By Matt Patches, Hollywood.com Staff
Among all the sci-fi and superhero hoopla of San Diego Comic-Con, it was a western that caused one of the most formidable stirs in Hall H. However, Django Unchained, the latest film from cinephile-turned-master-director Quentin Tarantino, is no ordinary western. Having spoken with the unique film's star Jamie Foxx, it seemed only sporting to reload questions and see how quick on the draw Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, and Walton Goggins could be in the post-panel roundtable interviews.
A film set in the antebellum U.S. south and centering on a slave-turned-bounty hunter is sure to be thick with racial complexity. Luckily, Quentin Tarantino has reached a point in his career wherein his prestige affords him the ability to examine these issues. The cast members, not surprisingly, seem keenly aware of the subtext despite approaching it from different perspectives.
Christoph Waltz: "I knew nothing about this black/white thing. I could care less. And that's because I grew up in a culture where you can afford not to care. But here in America, where it really is an issue, I was a little flabbergasted. Jamie introduced me to that and also to a specific perspective that I on my own would not have had. In a way I decided consciously to stay with the, admittedly comfortable, position to say, 'I don't know, because I don't care.' Not in an unsympathetic and detached way. For me, within my scope of thinking, it doesn't exist as an issue and I like it that way."
Kerry Washington: "One of the things I love about this character is that she exists in a time when historically black women were, of necessity, independently strong. The breakdown of the black community in order to maintain slavery began with the breakdown of the black family. Men and women were not legally allowed to get married, because you couldn't have that kind of love; it might get in the way of the economics of slavery. Your children could be taken from you and literally sold down the river, which is where we get the expression. I love that this film is about two people who, even though they exist in a time when they are only 3/5 of a human being according to our Constitution, so believe in their own humanity and in the love that they share and their illegal marriage that they risk life to find each other. It's so triumphant."
Walton Goggins: "I got down to New Orleans and started bonding with some of the guys, some of the black actors. We started hanging out, had a lot of friends in common. And then comes your first day of work, and you have to say these things and do these things. While liberal Walton didn't have anything to apologize for, I began every take with an apology. These are my friends. It's not easy it's awful to say these things. But you're in the service of something much greater than yourself. You're telling a piece of history that is the biggest blight on our history as a country. It needs to be retold, and I'm a part of that."
The western is one of the oldest genres in cinema, it means different things to different people, and the cast of Django Unchained certainly runs the entire spectrum with their feelings on the subject.
Washington: "My dad really loves westerns. I never had a personal attachment to westerns. I've learned a lot more about the genre, but I don't know that I would say it's my favorite kind of movie."
Waltz: "The spaghetti western is closer to me than the real western; geographically speaking. I grew up in the European west, on the west side of the iron curtain. Even thought the iron curtain was very close to where I grew up, it was still the west side. In a way I preferred the spaghetti western to the original western. Maybe, and this is speculation, because a certain distance to the original western, going back to the race issue, gives me distance from the core issue. It's a good way, perhaps, to get a perspective. It's not an objective perspective, but that brings us back to where we started. Objective is impossible, we do this for your subjective.""
Next: Why Washington Thinks Django Is ""Going to Start a Revolution""[PAGEBREAK]
Goggins has had by far the most experience with this classic genre. From his stint on modern day TV western Justified, to Cowboys and Aliens all the way back to Shanghai Noon, he seems to wear those spurs quite comfortably. He couldn't help acknowledging this himself
Goggins: "I've got one of those faces, that's a blessing that's not a curse. This isn't my first western, I've done a few and I love it. I think they've all stood on the shoulders of the one that came before it. But with Justified, being in this headspacethe guy with the hatfor three years, it was easier to slide into this movie. But Billy Crash is nothing like Boyd Crowder. Billy is a shark, and I look at Boyd as maybe a puffer fish."
As an actor, working with Quentin Tarantino has become a lofty honor matched only by winning an Academy Award. For Waltz in particular, the honors went hand-in-hand. The praise for their fearless leader was universally bountiful.
Waltz: "I made it a habit to not go to Quentin and say 'it's not enough.' I made it a habit to say, 'well, maybe my thoughts are not enough.' That's why we're called actors; you work it out through action, and not so much at home through thinking. That's really Quentin's genius: when you do it, all of a sudden it starts to bloom."
Washington: "He has a truly unique vision. He's one of our auteurs. He's a visionary and a prolific visionary who continues to produce distinctive work that really has its own voice."
Goggins: "When I read the script, I thought, 'this is going to start a revolution.' QT has a way of reaching his audiences, and I think it's going to play a significant part in race conversations at least for the immediate future. I've been saying this over and over again, make your dinner reservations now, because you're gonna wanna talk after this movie."
Every actor prepares for his or her roles in a different manner, and that preparation routine can change from film to film. Often though, hearing about this preparation can lend valuable insight into that character's presence and personality before the film ever hits theaters. That preparation could, and often does with Quentin, involve watching movies
Washington: "I watched some Marlene Dietrich films from the 30s that were more about the social stratifications of slavery."
Other instances of actor preparation involve getting a handle on the props
Goggins: "Getting comfortable with the gun was the first step, it's a big part of who Billy is. Quentin's making a lot of different movies at once. He calls this a 'southern,' but part of it is a very real western. I'm very lucky that Billy Crash is one of the main antagonists in the western scope of the movie. So getting really good with my gun was vital. Billy is one of the fastest draws in the west, and he's smooth. Your personality is dictated by how you hold your weapon, how you holster your weapon, and what you do with it in-between."-
In some cases, the preparation and character construction is so personal, that it's a secret under lock-and-key
Waltz: "I don't talk about the characters that I play. I find it incredibly counterproductive to what I do to explain it all. I want you to see what it is that you see. I strongly believe that what I do for a living is for you to see and to watch. But when we go to the theater, we don't go because we want that version, but because we want to recognize what we have to do with that version. If you really want to distill it down to the bare essence, I claim that when we go to the movies, we go to see ourselves. Now if I sort of push in and say, 'no, you cannot see what you see, you have to see what I tell you,' why would I do it?"
The cast for Django Unchained may be a bit overloaded with testosterone, but it wouldn't be a Quentin Tarantino movie without a strong female presence. The unique challenge for Kerry Washington, however, was to present a powerful female lead as well as one who gets kidnapped and spends most of the movie in bondage. Luckily, she understands that there are many varieties of strength
Washington: "Broomhilda is very unique because it's a different kind of strength. I'd say it's more of an emotional, spiritual, psychological strength. The fact that Broomhilda gets to be the princess in the tower rescued by her man in a way that reclaims black marriage and black love, to me, is a different kind of strength. I feel like the black woman as the princess in the tower is an archetype we haven't been able to enjoy, so that was something I really appreciated about her." As the clock struck high noon, the wagons were circled and the Django Unchained cast rode off into the sunset. Eagerly, perhaps now a bit less patiently, we await Christmas Day and the celebratory release of Django Unchained.
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[Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Weinstein Company]