|Will Smith in Wild Wild West|
There's a good chance that if you're attentive to the news cycle, you'll know that director Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained almost ended up a little differently. While audiences now know title character Django Freeman as being played by Jamie Foxx, there was a time where it looked to belong to Men in Black actor Will Smith. While nobody really had a good idea why that was, guesses were that it was just too violent or crazy for the actor who has consistently been self-aware of his image (though that doesn't explain After Earth). In a recent interview while doing the rounds for his latest drama Concussion, he has opened up to why things didn't pan out. On the plus side, it's not anything irrational. On the other hand, it's a little strange.
For those who need a refresher on Django Unchained, just know that it was in the hands of Tarantino; whose violence was less controversial than specific racial slurs that were used at great length (possibly in the triple digits). It was an homage to westerns and blaxploitation alike as Django saves the day alongside a white dentist named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) - a clear reference to a certain Civil Rights leader. Yes, it's violent. Yes, it has Leonardo DiCaprio being racist and spouting uncomfortable phrenology. It is a confrontational film about racism that is also three hours long and responsible for two Oscar wins (Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Waltz). It was so controversial that it even sparked a rift between Tarantino and Spike Lee. As of a week ago, Tarantino has publicly admitted that he never plans to work with Lee on anything.
To an actor with a more family friendly image, that is a big thing. It isn't anything new, as Tarantino's dirty mind mentality was literally present since minute one of his career, in which Reservoir Dogs opens with a perverse take on Madonna's "Like a Virgin." If you need a refresher, check it out here. It doesn't sound like Tarantino is a gangster of love. In fact, that's one of the prime reasons that Smith didn't see eye to eye with the director. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he claimed that:
"I wanted to make the greatest love story that African Americans had ever seen. We [Tarantino] talked, we met, we sat for hours and hours about it. I wanted to make that movie so badly, but I felt the only way was, it had to be a love story, not a vengeance story. We can’t look at what happens in Paris (the terrorist attacks) and want to f**k somebody up for that. Violence begets violence. I just couldn’t connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer."
This makes sense in theory. Smith has done a decent job of being seen as the upbeat and positive actor who makes optimistic cinema. There is nothing wrong with that. However, it does seem contradictory to a lot of fairly recent acting choices. After Earth featured his son Jayden Smith fighting aliens out of defense. Likewise, he is set to star in Suicide Squad: a film all about the bad guys in the Batman universe. Considering that that film's director (David S. Goyer) is known for making violent and aggressive cinema such as Fury, it makes no sense why Tarantino is singled out. I doubt that there's any greater love story in Suicide Squad than there was in Django Unchained. There's still romance, but getting hung up on the vengeance is a little dumb when your next film's trailer features the line "I'm just going to hurt you real bad." (in fairness, a line said by Jared Leto and not himself).
This is quite the expansion on his original quote from 2013 where he told Entertainment Weekly that:
"Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead. The other character was the lead! I was like, “No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!” I thought it was brilliant. Just not for me."
The concept still seems dumb, especially since he's a smaller role in Suicide Squad. I don't know that there's too much to really get hung up about, though. Foxx did an impressive job as Django, and maybe Smith's star power would have inevitably impacted the role negatively. However, it's nice to know that we have a deeper reason from why things ended up the way that they did. I just wish that they were for more satisfying reasons.