. They aren’t musical, but when you listen to it in the movie theater, it engulfs you. “What’s going on?”
Django is one of the few if only Tarantino characters that I would watch in a sequel. Would you be interested in reprising the role?
I would definitely be interested to see where Django and his wife go. Or just other adventures. There’s stories of John Brown, the abolitionist—maybe he runs into John Brown or Harriet Tubman. But he’s definitely on the run up in the North, and down South there’s “Wanted” posters, but no one really knows what Django looks like. They only saw him for a second. So there could be a poster and it could look like Don Cheadle or something. You know what I’m saying? But really I think Quentin outdid himself on this one. And it’s really hard to say if there’s a director out there who’s doing it like he is right now.
Well, you’ve worked with some masters. Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, now Tarantino. Which one put you on your toes the most?
They all did. That’s the one DNA they all have. If you describe it like a football coach, they all have it. You go in with a little bit of fear, but it’s good fear. Oliver Stone was like, “You’re just terrible. You’re not good at all.” And you have to work to gain favoritism. And then when you gain that, you become a better actor. Michael Mann, whoooo! I mean with him, you learn discipline. You learn that I can work 28 hours in a row if I need to. And then with Quentin Tarantino, he was more of the hybrid of all of them. Tough in certain places, really creative in others, but what separates him is the fun aspect. Music playing. Constant jokes. We took a shot of tequila or whatever every 100 rolls of film. And that’s what I thought was really refreshing and what separates him. But very, very serious, too. Well, I’ve seen him snap, so I’m not going to say he doesn’t snap. He snaps. But he will come back and say, “Sorry about that, but you know.”
Spider-Man 2 is next for you. What can you talk about?
Going to play Electro. Still working all the things out and how we shape him. Which is really exciting to me to have this type of dialogue about the script and make this guy really stand out. He’s really going through some things and when he becomes Electro, it’s validated. You love and hate that fact that he is who he is. And if we make him as real as possible, I think he’s going to make for a great villain.