Playboy recently published a very long interview with Quentin Tarantino where he gave lots of new insight into Django Unchained. It’s a long read, but worth reading through if you’re interested in the film and the director himself. Here are a few highlights:
On the Calvin Candie character:
PLAYBOY: When you wrote Candie, did you have anyone in mind?
TARANTINO: I did, but I don’t want to say who, simply because when I finished the script I realized they were a little older than I wanted the character to be. That’s a problem I have. I’ll be thinking about somebody and not take into account that I’m thinking of them from 20 years ago. Leo was younger than I had initially written, but I read it again and could see no reason why the character couldn’t be younger. And since I’m hitting hard this notion of the American South re-creating European aristocracy in this amateur make-it-up-as-you-go-along fashion, the notion of him as the boy emperor was cool. His daddy was a cotton man, his daddy’s daddy was a cotton man and so was his father before him. So Candie doesn’t have to do anything. It’s all set up, and he can be the petulant ruler with other interests. His passion is not cotton. It’s Mandingo fighting.
PLAYBOY: Is he a classic Tarantino villain?
TARANTINO: 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. I see their point of view. I could see his point of view, but I hated it so much. For the first time as a writer, I just fucking hated this guy.
On filming Django Unchained:
PLAYBOY: When you shoot a slave movie in the Deep South, how does the community react?
TARANTINO: Sociologically one of the most interesting things went down when we were on the Don Johnson character’s plantation, Bennet Manor. He has cotton fields there, and he has cotton pickers—girls, men, children, old people. But he also has ponies, and he’s the one who sells pretty girls. That’s his big stock: He is a plantation pimp, and people come from far and wide to his plantation to buy one of his pretty girls. We had a bunch of extras from the community, St. John the Baptist Parish. It was cool, re-creating this history with black Southern extras whose families have lived there forever. They knew what went on back then. Then there was a social-dividing issue between the extras that mirrored the ones between their slave characters in the movie. The ponies were pretty, and they looked down on the extras playing cotton-picker slaves. They thought they were better than them. And the people playing the house servants looked down on the people playing the cotton pickers. And the cotton pickers thought the people playing the house servants and the ponies were stuck-up bitches. Then there was a fourth breakdown, between the darker skinned and the lighter skinned. Obviously not for everybody, and it wasn’t a gigantic problem, but it was something you noticed. They started mirroring the social situations of their characters, being on this plantation for a few weeks.
On the “revenge” themes in Tarantino movies:
PLAYBOY: You killed Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, with Jewish soldiers scalping Nazis. In Django Unchained you have a liberated slave turned bounty hunter who takes on the slave masters who turned his wife into a prostitute. Hollywood is recycling fairy tales, from Alice in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz. Are you doing a more creative version by crafting revisionist-history fables that allow victims of loathsome events to rise up and have their day?
TARANTINO: It’s in the eye of the beholder to say if it’s more creative or not, but that is what I’m doing, partly because I would just like to see it. You turn on a movie and know how things are going to go in most films. Every once in a while films don’t play by the rules. It’s liberating when you don’t know what’s happening next. Most of the movies that have done that did it accidentally, like they punched into a contraband area they hadn’t quite thought all the way through. But for that moment in the film, it is liberating. I thought, What about telling these kinds of stories my way—rough and tough but gratifying at the end?
And let’s not forget this exchange that made headlines this past week:
PLAYBOY: You’ve threatened to retire at 60. Why put a timetable on it?
TARANTINO: Who knows what I’ll do? I just don’t want to be an old-man filmmaker. I want to stop at a certain point.
TARANTINO: Directors don’t get better as they get older. Usually the worst films in their filmography are those last four at the end. I am all about my filmography, and one bad film fucks up three good ones. I don’t want that bad out-of-touch comedy in my filmography, the movie that makes people think, Oh man, he still thinks it’s 20 years ago. When directors get out-of-date, it’s not pretty.
My opinion on that last part? “Who knows what I’ll do?” is a quote that certain people and entertainment writers need to keep in mind. There’s no point in speculating whether Tarantino will follow through with this or not when it’s obvious the man himself hasn’t made up his mind yet.