VIBE: Leonardo, you’re playing the bad guy, finally. Now doesn’t that feel good?
DICAPRIO: Of course, playing a bad guy opens you up to not having as many rules or restraints. I think actors have gravitated to that because it frees you up in a way. It takes you to the darkest place of where you are as a person and lets you indulge in that and give in to that and be as horrible as you possibly can without the conflicting side of what's good and what's right. This is the first legit bad guy I've ever had to play, and it is a fucking horrible [character]; the worst display of humanity I've ever read in my entire life. Not even just because of who he was and the racism, but because he is just the most self-indulgent bastard I've ever read.
WASHINGTON: Everybody went to a place they've never been before. Samuel Jackson went into the trailer and came out every day looking like an entirely different human being.
DICAPRIO: When Sam showed up all the volumes were like, ‘‘Oh shit; I gotta say this louder.” He left a charge in our ass.
VIBE: Kerry, you played opposite Jamie in Ray as his wife. This time, you go back in time to play his wife again. How did your previous work together figure in here?
WASHINGTON: I couldn't have done this movie without Jamie. The trust factor. I think there is something beautiful about the fact that the film is about a husband and wife being reunited after being separated. And the audiences also get to see us being reunited. I think there is poetry in that. But the places we had to go emotionally I would not be able to go with an actor that I didn't respect, admire, trust and love. Even days when we weren't working it was good to know you had that person in your corner.
VIBE: What does that mean on set, for someone to be in your corner as an actor? How does that look in action?
FOXX: I got my foot on Samuel Jackson, and he said, ‘‘Now kick me. I'm gonna roll off this motherfucker.” I said, ‘‘What?” It's Samuel Jackson. Anybody else I would have gone in. He said, ‘‘Nah, nah, motherfucker bring that shit.”
DICAPRIO: Quentin Tarantino is a great filmmaker. But what he does better than everyone is he brings people together. He is a man that is very specific about his vision. There are certain things you just can't fuck with. There are certain things in telling his story he knows exactly what he wants. You have to create a situation in which you feel free to speak your mind or change things up. I am at my best–I think actors are at their best, when they are involved and feel the ownership of that character. He's that unique combination of knowing the path or journey he wants to go on, but is able to go off and improvise.
WASHINGTON: He's also not afraid to hire people who are really good at what they do. If you look at this cast, it takes a life of its own. I remember we did this one scene at this dining room table and we thought it was going to go one way and Sam and Leonardo took it to this other level. We were like, ‘‘Okay, we need to rethink the next 30 pages of the script. This is a different movie now.”
FOXX: They changed the trajectory. He got a standing ovation after one of his speeches. I'm sitting there watching it going like, ‘‘This changes the movie.”
WASHINGTON: I suddenly find myself about to cry in a moment that was not supposed to be a moment at all.
VIBE: Looks like the screenplay for Django Unchained is on the path to an Oscar nomination. All of you obviously loved it, but was there anything in the screenplay that made you think twice?
DICAPRIO: For me, the initial thing obviously was playing someone so disreputable and horrible whose ideas I obviously couldn't connect with on any level. I remember our first read through, and some of my questions were about the amount of violence, the amount of racism, the explicit use of certain language. It was hard for me to wrap my head around it. My initial response was, ‘‘Do we need to go this far?” Quentin pushes the envelope, you know, much like Inglourious Basterds was about World War II, a heightened reality. His depiction or retelling of that time. This is his retelling of this era. But my immediate question was, ‘‘Are we going too far?”
VIBE: How did you overcome that?
DICAPRIO: Samuel Jackson was like, ‘‘You can't pull any punches, none of this can be sugar coated.” He felt that a lot of this stuff had not been portrayed accurately. Even though this is a very isolated story about one man who defies the odds as a slave, however realistic that would have been at that time period, to him it was about really showing for the first time the horrific atrocities that haven't really been shown in this manner before. He told me, ‘‘If you're going to do this, you have to go all the way.” The further you go, the more people are going to embrace it for being accurate, certainly about what was going on.
VIBE: Is there anything in your life that can prepare you for playing a wicked slave master?
DICAPRIO: The thing that made him click for me was some of the conversations I had with Quentin during the writing process about things like Phrenology. Because I wanted him to be able to have a sort of scientific approach to how he operated. And Phrenology at the time was a bogus study of the skull and human emotions and feelings, where they came from. A lot of the plantation owners and scientists used that at the time to promote the idea of slavery staying as it was. And it was a completely made-up, bullshit science. But that sort of thing elevated the character. He bought into his own bullshit. He was so encompassed in this world that he actually had a scientific plausible explanation for doing what he did. The sequences we did, especially near the end, were horrific. So you had to cut your emotions off to do your job as an actor.
FOXX: What was great is it turned into this family where everybody has each other's back or you would fall apart. There were certain points where my man [Leonardo] would be like, ‘‘Buddy, how could this happen?”
WASHINGTON: We've had weeks when we weren't sleeping. Texting each other at three in the morning, like, ‘‘Yo, what are we going to do?” We would have scenes where we would be in it-in it-in it–Cut! You okay, you okay? Then you turn around and go right back in it.
VIBE: What would you text each other at three in the morning?
WASHINGTON: I can't sleep. Me neither. Laughs.
FOXX: What we were doing was an acrobatic routine with the highest degree of difficulty. You land perfectly, it's all 10s. You don't land it, you don't get into it, you never know what the judge will give you. Every slither of this film, we thought about it. And what was great about Quentin Tarantino is he welcomed our thoughts. And like most directors this is his baby. We had to make sure we were respectful, but we also had to make sure he could trust us. For example, there was a rape scene. Obviously that's a dynamic moment. Like, I told him, black people watch a movie different that white folks. When you watch Inglourious Basterds, Jewish people have a more quiet response. [Whispers] ‘‘I can't believe they did that.” When black people don't like something it's like: [louder] ‘‘Ay dawg, why Olivia Pope went down like that. That shit is fucked up.” What I wanted to say and what we all knew was art is one thing and art is an acquired taste.
WASHINGTON: We didn't want this story to get lost in the art.
FOXX: The way [Django] protected her, I get it. The way Quentin shot the scene still gives you the dynamic of what happened without the graphicness of us, me–Jamie Foxx, Eric Bishop–seeing Kerry Washington. Because there are certain things that we watch as black people that if we don't agree with it, we not only turn off the movie but we turn off that person. When we feel like the character was compromised by the white establishment.