Django Unchained: Why Jamie Foxx & Kerry Washington Agreed to Play Slaves
6 months ago
Actors could face friction with new roles
After comically complaining that he was "about 15 years too old" to play the title character, Jackson spoke on fulfilling the role of Stephen, Candie's trusted and superior—if there is such a thing—house slave.
"This was a great artistic opportunity to take what people know as 'Uncle Tom' and turn it on its head in a powerful way," said Jackson. "To tell this story, you have to have that guy. Steven is the freest slave in the history of cinema. He has all the powers of the master. He makes the plantation run—everybody knows him and fears him, but he has a feeble persona that makes people disregard him; they think he's physically not able to keep up. I wanted to play him honestly. I wanted everybody to understand that when Django shows up, that's a Negro we've never seen before; not only is he on a horse, but he's got a gun and he speaks out and I have to let the plantation know that that's not something they can aspire to; 'This n***a is an anomaly so don't even think about trying to be that.'"
DiCaprio, however, had a notably more difficult time getting into character, one he described as a "walking contradiction," one "[who] was brought up by a Black man, [but] had to find a moral justification to regard him as not human."
"This was really my first attempt playing a character that I had this much disdain and hatred for," said DiCaprio. "There was absolutely nothing about this man that I can identify with. I hated him and it was one of the most narcissistic, self-indulgent, racist, horrible characters I've ever read in my entire life—and I had to do it. It was too good not to. He represented everything that was wrong with the South at the time. During this initial read-through, I said, 'Do we need to push it this far at times? Does it need to be this violent? Do I need to be this atrocious to other human beings?' I think it was Sam and Jamie that both said, 'Look man, if you sugarcoat this, people are gonna resent the hell out of you. You gotta push to the utter extreme. By holding the character back, you're gonna do an injustice to the film and people are gonna feel like you're not telling the truth.'"
"I was very moved," she said, "particularly [because it takes place] in a time in our American history when Black people were not allowed to fall in love and get married because that kind of connection got in the way of the selling of human beings, so to have this story was not only educational but hopeful. We've seen it a million times—about star-crossed lovers—it's just that Django and Broomhilda don't come from two different Italian families like Romeo and Juliet. The thing that stands in the way of them being with each other is the institution of slavery, so Django's out to get his woman and he's got to take down slavery to get her."