Tarantino ‘Unchained,’ Part 1: ‘Django’ Trilogy?

In the first of a Q&A series, the director tells our editor-in-chief about his next black film.

Scene from Inglourious Basterds (Weinstein Co.); Quentin Tarantino (Getty); Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained (Weinstein Co.)

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HLG: Tell me about it.

QT: Frankly, it was a situation where Jamie, being a strong, black male, wanted to be a strong, black male. But we’re dealing with the first 15 pages of the movie. And I noticed that he almost had an attitude about Schultz. I said, well, I’m not going to correct him. Let’s just let this play out. Let him get some of this out of his system. Let him go his own way. I don’t want to rush to judgment here, either.

But the more it went on, we kind of just worked all day, and when it was over with, I got together with Jamie, by ourselves, and I said, you know, we don’t have a story if Django is already this magnificent heroic figure who just happens to be in chains.

There is also a reality that you need to play here in this opening scene, which is just before this movie has started, you’ve been walking from Mississippi to Texas. So when we see you, you’re half-dead from this walk. There will be people in the opening credit sequence who aren’t on that chain gang when we pick it up in the first scene — so there’s this just survival aspect. And they only had so much food, just so you know, for the trip. So they had a little bit of food for you at the beginning, but after that if they don’t find an apple tree, you don’t eat, and that’s just the deal. So you’re weak and all this.

I actually took a piece of paper and I made seven X’s on it. And I took the little legs of the X’s and connected them with little loops, like chains. And I circled the sixth one, in the back. And I go, this is who Django is when we first meet him. The sixth from the seventh in the back. He is not Jim Brown. He is not a superhero. You want to be Jim Brown too soon. It’s just that simple. You gotta grow into the jacket. You have to express a lifetime of slavery. You have to express a lifetime lived on the plantation.

HLG: And Jamie said it was a transformative moment immediately.

QT: Well, he realized that I wasn’t asking him to be meek. I wasn’t asking him to give up his strength. We have to build it in front of the audience’s eyes.

HLG: Right. The character has to be dynamic. There has to be, in other words, a narrative arc.

QT: And the fact is, Django is an exceptional human being. That’s why he is able to rise to this occasion. We don’t have to show that in the first scene.