TR: What about Quentin Tarantino made you confident that he could get slavery right, given all of its racial implications for modern-day audiences?
JF: Could it be that Quentin Tarantino is a better director than some of these people, than some of these other directors? Could it be that he’s just good enough to tell these stories? My question is, what director could tell a slave story and get it right and tell it in this way? When it comes to him, even Spike Lee said he’s not going to say nothing bad about the film, which is big for Spike.
TR: Did you seek any advice from other black actors before agreeing to do the part? Or even ask Sam Jackson during filming if you’re doing the right thing?
JF: Sam Jackson told one of my friends, if Jamie Foxx doesn’t do this movie, he’s crazy. He said this movie is heroic. When you see the slave pick up the whip, pick up a gun — you’ve never seen that in any movie. To see the slave kick that much ass, you never seen that. You never seen them on horses. I don’t think that any of us are dumb. I don’t think Sam, Leo, Quentin, Kerry, Christoph — all of us can’t get all of this wrong. If I thought this was wack, I’d be the first one to tell you it’s wack. I don’t care who it is. When I read that script, I was like man, this is some dope s–t.
TR: With Lincoln and the upcoming Twelve Years a Slave, it seems Hollywood has a rekindled interested in that era.
JF: If you ask the average 18- to 25-year-old kid, when did slavery end, what will they say? [He shrugs.] I think that’s bad. We got to take some responsibility, now that the movie is out, to spark the education; we gotta know our history. We’re the only race who doesn’t.
Ask any Italian, and they’re like, “My great-grand and great-duh-duh-duh,” or ask a Jewish person, it’s the same thing. You ask us, and we’re at the club. And I am, too. I’m like [singing Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything”]: “All gold is my chain, all gold on my ring.” I’m on that, too, but is this supposed to be all we know?
TR: What films did you watch to get up to speed on the era and help inform how you’d play Django?
JF: I watched The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Tombstone; and the original Django. Then I watched Denzel [Washington] in Glory, Denzel in A Soldier’s Story. At the end [of Django Unchained], it’s a complete nod to Denzel when I’m talking to the Australian. [Mimics fast talking.] I watched Wesley Snipes in New Jack City — to me New Jack City was the ultimate black superhero movie.
I want to be Nino Brown. I went as Nino Brown for my 40th birthday. I had never been affected by a performance, ever. I didn’t watch Mandingo. What I didn’t want to do was have the old school [influence me]. I wanted this to be new school — even in my speech, [which] would go in and out when I wanted to speak a certain way. And when I wanted to speak more current, I would switch it up here and there. I didn’t want this legacy left where I was [saying], “Aw, Lord Jesus … ” I wanted this s–t to be fly.
Brett Johnson is The Root‘s associate editor.