They were all there this morning. Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Walton Goggins, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson and even Jonah Hill, who only has a brief cameo in the film. The eclectic, A-list cast of Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” all made it out for the press day which is impressive considering at some press days it’s even difficult to get the star to appear (see Tom Cruise‘s latest). “I’ve always wanted to deal with America’s horrific past with slavery. But I didn’t want to do a straight historical movie with a capital H. I wanted to wrap it up in genre,” Tarantino explained this a.m. about why he wanted to deal with the brutal and horrific subject matter of his latest film. “So many movies that take place in slavery times bend over backwards to avoid [the subject matter itself]. It’s kind of everybody’s fault in America. Nobody wants to stare at it. In the story of different types of slave narratives in America, there’s a whole bunch of stories — I wanted to be the first one out of the gate with it.”
Bloody, comical and in your face, Tarantino certainly does fly out of the gate with his almost three-hour-long slavery drama-cum-Spaghetti Western epic (you can read our divisive and not-all-on-the-same page reviews here). Here are some highlights from the “Django Unchained” press day in New York, including some details about a longer cut that might please QT completists.
When asked if there’s a longer cut of the film. Tarantino said yes there is, and he may release an expanded version of “Django Unchained” at some point.
“I’m not exactly sure [when I might],” Tarantino said. “I’m going to wait until the film goes around the world, does what it does. And then I’m going to make a decision. I make these scripts that are almost novels. If I had to do this whole thing over again I would have published this as a novel and done this after the fact. Maybe next time. I could do what Kevin Costner did with the expanded edition of ‘Dances with Wolves,’ and I could very well do that. Because if I put some of that in I have to change the story. But I want this version to be the story for a while.”
What does he mean about “change the story” exactly? That’s unclear, but it is a interesting tease.
Leonard DiCaprio says the hateful way he had to treat some of the characters in the film was disturbing to him and he had his initial reservations.
“This was my first attempt at playing a character that I had this much disdain for. It was an incredibly uncomfortable environment to be in,” DiCaprio admitted. “I’ve seen racism growing up but the degree I had to treat other people in this film was disturbing. It was a very uncomfortable situation.”
“One of the pivotal moments for me and this character, was this initial readthrough, and I brought up, ‘Do we need to push it this far? Does it need to be this violent?'” DiCaprio recalled. “And [the actors and Quentin] said, ‘If you sugar-coat this people are going to resent the hell out of you.’ By holding the character back you’re going to do an injustice to the film. That was the thing that ignited me into going where I did with the character. Once I did even more research, read about the sugar plantations, we’re just scratching the surface. It’s a subject matter that should be looked at more often. I commend Quentin for combining so many different genres and making the subject matter entertaining for an audience. At the core of it what was great was a group of actors who were all there for one another to support and drive each other. Honestly it felt like we were cheerleaders for each other.”
Quentin Tarantino sought out Sidney Poitier for advice to ask him if he was going too far with some of the racist elements in the script.
“I made sure that if anybody was uncomfortable I made sure we talked about it beforehand. And I mean before I hired them,” Tarantino said. “There was only one thing that I felt uncomfortable about. Not shooting but upon finishing the script – it’s one thing to write ‘Exterior Greenvile, a hundred slaves walk through deep shit mud wearing masks and metal collars and it’s this black Auschwitz.’ It’s another thing to get 100 black folks, put them in chains, and march them through the mud. I started questioning – ‘could I do it’?” I don’t think I’ve ever thought that about anything – can I be the reason that that is even happening. I came up with an idea of just shooting those scenes alone in the west Indies and Brazil. They have their own issues with slavery but my problem was having Americans do it. I wanted to escape it.”
“I went out to dinner with Sidney Poitier and I was explaining my hairbrain scene and escaping and he listened to me and told me that I had to man up. He goes, ‘Quentin, for whatever reason I think you were born to tell this story. You can’t be afraid of your own movie. You just need to do it. Everybody knows what time it is. Just treat them with love and respect, treat them like actors not atmosphere, what we’re doing and what we’re trying to get across. You’re going to do this in the South. Those people need jobs.’ There were a lot of guys, ‘Oh man I was a slave in ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’…”
Jamie Foxx said the cast broke into applause after DiCaprio’s major [racist and bloody] scene in the film. But he got coaxing from the cast to just go for broke.
“There was a mini-ovation,” Foxx said. “We were in rehearsal and Leo would say his lines, and he would say, ‘Woo, this is tough.’ Sam Jackson pulled him aside and said, ‘Listen motherfucker this is just another Tuesday for us.’ I saw Leo the next day and I said, ‘What’s up Leo?’ And he didn’t respond to me. It was crazy from my perspective.
Like Kill Bill,” Harvey Weinstein suggested cutting the movie into 2 parts, but Quentin wasn’t having it here.
“It was a conscious decision from day 1 to not do my usual narrative tricks,” Tarantino said about not playing with the chronology of the long narrative. “This had to be Django’s journey from beginning to end. It had to be an odyssey. As Django and Schultz traverse America to get to Broomhilda. At one point Harvey was talking about splitting it up [into two films]. And I said, ‘No, it won’t work here.’ You have to follow Django’s journey to the end. There are so many emotions – there’s the action adventure, the gallow’s humor comedy that runs through it, there’s the pain of the story, there’s the catharsis, there’s the suspense, and hopefully at the end there’s cheering, if the audience isn’t cheering then I haven’t done my job. That I got that cheer at the end was the biggest issue. As far of the pain of the story I could have gone further. I wanted to show more, to show how bad it was. But I also don’t want to traumatize the audience to the point that they aren’t where I need them to be in the last reel.”
Jonah Hill’s part was just a 2-day cameo, but he didn’t mind as he just wanted to be part of a Quentin Tarantino film.
“I got in this business to work with great filmmakers,” he said. “I don’t care if he wants me to be an extra in this movie. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here. I worked for two days on the film. It’s kind of an ego stroke to even want me here. It was the weekend ‘Moneyball‘ came out and Quentin asked to meet with me and I was overjoyed.”
More from the press day soon. “Django Unchained” opens Christmas day. — Reporting by Drew Taylor