One of the most anticipated films of the year was also one of the most anticipated attractions at Comic-Con earlier this month, where fans got to see exclusive new footage from the latest Quentin Tarantino film, “Django Unchained.”
Jamie Foxx stars in the upcoming Spaghetti Western tribute, which also features Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins and Christoph Waltz. Foxx plays the title character, a slave-turned-bounty hunter who is trying to find his kidnapped wife and get revenge on her captors in the pre-Civil War South.
During the convention, HitFix contributor Geoff Berkshire sat down with Foxx, who discussed Tarantino’s “amazing” working methods, the film’s unsettling realism, brining his own horse to the film and a possible musical contribution from John Legend.
On being a cowboy, growing up on “Bonanza” and his acting with his horse Cheetah:
Foxx: The most fun about [the film] was being a cowboy. I was riding my own horse. I wanted to play the part and I was saying, listen I’m going to put my bid in like nobody else, I know you need somebody to ride a horse and I have a horse. About five years ago I got a couple of horses and he [Tarantino] said, “well, if I choose you, could you ride?” And I said let me ride my own horse to see if she can handle the stunts, and next thing you know she was able to handle the stunts and everything, so I got a chance to play a cowboy, spin guns. I used to spin plastic guns, and growing up I’d get the green jackets from “Bonanza.” Being a kid from Texas, all we watched was westerns.
My horse and I had basically the same arc, me starting [as] number six slave in the chain gang and she was a little nervous when we pulled up the silks. She would [get] spooked and then the handler would grab the rein and say, “Do me a favor and let go of the rein and just let her find her bearings,” so at first she would spook and I would make sure everybody was out of the way. I would ride her until she settled and so as Django settled so did Cheetah – her name is Cheetah.
On the emotions felt on set while shooting the scenes depicting slavery:
Foxx: “A lot of tough days, a lot of days. In slavery you always think of the whip and someone being whipped, but for Kerry [Washington] to be whipped was tough and the most courageous person in this room is Kerry Washington. We are actually at the plantation in New Orleans, this is a real plantation, this is the grounds where our ancestors really walked.
Quentin does a fantastic thing where he would play music in between scenes and that day I went to music guy and said listen, I got three songs I want you to play, and they set the speakers up throughout the whole big area and they shoot my point of view first, so Kerry is actually to my right waiting for her scene. And the amount of emotions that I was feeling was just — I couldn’t hold it and then when we actually began the whipping scene there was a song by Fred Hammond, who is a religious gospel singer, and the song was “No Whippings Formed Against Me Shall Prosper.” I saw one of the extra’s hands go up and she started, I guess you would call it testifying or really feeling the holy spirit. And I watched Quentin, who is super-director, and he was crying and that was probably the most challenging time, but a testament to Quentin Tarantino and his ability to understand the situation. He went to every single person on that set whether they were extras or main characters and made sure they were okay between each scene and I think that’s what made it tough, but he’d crack a joke.
Watch how [Washington] embodied it and I’ll guarantee you when you see it on film it just takes you to another place. They used a real whip on her because it was sort of a nylon version, but she wanted to feel it. I mean that’s courageous, man and I would have been like, “Hey man, could you all get me a stunt back? Let’s go get me a back, let’s go get me a whole different back,” but it was crazy.
On the film’s collaborative nature:
Foxx: I found that Quentin Tarantino would use everything, every inspiration to get his movie in the right place and then what was amazing was he allowed characters to really grow and develop and sit back and watch where they would go. I think watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Quentin work was one of the most amazing things because here comes Leonardo DiCaprio, the good looking guy who you’ve seen in the tabloids with the models and he comes in so different and ready to work and to see those guys get in the corner and develop the character and watch the character grow in different ways and then once he saw [that] he’d go, now I’ve got to change this over here for Django’s character and I’ve got to change this for Kerry’s character, I’ve got to change this for Samuel’s character.
So he was open to things he had. Of course the script was already amazing, but then he would sometimes just change and it would be fantastic and I would say, “Can I bring some of my friends down here to watch you work?” At one point he just rewrote a whole scene, and he says no, that don’t work and then he comes back with four pages and perfect dialogue and that’s it, let’s do this, this is good. And the next thing you know we shoot it and his team was on point too because they know how he works. It was just amazing.
On Tarantino’s knack for on-the-spot re-writes
[In one scene] Samuel Jackson is in a situation where I shoot six people and Jackson would go, “Ah, ah, ah, he didn’t shoot six bullets,” and Quentin goes, “I got that. Okay, so what’s going to happen right here, Samuel you’re going to go, ‘I counted six bullets motherfucker’ and then Django is going to pull out another gun and say, ‘I count two guns motherfucker.'” On the spot, goes in the movie. It will be a classic line.
On Comic-Con, previewing footage and whether there are any more surprises to be revealed:
Foxx: I know one thing is that Quentin Tarantino thinks like a hip hop artist and hip hop artists drop a single, drop something on the internet, leak something over here because he knows it’s hot. So he knows whatever it is it’s hot. He knew that today when he showed you that footage and he knows his audience. He tapped me on the leg and said, “You knew BET last week, I know that’s you’re forte, but watch me in this [Comic-Con],” and what he doesn’t know is that BET is his forte too because black folk walk with him all the way, but he knew that these were his fans.
On the possibility of hearing a new John Legend song in the film:
Right now the music world is on fire trying to be the first to be in a Quentin Tarantino film because he usually doesn’t do scores. I hope I’m not letting the cat out of the bag, but John Legend did a song, put it on cassette and sent it to Quentin because he knows that he don’t like technology. He puts it on a cassette. He says here is a song I want you to hear. I said let me hear it, let me break out my CD. He says, “no man” and he pulls out the little – do you remember the little directorial cassette tape thing? — and he rewinds it and he plays it, fantastic song. That’s his thing.