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Will Smith Circling Lead Role In Quentin Tarantino's 'Django Unchained'

by The Playlist
May 6, 2011 12:51 PM
25 Comments
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Samuel L. Jackson Closing In On Role Of Evil Plantation Owner's Right-Hand Slave



Here's a surprise move we weren't initially expecting, though perhaps thinking on it a beat it makes sense. Will Smith has apparently emerged as Quentin Tarantino's top choice to play the lead character in his slavery/Spaghetti Western epic, "Django Unchained."

Why? When? Who? When? Where? Or What, you say? (especially if you're a Playlist member). Well, once we're over the fact that our pick, Micheal K. Williams is not likely getting the role, a logic does seem to rise from the casting news. For one, Tarantino already worked with one of the world's biggest stars, Brad Pitt, for his WWII tale, "Inglourious Basterds," and why not work with another in Smith (maybe Tom Cruise is next in "Kill BIll 3"? ;) ) Secondly, as many have noted who have read the "Django Unchained" screenplay already, including us, it's not the most commercial venture in the whole world and it's a controversial minefield of racial politics (there's n-bombs dropping left, right and center and obviously any depiction of slavery is incredibly demeaning).

It's also incredibly long, the slavery revenge picture could easily run 2 1/2 hours like 'Basterds' did (or even longer), but what better way for Tarantino to retain full control, and colorfully cast around the lead then to hire one of the world's biggest and most box-office profitable stars. As that kind of tool, the casting move stands to reason, but it certainly wouldn't have been our first, second or third choice (indeed, we recently posted our dream casting picks for the film and Smith, and folks like Denzel Washington, were nowhere to be found; on purpose mind you).

However, as we expected, the role of Stephen seems to be set for Samuel Jackson. The character of Stephen is a manipulative right-hand top slave to the evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (not cast yet) who currently owns the freed slave Django's wife. In the picture, Django teams up with a German bounty hunter (to be played by Christoph Waltz) to rescue his wife from slavery and the clutches of the aforementioned slave owner. In the last few days,both Tarantino and Waltz have shied away from admitting that Waltz had the role, but it now appears that was done because the reality is Quentin has yet to get an official green light from the U.S. distributors and producers, The Weinstein Company, but with Will Smith potentially waiting in the weeks, his signing on would likely mean a very done deal.

However, apparently one of the world's biggest actors has yet to read the script and there is that little thing about the monstrous fee he normally commands for even leaving the house, let alone arriving on a film set. That said, it's also very possible that Smith is willing to take some kind of pay cut in lieu of a major back end deal (Pitt essentially did the same and waived his normal fee; stars to make some compromises to work with QT)

We're kind of hoping this one falls through, not so we can see Micheal K. Williams in the role, but so we can see anyone but Will Smith in the role, no offense to him, he seems like a nice enough guy, but he isn't exactly creative casting as he's essentially the black version of Tom Cruise. But again, maybe it's just Tarantino's way of casting a huge star and then not having to compromise one iota of his vision. Like we said, we assumed we would be on a totally different page when it came to casting, but dare to dream, we guess. Variety says Tarantino offered one of the supporting roles to Brad Pitt, but the actor decided to pass.
[THR]

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25 Comments

  • zxcvb | May 8, 2011 4:48 AMReply

    Didn't Will Smith make a big deal about not cursing during his music career? I don't know he'd be up for the N-word-o-rama that is a QT film.

  • Nik | May 7, 2011 9:04 AMReply

    Wow. I really hope Will Smith doesn't get this role. I'm totally on the same page as you guys when you say it's not creative casting. He's just about as bland and boring as his yawn-inducing filmography. Please God, let it not be Smith.

    I'd say Chiwetel Ejiofor would be the perfect fit for Django. No star power, sure, but quality through and through.

    Mind you, it'll probably be Smith :(

  • Sean | May 7, 2011 6:30 AMReply

    First Pitt, now SMith. Hell with those who need comebacks, QT is makin' stars shine brighter baby.

  • SoulHonky | May 7, 2011 5:09 AMReply

    Oops. Just noticed your post on the ego issue a couple comments below. I agree with what you wrote there. Could be good if Will wanted to stretch and put his faith in QT but part of me wonders if he'd be willing to do that AND take a paycut.

  • SoulHonky | May 7, 2011 5:04 AMReply

    The only problem with saying that Tarantino should get Smith if he wants to retain control over his picture is that Will pretty much always demands input on the scripts he works on. Maybe the disappointing returns for Seven Pounds and the disaster that has been Men in Black's production so far has changed him a bit or he's a huge fan of QT and will put aside his vanity but I could see there being some ego clashing.

  • Kevin Jagernauth | May 7, 2011 3:51 AMReply

    Yeah, this casting makes sense. It will let QT make the film he wants without compromise. And I'm not opposed to Will Smith. If he can pull a Tom Cruise/Magnolia performance out of this and do something totally against type, it could work. But he'll have to put his ego completely aside and let QT lead the way and it will be interesting to see if he wants to do that after spending years calling his own shots.

  • Paul | May 7, 2011 3:47 AMReply

    In Tarantino I trust.

    If he thinks Will Smith will dominate the role of Django then I say go for it! 20 years in the business & the only casting of his that bugs me is Eli Roth in Basterds.

    I just hope he can bring Michael Fassbender back for a role. Or casts Josh Brolin like you guys want!

  • Mr Anonymous | May 7, 2011 2:55 AMReply

    If Will Smith is the kind of actor that can get this film made and QT actually likes him as an actor then cast him! I don't see a problem with this.

    The only problem i see is Will Smith's ego getting in the way and further down the line there being 'creative differences' between the two. If that happens, fuck Smith! Kick his ass outta there and get Idris Elba!

    Personally, who i would like for the role is Nelsan Ellis from True Blood.

  • hank | May 7, 2011 2:35 AMReply

    I though I had always read that QT DID want Leo for the Landa role? As I remember, he was looking for big stars to secure the financing. I could be wrong, though.

    Nobody for Eddie Murphy as Django?

  • BuntyHoven | May 7, 2011 2:18 AMReply

    JUST THINK OF THE THEME TUNE. That's reason enough to cast Smith.

    Seriously though, this is genuinely exciting news. I am pleased. You'll all see! QT knows.

  • Ha, So Wrong | May 7, 2011 1:59 AMReply

    Yeah, Variety has that totally wrong. Role was in no way shape or form written for Leo (nor Waltz). Maybe they mean Pitt as the role was vaguely written with him in mind.

    DiCaprio sought the Landa role and Tarantino politely laughed him out of the room. Considering he can't fluently speak French or German, I'm not sure what DiCaprio was thinking.

  • The Playlist | May 7, 2011 1:57 AMReply

    @Bunty. That's a good point, in that sense, it's subversive, but I dunno, he's just milquetoast. Of course that's just my opinion.

    Michael's got it right as we also said in the article Top shelf actor like Smith? Just like Brad Pitt, it's pretty much gives QT carte blanche to do whatever he wants with the rest of casting and probably keep the length etc. (though if you've read a few script reviews out there already, including ours, the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the script could use a trim)

  • Lisa | May 7, 2011 1:49 AMReply

    there has been a twitter campaign for Michael K Williams in this role....it seems like a lot of people are pulling for him...haven't read the script so i can't say....but he is a brilliant actor

  • Michael | May 7, 2011 1:46 AMReply

    Seems to like it's another situation that'll unfold quite similar to Basterds;

    he's gotta secure that "top shelf" star for commercial reasons and to get people interested and then he can fill it with whoever he likes.

    IF Smith does sign on i'd expect the rest of the casting to go much like Basterds. And we know how that went...will he be able to keep his friends out this one? I doubt it, but hopefully small roles only.

    Also, I noticed that Variety did say Schultz role was written with DiCaprio in mind however I think they have their wires crossed and are mixed up with Basterds...they also said Brad Pitt was sought after for a supporting role but he wasn't interested as of now, hmm...

  • BuntyHoven | May 7, 2011 1:42 AMReply

    Rashad: Right, Hans Landa wasn't written for Waltz, but Dr. Schultz certainly was. thislalife was saying the role was written for Leo.

  • Rashad | May 7, 2011 1:35 AMReply

    Hans Landa wasn't written specifically for Waltz. He wrote it and wanted a German from the get go. It wasn't until the last minute did he find Waltz which was a saving grace. Tarantino has talked about this

  • BuntyHoven | May 7, 2011 1:34 AMReply

    I think you're being too harsh on Smith in your revised story. How is not "creative casting"? Putting the world's biggest family-friendly star in a violent, racially-charged revenge picture? It'd be like casting Tom Hanks as Hitler. It's more creative than Williams, who could have done this role in his sleep.

  • hank | May 7, 2011 1:32 AMReply

    Eddie Murphy.

  • BuntyHoven | May 7, 2011 1:30 AMReply

    thislalife: How did he originally want DiCaprio for the Waltz role when it's univerally acknowledged that the role has been written specifically for Waltz? The Basterds thing is true, but I think QT actually decided against Leo eventually because he wanted a native German speaker. But he only finished writing Django a few weeks ago, and the script was written with Waltz in mind.

  • The Playlist | May 7, 2011 1:28 AMReply

    Yeah, I've been revising as I go as this is a huge story. Yes, Smith may indeed take a paycut and or take a major backend deal in lieu of a huge upfront fee.

    That story about Leonardo DiCaprio is categorically untrue though. The actor sought the role, not the other way around and well, he didn't get it now did he?

  • thislalife | May 7, 2011 1:24 AMReply

    You guys are missing some key details here:

    Smith will take a pay cut to work with QT

    QT originally wanted Leo for the Waltz role, but he passed (he also passed on inglorious basterds)

  • stan | May 7, 2011 1:23 AMReply

    Isaach de Bankolé for Django

  • KT | May 7, 2011 1:17 AMReply

    I called it.

  • BuntyHoven | May 7, 2011 1:12 AMReply

    Would we really have wanted Michael K. Williams, though? I feel like we've seen him play the badass, ruthless guy enough in The Wire. Whereas Will Smith taking on a role this like in a bloody revenge tale will be fascinating. He's a good actor when he puts his mind to it, and it fits with Tarantino's fondness for casting familiar faces in unfamiliar roles.

  • will | May 7, 2011 1:02 AMReply

    smith hasnt worked in a while so it makes sense that way, but i was hoping for more of a wildcard out of the blue lead slave for qt. I really wanted omar

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