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Quentin Tarantino Sets Record Straight On Will Smith's (Non) Casting In 'Django Unchained'

by Tambay A. Obenson
July 16, 2012 7:00 PM
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Django promo 2

A double-shot of Django Unchained news in one day; how about that...

First, you'll recall last year, when news of Quentin Tarantino's slave revenge flick surfaced, and all the speculation on who would star as the title character, with Will Smith supposedly being Tarantino's very first choice for the part. At the time, Tarantino said that he planned to cast "top shelf" for the film; and it certainly didn't get more "top shelf" than Big Willie.

At the time of that post, Will Smith had reportedly received the screenplay, but hadn't yet signed on to play the part.

However, it was later suggested that Smith passed on the project, with lots of speculation as to why he did that, but no confirmed reasons, until very recently, when, while plugging Men In Black III, in an interview with Empire magazine, Will said the following when asked why he didn't take the part:

"I came really close, it was one of the most amazing screenplays I had ever ever seen... I was in the middle of 'Men In Black 3' and [Tarantino] was ready to go, and I just couldn't sit with him and get through the issues, so I didn't want to hold him up. That thing's going to be ridiculous. It is a genius screenplay."

Fast-forward to this past weekend for the other side of the story, directly from Tarantino himself, who set the record straight during the Django Comic-Con panel, saying the following, when asked about Will Smith's casting in the title role (courtesy of Total Film):

"Much more has been made out of that than is the case. When I wrote Django, I did not write it for anybody. I had no idea who was going to play it and it was kind of a little bit like, gosh, who is going to play this guy? And so I met with six different actors. "[Will Smith] was one of the people that I met with. And then I met with Jamie [Foxx] and he came over to my house and I was going to put him through the ringer. It was going to be like a three-tier meeting with everybody and kind of really test it out and this and that and let’s do some scenes together. And at the end of this long process, I would make my decision. And, frankly, Jamie was the last one that I got together with and after I got together with him, I called the other guys up and I go, 'Look, I found my Django. And no disrespect and everything and we could have taken it further and I know…' But you just know when you meet the guy and I met the guy. And one of the things about him, aside from everything else about Jamie, just when it comes to this movie, he just got it. He just understood. He understood what I was writing, he understood what needed to be there and he understood what needed to be on screen and he understood how people should take it. But then, also, just to cut to the chase, he was the cowboy. I met six guys, six magnificent actors, but he was the cowboy and I was looking for the cowboy."

So there ya have it folks; case closed. There seems to be some conflict between what Tarantino says here, and what was believed to be the case when it was first announced last year that Will Smith was supposedly Tarantino's choice for the role (casting top shelf as he said), with rumors that Smith didn't take it because of the controversial nature of the part, and also the fact that he'd be playing second fiddle to Christoph Waltz's character for much of the film.

But no matter at this point I guess. So, file this one away in the "done" pile. 

However, the immediate question that came to me as I read his response was, who were the 6 actors he met for the part? Will Smith and Jamie Foxx obviously take up 2 slots; Michael K. Williams told us last year that he was once in the running, so that makes 3. I don't recall Idris Elba ever publically stating that he was in contention, but I think he hinted at that last year, so I'm going to say he was number 4. That leaves 2 slots.

Who were the other 2 actors that Tarantino looked at? No, it doesn't matter anymore, but I'm curious... 

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More: Django Unchained, Will Smith, Idris Elba

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  • Paul | August 13, 2012 10:30 AMReply

    I think after seeing his performance in "Tropic Thunder", QT had to consider Robert Downey, Jr.

  • Yen | August 7, 2012 11:29 AMReply

    Oh yes one of the greatest black actors of all times is Don Cheadle, he really stretches in his role and is not typecast, Tyrese would also be very believable and is up and coming in skills..I think he is better than Jamie Foxx. Terence Howard holds his own as well but I don't feel the color thing for him inthe title role.

  • Yen | August 7, 2012 11:25 AMReply

    Well personally I know QT will have much cursing, blood and guts and tension...I don't see Jamie Foxx nor Will Smith as the title role. Personally Jamie Foxx is not a good actor, yes he won an academy award....well its about time they let others besides Denzel in the club...but as for his acting, it is very much lacking. I consider QT's movies sometimes gory B movies...I can see Eldris or Mykati Williamson...they are for Samuel, not that good of an actor as well...just gets all the right brand marketing.

  • Jeff Rivera | July 24, 2012 5:48 PMReply

    Sam Jackson of course was considered ...

  • direktor | October 23, 2012 6:51 PM

    no he wasnt considered he was only given the role he is playing, terrence howard was an actor he talked to about playing django michael k williams, idris elba, also ofcourse will and jamie. i think he final actor is cuba gooding junior, i would like to have seen ihm speak to michae jai white anthony mackie djimon hounsou and don cheadle

  • Amari | July 24, 2012 1:31 PMReply

    I don't know why people always pick at Will Smith for not wanting to do something controversial. Have we really put the man on such a platform that we think he has to/ needs to really perform something he isn't comfortable with for whatever the reason maybe? Not all actors are really looking to do dramatic films, much less really try to flex their acting chops in hopes of various types of accolades. Some just want to work and get paid for their time and efforts. If that is what Will wants to do, then why bust his chops over it?

  • nucinema | July 18, 2012 4:25 PMReply

    HAve mixed feelings about this film. Love - Hate Tarantino. Love his technique, hate his persona and EXTREMELY hate his racial cinematic discourse. THis will be fantastic technically but I think say all the wrong things. Also after Jamie's BET Awards speech comparing this "exploitation film throwback" to 'ROOTS" and going on and on about how important a historical film it is, I can safely say that Jaime is not too bright and I've lost a lot of respect for him as a Black Man. YES, he is immensely talented but again lost intellectually--at least in respect to history and film. ON the other hand Idris has said all the right things in the media regarding the Black experience and supposedly turned this down when he clearly saw this film was not Django's but Waltz's. For those that question the last statement, ask yourselves WHO, is it that unchains "the Beast" AKA Django? Just like in training day, WHO's training day is it...not Denzel's.

  • Joel | August 2, 2012 11:40 AM

    Are you saying Hawke made a bigger impact than Denzel?

  • Donella | July 19, 2012 3:15 PM

    """I can safely say that Jaime is not too bright and I've lost a lot of respect for him as a Black Man. YES, he is immensely talented but again lost intellectually--at least in respect to history and film.""" I couldn't bring myself to say it, but each time Jamie Foxx opened his mouth to speak about this movie, I thought the same. It made me feel sad for him.

  • Iago | July 18, 2012 4:21 PMReply

    He met with:

    Will Smith
    Jamie Foxx
    Terrence Howard
    Chris Tucker
    Michael K. Williams
    Idris Elba
    Tyrese (yes, the R&B singer from Transformers)

  • direktor | October 23, 2012 6:53 PM

    wrong, will smith, jaime foxx, terrence howard, michael k williams, idris elba, and cuba gooding. no tyrese

  • EMINIEM | July 18, 2012 3:06 PMReply

    Why not Will Smith? He was so convincing as a cowboy in Wild Wild West!

  • PlaxicoAgrees | July 23, 2012 3:45 PM


  • GC | July 18, 2012 12:32 PMReply

    Let me get this straight. MIB III or Django Unchained by Tarantino. It's ALL about money, with Will Smith. Perhaps he was to afraid tackling such demanding role. Two actors who would have been perfect for this role. 1. Robert Downey Jr. 2. Chiwetelu Ejiofor. (Chiwetelu is great in Red Belt)

  • khg | July 18, 2012 3:38 PM

    Robert Downey Jr.

  • Donella | July 18, 2012 1:20 PM

    Like I said, some people are still bizarrely raw about a decision Will Smith made over a year ago. Like on the level of obsessed.

  • Donella | July 17, 2012 1:14 PMReply

    So strange that people affiliated with Tarantino's movie can't seem to keep Will Smith's name out of their mouths. Must be some real hurt feelings left over since it's been over a year that we learned Smith wouldn't be involved. Some people still seem bizarrely raw about it.

  • maurice emel | July 17, 2012 12:11 PMReply

    Denzel and Terence Howard, thats about it when it comes to "top shelf" talent (marketing wise to get an audience) but for just acting i would also suggest, don cheadle

  • thomas | August 4, 2012 6:57 PM

    definitely Denzil ,Terrence and Don Cheadle.
    Don Cheadle would have been my pick,but we ll see how Jamie does:)

  • Del | July 16, 2012 11:27 PMReply

    Terrence Howard & Chris Tucker are the 2 other actors he met with. Says so in the 4th paragraph here

  • LeonRaymond | July 16, 2012 11:24 PMReply

    I Just got to believe, that Will Smith was terrified of a role like that cause it would take his image some where else, and he's all about money, but at the end of the day it still says Oscar winner Jamie Fox and unless Will gets daring, it will never say that for him, he should not worry so much about his Black audience and offending them, cause if ever there was as confusing and confused an audience as a Black audience, he should just go daring and not worry about them, hey they are deeply enamored for Tyler Perry, need I say more!!!

  • Niques | July 24, 2012 11:36 AM

    Think that is a little un-fair to saw Will was "terrified" of the role when he took on a movie that alot of us thought might have been over his head ..Ali!

  • tombs | July 16, 2012 11:14 PMReply

    I believe Flavor Flav was one of them.

  • filmnerd12 | July 16, 2012 9:58 PMReply

    Jamie Hector was definitely one

  • Kinick | July 16, 2012 8:42 PMReply

    Add Chris Tucker as the 5th anyway. Idris Elba did confirm in an interview that he men with Tarantino but apparently they had a different take on the character so they decided to take it no further.

  • KG | July 16, 2012 8:05 PMReply

    It is, however, strange that this quote makes it sound like QT only first met Foxx when they were casting for the role - "But you just know when you meet the guy and I met the guy." - when they've been well-documented friends for a long time.

  • ALM | July 18, 2012 4:37 PM

    @Akimbo: Exactly. They are in promotion mode.

  • Akimbo | July 17, 2012 10:56 AM

    It's all just Hollywood spin, that's why. We won't hear the truth about first choices and why whoever said "no" until years from now. When you're promoting a movie, you're certainly not going to go around telling people that your lead was the 2nd, 4th, or 7th choice; you gotta smile big for the interviewers and tell them everything went perfectly. The real story will come later.

  • Wise | July 17, 2012 10:52 AM

    I read it as he met the man who best embodied the character, not the actual actor.

  • jessie's girl | July 16, 2012 7:42 PMReply

    Maybe Don Cheadle?

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 16, 2012 7:40 PMReply

    Well I guess that fixes me! LOL

  • Hassan Fvckry | July 16, 2012 7:17 PMReply

    Can't wait to see this movie.

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