Samuel L. Jackson Interview For Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’
Set in the South two years before the Civil War, Quentin Tarantino’s ’Django Unchained’ stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunger Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django with a promise to free him upon the capture of the Brittles – dead or alive. Success leads Schultz to free Django, though the two men chose not to go their separate ways. Instead, Schultz seeks out the South’s most wanted criminals with Django by his side. Honing vital hunting skills, Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago.
Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of ‘Candyland’, an infamous plantation. Exploring the compound under false pretences, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candy’s trusted house-slave. Their moves are marked, and a treacherous organisation closes in on them. If Django and Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they are to choose between independence and solidarity, between sacrifice and survival. ‘Django Unchained’ lands in cinemas on December 25th in the US and January 18th in the UK.
Having worked with Quentin Tarantino previously on a number of projects, what was it about him making a movie to the backdrop of slavery, in the revenge-western genre, that intrigued you and excited you?
Samuel L. Jackson: Quentin always does something that makes people sit up and take notice. Film is an interesting art form and Quentin has an amazing way of telling a story. He has a different take on history, however he wants to put it together. He has a different sense of time and space. And art is supposed to make people think, it’s supposed to make people excited and have conversation. There’s supposed to be a never ending dialogue of what people have seen – whether it’s real or unreal, or how it makes them feel or react. And I think this film will be a very interesting conversation. It’s a piece of our history that generally gets sort of whitewashed or perfumed in a way that this film just doesn’t do. It’s always great to find a character on the inside of one of Quentin’s stories to wrap myself around.
Your character Stephen – who’s served as a house slave for generations of Candies – has a vile and bizarrely codependent relationship with his master Calvin. And he wields his small amount power over the other slaves with perverse pleasure. How was it piecing together this character and working with Leonardo DicCaprio on that dynamic?
Samuel L. Jackson: Once we started doing table readings in Los Angeles I kind of discovered where I wanted to go with him, who he was, and what I wanted him to be. It’s an interesting sort of relationship between Leo and I that kind of works out very well in terms of Django’s relationship to Dr. Schultz. Their relationship is almost shadowed by our relationship.
It is interesting. I was here since his father was here, and I probably spent a lot of time with him as a child and kind of raised him. So, I’m almost like the father that’s gone. We have another relationship in private than the one we have in public. Leo’s characterization is awesome, and when we’re alone he sort of becomes the child that I used to take care of, and teach things, and talk to, and have a sterner relationship with in terms of making him get in line and understanding what’s going on. He definitely brought something to the character I didn’t see on the page, and that made everybody step up to another place also.
What was it like filming some of these scenes in former slave plantations and cotton fields….?
Samuel L. Jackson: When you think about what happened out there, it takes you a whole ‘nother place. I guess the first time I went out there, there was lots of extras dressed up as slaves in the cotton fields and Jamie and Christoph were riding in. The overseers were sitting up on horses with shotguns, for just a moment there was a shocking flash of, “Woh……oh sh*t, we’re doing this!” I mean, I knew what it would look like in my head, but to see people actually there doing it, it’s a different dynamic – a very different dynamic. It was crazy. But it helped us to do this movie.
Quentin brings together two more memorable heroes to the big screen in the form of Jamie Foxx’s Django and Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz, what was it like seeing them play their respected characters?
Samuel L. Jackson: When I got here and I saw what Jamie was doing, I thought it was just a wonderful characterisation. And in terms of the way Quentin thinks and how he develops things, it’s almost like Jamie is sort of the Man With No Name that Clint Eastwood was for a long time, it’s a character he could do for the next 10-15 years – unless Quentin decides to kill off his ass (laughs). But Jamie done a wonderful job of bringing a really strong, sort of silent character that speaks when he needs to speak and acts when he needs to act.
Schultz is definitely a man of many faces. He’s a gunslinger pretending to be a mild-mannered doctor. He’s a learnered man from Europe who has all these different kinds of quirks and shifts and strengths that are there. It’s an intricate portrayal that’s filled with a lot of different things. It’s fascinating to watch, and Christoph’s a fascinating actor to be in a space with.
And ‘Django Unchained’ allowed you the opportunity to re-team with Kerry Washington, who you worked with on ‘Mother and Child’ and ‘Lakeview Terrace.’ How was that?
Samuel L. Jackson: Yeah, we’ve been together a few times now. I’m always glad to be in a creative space with Kerry. She has this very soft, and gentle, and sort of beautiful nature that is filled with fragility that covers this strong thing that she has inside her. And I just really like interacting with her. Every time we get together something special happens. She’s great. It’s a thing to look forward to, not just for me but for audiences also.
Look out for part 2 of this interview over the weekend.
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