The song “Unchain My Heart” meant something very different when Jamie Foxx re-created it in 2004’s Ray, but you could argue the title applies in a strange and more sinister way in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming revenge western Django Unchained.
The bond Foxx wants to break this time around is not a bad romance, but something far uglier and more painful: his slave status in the pre-Civil War South, which is the obstacle preventing him from going in search of his sold-off wife, played by Kerry Washington.
After the jump, Entertainment Weekly debuts the first two photos from the movie, which hits theaters on Dec. 25, and we also talk with Foxx about this southern-fried take on the spaghetti western.
Does he think Django Unchained will be controversial? “Oh, hell yeah,” Foxx says. “You kidding me?”
The Oscar winner describes his character as Shaft’s “Richard Roundtree meets Clint Eastwood.”
After being sent to a chain gang after rebelling against his owners, Django is recruited by a German bounty hunter (Inglorious Basterd’s Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, below, with Foxx) to help him settle an old score. Django has information that Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz needs, so the German mercenary liberates the slave and promises that if he helps him kill the Brittle brothers, Django’s old owners, he’ll make it worth his while. “He says, ‘I’ll kill ’em, and you’ll get some money and be on your way as a free man,'” Foxx says.
Along the way, the duo end up crossing paths with Leonardo DiCaprio’s hammer-wielding character (below), a deranged plantation owner named Calvin Candie, who likes to make his toughest slaves fight to the death in gladiatorial combat. “Candie is a businessman who owns a plantation called Candie Land, and that’s where my wife ends up being,” Foxx says. To find her, “we have to get in good with Candie, by me playing a valet for Christoph’s character.”
A century and a half later, slavery is a sensitive subject, and though Tarantino is a filmmaker known more for his flamboyant, violent storytelling than sober exploration of historical issues, Foxx says there is a serious side to Django Unchained. “There’s a beautiful way [Tarantino] found for the characters to talk to each other. It’s mind-blowing. You’ve never heard it this way,” the actor says. “You’ve seen movies deal with slavery — or westerns that never dealt with slavery — do it the safe way. This way is like…wow.”
Many of these exchanges take place amid the evolving relationship between Django and Schultz. “Christoph’s character is a little aloof to what slavery actually is. He’s not familiar with everything, and when he sees atrocities, it’s Greek to him,” Foxx says. “But Django lets him know this is the way the world is and we got to get used to it. He teaches Django certain things he needs to become a whole man, and [Django] also teaches Christoph that when life deals you these cards, here’s what you’ve got to do.”
Ultimately, as we mentioned at the beginning, Django Unchained is a story about the heart, and the way cruelty can destroy the things we love most. But don’t expect anything sappy. The whole enterprise will be tinged with vengeance.
“All Django wants to do is get his wife,” Foxx says. “He’s not trying to cure or solve slavery. He just wants to get his life back.”