The director talks about his take on the Western genre, Django Unchained, its stars and the power of the story.
It's taken a long time for you to do a Western, which you've long talked about. Is the dream coming true?
Quentin Tarantino: I've always wanted to make a Western. For me, just to be able to make movies is a dream coming true, no matter what genre. When I was doing Reservoir Dogs it was a dream come true to do a gangster movie. I like the idea of trying my hand at different genres; a war film, gangsters, a martial arts movie and now a Western. I've always liked Westerns, and there've been Western elements in the other ones, so it's actually nice after disguising them a couple of times – especially in the case of Kill Bill Vol 2 and Inglourious Basterds – to actually be able to do a Western proper. And even then it's not a Western proper, it takes place in the South. Even in that regard I'm messing with it a little bit.
And you have a German cowboy, Christoph Waltz.
Yes, but also there's this interesting aspect, in that an Italian, Franco Nero, played Django in that first [Django] film. And then there was one with Terrence Hill, called Django, Prepare a Coffin, where obviously he's playing the same character. But then all the other 39 Django movies have no connection to Django, and sometimes don't even have a character called Django in [them]. So I think we fit right along with a whole list of unofficial Django sequels with something other than the Franco Nero character. Yet, at the same time, making him a freed slave is a cool thing, and then throwing this German into the mix as a dentist bounty hunter is its own thing! [laughs]
How did you cast Jamie Foxx as Django?
We got together and he was just terrific. He understood the story, the context of the story and the historical importance of the film. He's acting for me, he's acting for cinema, he's acting for himself, but he's also acting for his ancestors. He gets to do the things that his ancestors weren't able to do. It's a very important story for him and for his people; for all people and all Americans. And he got that. He got it 100%. He's a terrific actor and he looks perfect for the character, but there's the aspect that he's a cowboy; there's a cowboy quality to him. When I met him, I was imagining that if they cast black guys in the 60s to be the stars of Western TV shows, I could imagine Jamie having his own TV show. He looks good on a horse, and good in the outfit.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Candie, the slaver, is unusual casting. What was it about him?
Frankly, he let me know he was interested in it. I tried not to be that specific with the character in the script, and I tried not to describe him too much, so it could be open for interpretation. But I was thinking, possibly, of an older actor. And then Leo read the script and liked it and we got together and started talking. I just started imagining how much easier it would be to reconfigure the guy as a Caligula; a boy emperor. His daddy's daddy's daddy started a cotton business and his daddy's daddy continued it and made it profitable, and his daddy made it even more profitable.
Now he's the fourth Candie in line to take over the cotton business and he's bored with it now. He doesn't care about cotton; that's why he's all into the Mandingo fighters and everything. But he's the petulant boy prince. He's Louis XIV in Versailles. And there's a wonderful aspect going on there, just looking at it; if you own a plantation and you have white workers working for you, and all these black slaves and a gigantic parcel of land, you might as well have been a king on your land. The big house would be your palace, and all the people are your subjects. Really, you had the power of a king.
So I wanted to really play with that idea, of King Louis XIV, but in the South. Candie Land is a completely enclosed community, about 65 miles long, and that's a fiefdom. He has the power of a king; he can execute people, or do whatever he wants.
After Jackie Brown, this is another exploration of racial issues. Is there ever any hesitation in approaching subjects like these?
There's no hesitation at all. I always know that a couple of people will say some things about it, but then that goes away and the movie is the movie. Also, I don't let anything anybody might possibly say ever stop me from doing anything anyway. So, no, that doesn't bother me, and anytime someone talks too much about that I go: "Yeah, that's true, but at the same time it's also a cool Western."
What have been the challenges of filming a Western?
The weather! [laughs] The weather is the biggest problem; the questions you don't think about to yourself when you watch a Western. The rain, or the complete change of light that's happening over here. The light we had at the start of the day is totally different. That's the biggest problem, because the light changes and all of a sudden you can't finish the scene. I've got my three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer [Robert Richardson] walking past us right here. Those are the biggest challenges, but everything else is just a dream.
There's a keener focus on one or two characters in this than in the last couple of your films. Will it feel a little more grounded?
No, it's definitely an epic. I don't consider the Spaghetti Westerns as exploitation films. I think they're just as legitimate a brand of Western as the American's, and as a matter of fact I tend to like them a bit more. And I'm actually trying not to go for exploitation, because I'm dealing with such exploitative material. I don't want anyone thinking that the women in the movie, or the slave characters, are exploited. I'm actually showing how they were exploiting. I'm not exploiting them; I'm bearing witness to it.