Most actors would kill to have the kind of “Sophie’s Choice” decision Sacha Baron Cohen was faced with about a year ago. Way back in the fall of 2011, it was reported that the comic actor had boarded Quentin Tarantino‘s “Django Unchained.” But six months later, the actor had dropped out (one of a handful who came and went — like Kevin Costner, Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Anthony LaPaglia — as the film’s production grew longer and longer). So, what gives? Well, it looks like a meatier role coupled with a tight deadline forced him out.
“I was editing ‘The Dictator‘ and we were very close to release and Paramount wouldn’t push the date. And then I knew I’d have to jump straight from there into ‘Les Mis[erables]‘ and it basically became a choice of either pulling out of ‘Les Mis’ or pulling out of ‘Django,’ ” the actor told Deadline. “I’m sure ‘Django’ is an incredible movie, but it was essentially one scene.” (Cohen also said last spring that the press tour for “The Dictator” was also problematic for scheduling).
So who was he going to play? “It was a character by the name of Scotty, whom Leonardo DiCaprio’s character plays a poker game with. The stakes become Scotty’s slave girl, Broomhilda,” he said. But there’s a bit more to it than that. It was a rather long, tangential flashback explaining how Broomhilda was sold to DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie in the first place. The character was Scotty Harmony, who in early drafts was an overweight 24-year-old who comes into possession of Broomhilda thanks to his father, who buys her for him, to help boost his confidence. Harmony’s also deeply enarmored by her, and this whole sequence tries to display another ugly secret of the racism of the south: the white men had no problems having black girlfriends known as Ponys in their underground clubs. Whether or not this is another historical fabrication of Tarantino’s — we haven’t researched it enough — it sure sounds like it. And as you know by now, the character and the scene didn’t wind up making the final film anyway.
So did Cohen make the right choice? He’s certainly bringing some much needed life and levity to “Les Miserables” in theaters now, and the audience we saw the movie with loved his take on “Master Of The House.” But either way, ‘Django’ seems to be doing just fine without him.