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Will Smith Says He Wanted Tarantino To Rewrite 'Django Unchained'; Didn't Think Django Was The Lead

by Oliver Lyttelton
March 25, 2013 10:59 AM
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Will Smith

While "Django Unchained" was pretty much an unqualified success in terms of awards and money taken in (a Best Picture nomination, two Oscars and $400 million worldwide), there'll always be an intriguing what-could-have-been hanging over it: Quentin Tarantino wrote the title character for Will Smith, and while Jamie Foxx ended up taking the part, the idea that the clean-cut megastar could have starred in the bloody Western has cast a long shadow over the film.

Smith was reported to be in talks for the film over two years ago, but his reasons for pulling out have remained nebulous since then; the actor said a year ago that "I came really close, it was one of the most amazing screenplays I had ever seen... I just couldn't sit with him and get through the issues, so I didn't want to hold him up," and Tarantino added while on the press circuit "He didn't walk away from it because he was scared of the material. It just wasn't 100 per cent right, and we didn't have time to try to make it that way." But now, Smith's spilled the beans on exactly why he held out.

Talking to EW, Smith says that his qualms were not with the violence or thematic issues, but with the size of the role. "Django wasn't the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. The other character [Christoph Waltz's Oscar-winning King Schultze] was the lead! I was like 'No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!" Still, he seemed to have enjoyed the finished product. "I thought it was brilliant. Just not for me."

While Smith has a point in terms of the somewhat secondary nature of the part, it's a little depressing that he feels he can only take a role if he's the sole lead, given the quality of material here and that he's taking more secondary parts in the upcoming "After Earth" (playing second fiddle to his son Jaden) and "Winter's Tale," in which he cameos as a judge. That said, we shouldn't count out the idea of him working with Tarantino again; the pair seem to still be on good terms, and we shouldn't forget that Leonardo DiCaprio was originally intended to star in "Inglourious Basterds," only to later enter Tarantinoville with 'Django.' Perhaps there'll be a role in apparent 'Basterds' spin-off "Killer Crow" that Smith could take?

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  • dd | June 30, 2014 5:54 PMReply

    Just another example of a bullshit actor having to have a single lead spot, not that Jamie Foxx is any better, won't take a movie script unless he comes out on top, clearly an inferiority complex, combined with a egocentric personality, resulting in an actor that is pathetic in only more of a regard, than he is a shit actor in general.

  • Donella | August 1, 2013 4:20 PMReply

    The lack of any recognition for the Django Freedman role from any film organization during awards season, plus the rejection of that role by approximately seven African-American male actors after reading the script, pretty much solidifies Will Smith's decision to also reject the role.

    Jamie Foxx pretty much remained empty-handed during awards season, sitting on the sidelines while Leonardo di Caprio, Samuel L. Jackson, and especially Christophe Waltz racked up all the accolades.

  • Larry | March 30, 2013 5:53 PMReply

    Charlton Heston almost turned down the 2nd lead role in The Big Country but eventually took it and got Ben Hur next, his biggest role, with the same director the following year.

  • Mena | March 29, 2013 2:17 PMReply

    Seriously? He didn't take the part because "Django wasn't the lead"? Thank God! Who wants an egocentrical like that? That's the stupidest reason I have ever heard for an actor to not take a role.

  • Graeme | June 30, 2014 4:03 PM

    But he was right. Django was barely a main character

  • ru | March 27, 2013 1:48 PMReply

    Will Smith makes a great point, for the the brahah behind django unchained, django doesnt kill candie, schtutlz does..

  • sam | March 26, 2013 8:01 PMReply

    just a thought: maybe Smith knows folks see him as this superstar lead so he can't be a supporting character..? his thought-process might not be entirely ego-driven.

  • Bo | March 25, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    Django's character makes total sense. He lived in a world where he was not only discouraged from verbalizing his opinions, emotions, thoughts and desires, he was punished for it. While Waltz and DiCaprio have the luxury of saying whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want, Foxx is forced to internalize. Hence, he's reserved and only speaks when spoken to. Anyone with a basic understanding of film technique can see that Tarantino continuously grounds the camera in Django's POV. The fact that he doesn't literally gush dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the strengths of the film.

  • Alan B | March 26, 2013 3:53 AM On a similar note, Rasheed - a commentator on the 'Shadow and Act' - argues that Stephen (not Calvin) was the true antagonist of the film, so Smith's desire for Django to kill misrepresents the carefulyl organized structure of Candyland: "I think Will misunderstood the script. Stephen was ultimately Django's chief villain. Candy had been completely tricked by Django's and Schultz's plan. Stephen recognized what was going on and informed Candy. Had it not been for Stephen, Django, Hildy, and Schultz would have strolled out of Candy Land without firing a shot." Another commentator (D.A.) remarked: "Stephen was the arch-villain in all of this. It's a common belief that we underestimate the sidekick, Stephen was looked at as such but if you also notice, he's more observant of situations than Candy ever was. The proof is in the scene when Stephen pulls Broomhilda to the side and interrogates her about whether she really knows Django, but she denies it. He's the epitome of 'You don't Bull__ a Bull___ter'." I posit these comments because I'm confused: why is Edward ('this Quentin Tarantino fellow, I don't know, he doesn't really seem to understand story or character, me don't thinks') Davis paid for his observations, whilst BO, Rasheed and D.A. aren't? I get Tambay A. Obenson being hired as a paid critic because Obenson seems to understand story, structure, character and the dynamics of film stars, but Edward Davis? Sheesh ...

  • Triny | March 25, 2013 3:13 PMReply

    Will Smith is right here, Django is the least developed "lead" in the movie. Waltz and DiCaprio got interesting characters while Foxx was saddled with the dull Django.

  • Kevin | March 25, 2013 1:39 PMReply

    Will Smith's career depends on sticking with a well-defined likeable-guy persona. He was smart not to be involved in this movie. It would be like casting Cary Grant in John Waters film.

  • Ray H | March 25, 2013 1:28 PMReply

    My biggest problem with the movie is that Django is woefully underdeveloped and has very little to do until the last 30 minutes when he's sort of reluctantly forced to star in his own movie.

  • Edward Davis | March 25, 2013 1:06 PMReply

    Will Smith is right which is also one of the fundamental flaws of Django Unchained. Django isn't really the lead and he's one of the dullest characters in the movie.

  • Ugh | March 25, 2013 12:58 PMReply

    What an idiot. And to the people in teh comments who are trying to defend his ignorant decision as being about something BIGGER, come on. He plainly states he needed to be the lead character & he needed to kill the big baddie of the movie (even though Samuel L. Jackson's character was REALLY the lead villain of the film) because he's Will Smith.
    There was no theological or ethical logic behind his decision to turn the movie down. He turned the movie down because it wouldn't be a Will Smith movie.

    Or at least a Smith movie. ... he probably tried to convince Tarantino to let him play King Schultz & Jaden would play Django...

  • Melissa | March 25, 2013 3:31 PM

    I find it ignorant, that you actually don't realize that Smith is a Black man being asked to be in a movie about SLAVERY. Yet, the White characters are the ones that are interesting. SMH

  • gezageza | March 25, 2013 12:45 PMReply


  • Maggie Hames | March 25, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    Geez, Smith, have fun being a dope.

  • Bob Roberts | March 25, 2013 11:37 AMReply

    No think about it from Will's point of view. You have a movie about slavery where the German dentist is actually the most well developed and in many instances the main character. Maybe Will is saying this for the press but anyone who takes slavery seriously might justifiably be skeptical if the essential lead character of a Slavery Epic is a German white guy. And quite frankly he's got a point. Django is really one of Tarantino's most underdeveloped characters and in many ways does play second fiddle to Schultz, who gets most of the showy lines and scenes. I can totally understand his weariness after reading the the script. He probably read through the blind spots Tarantino had while writing the movie and didn't like the smell. Can't blame him.

  • P-DUB | March 25, 2013 12:35 PM

    I think it's fair to say that it is a co-lead with Dr. King Schultz. I also think there is a very good reason Schultz gets the most dialogue. Django is a recently free man who has never interacted with white people this way. As the rest of the film even presents, it's fairly unprecedented for a black man to act the way Django does in the film.

    It makes complete sense that throughout the film, Django defers to Schultz. Schultz is his teacher and the man who is guiding him through this new world. As the story goes along, Django becomes more and more confident in his role and that's when Django begins to get more lines and better lines. It's no more a supporting character than the role he played in the first Men In Black.

    I do, however, have issues with the film regarding the structure of the third act and do agree that some of the character arcs go under-serviced because of that structure.

    That said, Smith really disappointed me with this statement. It may not be a solely lead performance in the standard sense and it's an opportunity to work with Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and (at the time) Kevin Costner on a challenging film that still entertains. I'm not sure how he can pass that up simply because he isn't the sole lead.

  • Donella | March 25, 2013 12:34 PM

    My read of Tarantino's script told me not only that the German dentist Dr. King Schultz was the true lead and star and moral center of Django Unchained. The fact that the sole acting nomination and win went to Christopher Waltz (not Jamie Foxx and not Samuel L. Jackson) confirmed my suspicions about Tarantino's intent. Smith apparently picked up similar subtleties surrounding Tarantino's game and passed.

  • Melissa | March 25, 2013 12:01 PM

    Agreed, this is a film about American Slavery.

  • Mr Anonymous | March 25, 2013 11:23 AMReply

    I'm also disappointed by this news. Does Will Smith think he can't make a film unless he is the sole lead in it? What an ego!

    Maybe someone should tell him you can still star in a movie, alongside a co-star and still do exceptionally good work. Jamie Foxx managed it and i don't see him moaning about not winning an Oscar!

    It's this kind of thinking and attitude from Smith that shows us we'll never see him appear in anything but big studio-produced Hollywood blockbusters. He'll never be a co-star or a supporting actor to anyone.

  • Mr Anonymous | March 25, 2013 2:07 PM

    That's 2 films out of how many others? Eh, tell me. Has he done any like that since? Nope!

  • Ron | March 25, 2013 11:38 AM

    Yea Seven Pounds, and The Pursuit of Happyness were HUGE hollywood blockbusters.

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