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Kerry Washington On Surviving Quentin Tarantino's 'Django Unchained'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire December 24, 2012 at 10:06AM

Following their work in the Oscar-winning biopic "Ray," Kerry Washington again plays the wife of Jamie Foxx in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" -- and the similarities end there. In Tarantino's controversial spaghetti western, Washington plays Broomhilda, the wife of the titular hero (played by Foxx), held captive by a sadistic plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). When Django gets freed by a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), he sets out on a mission to track down his love and liberate her.
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"I remember turning to Jamie one day and saying, 'If this movie goes on for one week longer, I'm not going to survive it.'"

So...how was reuniting with Jamie?

He's a much better husband in this film that he was in "Ray." In "Ray" he was sleeping around and doing a lot of drugs. I think there's a really cool poetry to the idea that the film's about a husband and wife trying to be reunited, and that Jamie and I are reunited as husband and wife. I think that works in the subtext of the film.

We have great chemistry. We really love and respect each other. Especially since so much of our stuff is nonverbal, you really need to have that connection. And I think I am so grateful to Jamie because he really was a partner -- he protected me. This film was really hard on both of us, so we both leaned on each other. We'd text each other at three, four in the morning because neither of us could sleep. I'll never be able to thank him enough for being there for me as a friend.

Was Quentin there for you?

Absolutely. I would actually say all of the men. There were moments where Sam [Samuel L. Jackson] would step in and say, "You can't do that. This is a movie, you gotta do this for pretend." Sam was very protective of Leo [Leonardo DiCaprio]. At that scene at the dinner table, every moment after cut he would ask, "Are you OK?" We all just walked this line of protecting each other and pushing each other. Our coach in all of that is Quentin.

Broomhilda endures so much in "Django." How did you mentally prepare yourself for the shoot?

I remember turning to Jamie one day and saying, "If this movie goes on for one week longer, I'm not going to survive it." My parents came down and my manager came down at some point because they were concerned. It was really tough. I guess one of the things I walked away with was more gratitude than I have ever had before for the people who were able to survive this period, because I feel like we barely survived it for pretend, for nine months. I got to go home and take a shower every night, eat a nice dinner and call my therapist.

Did you have your therapist on speed dial?

Yes! I used to joke that I would bill him for my 'extra sessions.'

Did you shoot this in one big block, or were you also shooting "Scandal" at the time?

No. I shot this in the nine-month hiatus between season one and season two.

"Scandal"
ABC "Scandal"

What was it like going from playing a slave to playing a powerful confidante to the President?

It was crazy. I remember when I was done with the film, I bascially had two days to prep for "Scandal." I called my mom and I was like, "I have to go two centuries in two days." I really didn't know how I was going to do it because I was so broken from the process of making the film -- going from someone who desperately needs to be saved, to going to someone who makes a living saving people. It was such a huge transformation. I got back onto "Scandal" wearing Gucci pumps, and was like, "What am I doing?" It's been an exciting year as an actor for that reason.

Are you an actress who lives with a character for an extended period of time after wrapping?

I would try to really distinguish them -- that's kinda the job. One day we were shooting ("Django Unchained"), there was a background actor...it was one of those hot Louisiana days and everyone was having a hard time. One of the actors said, "We have to remember that we are the answer to their prayers. Us as African Americans today, we are the answer to the prayers of the people who actually worked this field." We shot on a real slave plantation. The fact that we can vote, read, own property, travel: that all means that their prayers were answered. I felt that way going back to Olivia Pope. Her personal life is a total mess (laughs), but so much of who she is, is beyond Broomhilda's prayers. I think, if anything, I carried that with me. The awareness of that empowerment.

It was actually sometimes the other way around. I had days that were so tough on "Django," that Jamie would sometimes lean over and say, "How are you doing Olivia?" to kind of remind me that this wasn't my own reality; to help me remember that there's an end to this story that's phenomenal.

This article is related to: Kerry Washington, Interviews, Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx





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