Talking Tarantino with Django Unchained stars Kerry Washington and Walton Goggins
He’s the ruthless slave trainer employed by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and she’s the tortured wife Django (Jamie Foxx) is out to save in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Walton Goggins and Kerry Washington may be on opposite sides of Django’s wrath, but the two stars come together to dish on what it’s like working with Quentin and bringing a dark chapter of history to the big screen.
This past July at San Diego’s Comic-Con, we had a chance to sit down with the movie’s actors and talk about the new Tarantino flick which hits Cineplex theatres on Christmas Day.
CINEPLEX: The subject matter is pretty dark. Did you have any reservations going into this film?
WALTON GOGGINS: No, not when it’s in the service of talking about the subjugation of an entire race of people and the horrific nature of this portion of our history. And I think that this story is not just told for one generation but it’s a story that needs to be retold over and over and over and over again.
CINEPLEX: What was it like working with Quentin Tarantino on the set? Did he live up to expectations or any preconceived notions you had?
KERRY WASHINGTON: I just kind of went into it with an open mind. I would say what would probably surprise a lot of people is that for somebody whose work can be so dark and gory and violent and evil he is delightful and hilarious. He is really committed to having a good time and enjoying the process of making movies. He’s a very generous spirit and very loving.
WG: I am one for improvisation and try to do it differently every single time but Quentin is an actor and he has a very specific vision. There’s room for play within that vision but there were moments where I just said, “Hey you do it. Do it. Let me just watch.” And then he would do it and I would understand – it would kinda cut out the small talk [and] would prevent him from having to say, “This is what I’m thinking, this is how I want to do it.” When you’re working for a man like that you just want to service his vision- it’s not about me at all. I’m just a vehicle for what he wants people to experience in the theatre.
CINEPLEX: Tarantino is a walking cinematic encyclopedia. How easily did you grasp the references that he was throwing at you throughout shooting?
WG: Google. His well of knowledge of movies is unparalleled and you just think , “This is all way over my head, but eventually he’s going to use three words that I will understand and I’m just going to hold on to that.”
KW: Every moment of working with Quentin is like being in film school because his encyclopedia of knowledge is ridiculous. And not just movies but music, theatre, television. He just has this limitless trunk of knowledge.
We actually had this cast dinner before we started shooting where he was talking about…I think it was a TV show or a movie that Don Johnson had done and Don was like “Naaaaah, I wasn’t in that.” And Quentin was like: “No, you were. This was the cinematographer and this was the producer and this guy was the production designer.” And Don was like: “Oh yeah, I was in that.” That’s how good he is. I was like, “You don’t even remember?!” [to Don].
CINEPLEX: Kerry, your character is at times sexualized and subjected to violence. Walton, your character is pretty dark and vicious. Did you have trouble channeling the darker nature of the film or the historical significance of the subject matter?
KW: I felt like this part of our history, this dark, very awful part of American history has never been dealt with in narrative film in a way that really honours the brutality of this [slavery]. And I felt like it was a fascinating moment that a director who has never been intimidated by brutality and evil and gore and violence and the dark side of the human spirit was going to tell the story because it meant that this wasn’t going to be a sugar coated representation of what slavery was. That it was going to have those moments.
WG: There were a lot of actors that play slaves [in the film] that were friends of mine on the set. And there were days where I would begin each take with an apology and end it with an apology. It was very hard for them. It was also hard to say those things [in the script] but we were all in the service of something greater than ourselves. And at the end of the day you’re just grateful to be in a Quentin Tarantino interpretation of this part of our history.
KW: As an example in the script, Jamie [Foxx’s] character Django is being put in this horrific metal mask to silence him and to keep him in place. And I thought, “Well that’s just some crazy Tarantino absurdity. Where did he come up with that? That’s wild.” And then in doing research and being in the production designer’s office I was able to see photographs of those masks that were used on a regular basis. But I, as an African American, had never been taught that part of the brutality of this history. So there was an interesting important matching up of somebody who had the courage to be as horrible with this material or close to as horrible as it was in reality.
CINEPLEX: Speaking about the violence, does it go into ‘revenge fantasy’ territory?
KW: I think about Jamie in this role being a badass, black super hero and literally going into battle with the very institution of slavery itself. We have been told this story of slavery in cinema but it’s always been some white person helping a bunch of black people or the good slaves or whatever it is and this is about somebody who fights back. We wouldn’t have had the abolition of slavery if it weren’t for slaves who fought back.
WG: I just like the complexities of it. Make your dinner reservations now because you’ll want to go out to dinner and talk to someone after you see this movie. See it with a lot of people.
You can read our previous interview with star Jamie Foxx here, plus stay tuned for more Django Unchained interviews with Christoph Waltz and the man behind-the-camera, Quentin Tarantino!
--With files from Aimee Castle