We're used to seeing Leonardo DiCaprio as the hero in his movies. So when he decided to be a villain for director Quentin Tarantino, he wasn't going to go halfway with it. The question was, how bad is too bad?
DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, a wickedly inhumane plantation owner in "Django Unchained," Tarantino's new film set in the pre-Civil War South. A slave owner with no respect for humanity or decency (or dental hygiene for that matter), Candie is a truly repellant character. So much so, in fact, that DiCaprio admitted to Vibe Magazine that upon reading the script, "[My] immediate question was, 'Are we going too far?'"
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"Django Unchained" is the story of a slave (Jamie Foxx) who is recruited by a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to help track down a set of brothers only he can identify. Their search leads them to Candie's plantation, where Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is being held. "Candyland," as the place is called, is home to forced slave fights and other indignities. It's tough stuff, and DiCaprio told Vibe "It was hard for me to wrap my head around it."
"For me," DiCaprio said, "the initial thing obviously was playing someone so disreputable and horrible whose ideas I obviously couldn't connect with on any level." He went on: "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... My initial response was, 'Do we need to go this far?'" But, DiCaprio concluded, Tarantino's use of in-your-face imagery was necessary to tell the story, just as it was in his previous film, the bloody WWII tale "Inglourious Basterds."
For his part, Tarantino admits that Calvin Candie goes even farther than the bad guys from his previous films. In an interview with Playboy, Tarantino said, "He's the first villain I've ever written that I didn't like. I hated Candie, and I normally like my villains no matter how bad they are." So if he's even more dislikable than the ear-slicing Mr. Blonde in "Reservoir Dogs" or Elle Driver, the one-eyed assassin in "Kill Bill," you know that Candie is bad news.
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Tarantino also said while he and DiCaprio have been friends for 15 years, he didn't originally envision the star in the role. It was written for an older actor, but Tarantino adjusted the script to suit DiCaprio's age. He also disclosed that he had previously considered DiCaprio for the bad guy role in "Inglourious Basterds," which later won an Oscar for his "Django" costar Christoph Waltz.
DiCaprio did admit that when he was able to get past his revulsion, there was something freeing about taking on the role of Candie. He said, "Playing a bad guy opens you up to not having as many rules or restraints... It takes you to the darkest place of where you are as a person and lets you indulge in that." Once he gave himself over to the role, he was surprised at how it transported him: "I think it took me to places I didn't even imagine. It really took on a life of its own."
"Django Unchained" opens everywhere on Christmas Day.
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