While “Django Unchained” was pretty much an unqualified success in terms of awards and money taken in (a Best Picture nomination, two Oscars and $400 million worldwide), there’ll always be an intriguing what-could-have-been hanging over it: Quentin Tarantino wrote the title character for Will Smith, and while Jamie Foxx ended up taking the part, the idea that the clean-cut megastar could have starred in the bloody Western has cast a long shadow over the film.
Smith was reported to be in talks for the film over two years ago, but his reasons for pulling out have remained nebulous since then; the actor said a year ago that “I came really close, it was one of the most amazing screenplays I had ever seen… I just couldn’t sit with him and get through the issues, so I didn’t want to hold him up,” and Tarantino added while on the press circuit “He didn’t walk away from it because he was scared of the material. It just wasn’t 100 per cent right, and we didn’t have time to try to make it that way.” But now, Smith’s spilled the beans on exactly why he held out.
Talking to EW, Smith says that his qualms were not with the violence or thematic issues, but with the size of the role. “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. The other character [Christoph Waltz‘s Oscar-winning King Schultze] was the lead! I was like ‘No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!” Still, he seemed to have enjoyed the finished product. “I thought it was brilliant. Just not for me.”
While Smith has a point in terms of the somewhat secondary nature of the part, it’s a little depressing that he feels he can only take a role if he’s the sole lead, given the quality of material here and that he’s taking more secondary parts in the upcoming “After Earth” (playing second fiddle to his son Jaden) and “Winter’s Tale,” in which he cameos as a judge. That said, we shouldn’t count out the idea of him working with Tarantino again; the pair seem to still be on good terms, and we shouldn’t forget that Leonardo DiCaprio was originally intended to star in “Inglourious Basterds,” only to later enter Tarantinoville with ‘Django.’ Perhaps there’ll be a role in apparent ‘Basterds’ spin-off “Killer Crow“ that Smith could take?