Kerry Washington talks "Django Unchained"
It's been eight long years since Kerry Washington played Della Bea Robinson, the wife to Jamie Foxx's Oscar-winning turn in "Ray." The two are reunited in "Django Unchained," Quentin Tarantino's forthcoming movie set in the time of slavery, and once again, they are husband and wife. Washington plays Broomhilda, the spouse of Foxx's titular Django, who is being held at Candyland, the plantation run by the sadistic Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio), who pits his slaves against one another in arena-style combat. It's that hell on earth that Django goes, along with the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who purchased his freedom, in the hopes of rescuing her. The film, which is due on Christmas Day, sounds like an intense piece of work, different from Tarantino's past movies, though sharing a similar sensibility. Washington, along with several of her co-stars, spoke to journalists about it at this year's Comic-Con.
Upcoming-Movies.com: How did the panel go?
Kerry Washington: It was great. Quentin has such truly loyal fans, so I think that the energy is so electric when it's people who are coming as committed loyal Tarantino fans. And I think, you know, the energy at Comic-Con is just so great anyway, the people are really enthusiastic and committed and imaginative and creative, so it's a fun place to come.
Were you one of those fans before you made the movie?
Kerry Washington: I wasn't, like I wouldn't have come to Comic-Con to see him talk about a movie before now. I was an admirer of his work and I think he's one of our auteurs, and he's a truly visionary prolific film maker who has a real original voice.
Is there some sort of film school that he puts you through if you're going to be in his film? Or does he say, 'all right, you have got to watch this, this and this? Or is there anything?
Kerry Washington: No, actually he talked about in the panel, that I was one of the people that really requested things to watch. There were a couple of movies from the 30s. Actually, he didn't put me on, like, a Spaghetti Western. I think for some of the other actors he asked them to watch some of the Spaghetti Westerns, but I watched Marlene Dietrich old films. No, there's not a specific film school, but working with him is like being in film school because he references work all the time, whether it's television, film, music or theater. I mean, I was joking at the panel, and this is a true story, we were at a cast dinner early on, and he was talking about some movie or TV show that Don Johnson had done and Don was like, 'I didn't do that,' and he was like, 'Yeah, this was the art director.' And Don goes like, 'Oh yeah, I did do that.' His wisdom, he's like an encyclopedia.
We've heard a lot about Jamie's [Foxx] character and Christoph's [Waltz] character, but can you give us an idea of some of the things that your character is doing during the movie?
Kerry Washington: Yeah, I mean, in some ways she is sort of the catalyst for a lot of the action. The film is very much about a man who is seeking out his wife and is willing to travel to the ends of the earth and into the depths of hell to rescue his wife.
To where you are I guess.
Kerry Washington: Yes. Very much so, in Candyland, which is run by Candy, who is played by Leonardo DeCaprio. Yeah.
One of the things Quentin has done is take genres that we're all familiar with and broken them down, doing something that is very different than we're used to seeing. How does he do that here? We saw "Inglorious Bastards," we certainly saw "Pulp Fiction," but how does he take it in sort of a different direction than what we're used to in say a Western or Spaghetti Western?
Kerry Washington: Well, I think one of the things that is different and one of the things that is very important is just the face of the hero. That we don't often get to see the hero of this kind of film, the African-American, and so it's interesting. It's like, here you are dealing with the antebellum South, so he places a Western in the antebellum South, when it itself is already a twist. He also makes the hero -- Quentin has never been somebody who has been intimidated by evil and by gore and by blood and just the dark side of humanity, and I think in some ways, that's why he is a powerful storyteller within the context of slavery, because I think for a long time or maybe forever, we've been afraid in a narrative context to really portray the ugliness of this part of American history. But Quentin's not afraid of ugly. So, we go there. I'm not sure if I answered your question.
What was the piece of direction that he gave you that surprised you as an actress?
Kerry Washington: I don't know if there was any one piece of direction that surprised me. He's very collaborative and you know, we talked a lot about the character and about the journey and the film has had a lot of changes. People keep talking about the script and I'm like, 'wow, that's not even in the movie anymore,' so there are a lot of changes. I think a big part of that is kind of living in the context of the world of the film. Like one of the privileges we had shooting in New Orleans was that we shot on an actual slave plantation in Louisiana, and so when you're doing a scene where Broomhilda is being whipped by overseers and you're doing it in a place where you know hundreds of years before the sound of that whip against flesh was echoing through that alley of oak trees, there is – it just resonates in your spirit in a different way. So things took on a really intense emotional context. We just don't deal with this part of our culture as a country very often and we were all forced to deal with it in a very raw way. The film is in no way a documentary. It's a Quentin Tarantino film, but it was quite an adventure and a journey to dive into the emotional reality and the truth of the brutality of the period. There was this one scene where Quentin writes that this horrific mask is put on Django, this metal horrific mask, and I thought, 'Wow, that's some crazy fucked-up Quentin Tarantino shit, right?' Then I went into the production designer's office and there were all these photos of real masks that were put on slaves from the period, and I thought how unfortunate that as an African-American I didn't even know the history of the brutality of this institution enough to know that was really done to people.
Do you expect there's going to be some controversy with –
Kerry Washington: No. No. Absolutely not. Nah. Yeah, of course.
When you read the script, was that something that you were sort of cautious of, what is Tarantino going to do with slavery, is this something that I should be involved with or shouldn't be involved with?
Kerry Washington: I have this weird thing where I'm really drawn, I'm very curious about things that scare me; I don't immediately run from them. I think maybe because it forces me to grow as an artist or something. This movie definitely terrified me, every day. I thought about it, but what I really loved about the script was that this is a story that takes place in a time where, you know, the destruction, in order to keep black people enslaved, there was the destruction of the black family, so children were literally taken from their parents and sold down the river. That's where we get the expression, sold down the river, right. And black people could not be married legally, because if you allow people to have that kind of love connection then it could get in the way of the economics of slavery. So, here you have this director who has never been intimidated by the ugliness and the gore of humanity, who represents the true evils of this institution, but at the core of it, he places this love story about these two people who against all odds, in a time when in the constitution they're only considered three-fifths of a human being, that they believe enough in their own humanity and in their love for each other that they travel to the ends of the earth to rescue that love and to honor that love and to find her, that he finds her. So that love is able to trump even this evil institution. That's what I loved about the script and that's what's been so magical about the process. I also loved kind of the strange irony that the film is about reuniting this husband and wife and that Jamie and I would be cinematically reunited almost eight years after "Ray." There was something really special about that too.