‘Django Unchained’ Star Leonardo DiCaprio Struggled to Identify With His ‘Racist, Horrible Character’

By: Rachel Levy / December 24, 2012

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For the first time in his career, Leonardo DiCaprio takes a turn to the dark side next week playing a brutal plantation owner in Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s new revenge saga in which the oppressed finally turn the tables on their oppressors.

As if owning slaves isn’t bad enough, DiCaprio’s character, Calvin Candie’s favorite pastime is forcing his biggest and strongest to face off in bloody death matches.

“There was absolutely nothing about this man that I could identify with,” DiCaprio told reporters. “I hated him. And it was one of the most narcissistic, self indulgent, racist, horrible characters I had ever read in my entire life. And I had to do it.”

DiCaprio found the situation on set awkward, with his charater’s casual use of the N-word around c0-stars Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington. At one point he felt himself pulling away from the role, rationalizing with Tarantino about his character’s excessive show of racism.

“I’d dealt with and seen racism in my surroundings growing up, but to the degree that I had to treat other people in this film was incredibly disturbing,” recalled DiCaprio.

In the movie, Django (Foxx), a liberated slave, and King Schultz, (Christoph Waltz) a bounty hunter, go in search of Django’s wife, Broomhilda, (Washington) a slave who works on Candie’s plantation. Along the way they witness outrageous acts of violence, including a particularly brutal scene in which a slave is ripped to pieces by dogs.

In order to get a better understanding of Candie, DiCaprio researched sugar plantations, slave narratives and watched numerous documentaries on the subject. What he discovered were abuses that made the atrocities in the movie seem tame by comparison.

When production began, he struggled to embody such cruelty but was willed on by his African-American cast mates.

“What was great was to have a group of actors that were all mutually there for one another to support and drive each other further,” recalled DiCaprio. “Sam and Jamie told me, ‘Look man, if you sugarcoat this, people are going to resent the hell out of you. By holding the character back you’re going to do an injustice to the film and people are going to feel like you’re not telling the truth.”

DiCaprio compares Django Unchained with Tarantino’s previous movie, Inglourious Basterds, in that both take a candid look at brutal passages in modern history, but imagine a reality where the good guys win.

While Basterds portrays a world whereby Jews exercise bloody revenge on Nazi persecutors, Django, for the first time in movies, puts a gun in the hand of a slave and offers scenes of rough retribution.

“As soon as I read it I was incredibly excited,” said DiCaprio. “This was a character that represented everything that was wrong with the south at the time. It’s a subject matter that should be looked at more often and not shied away from.”

Click through the gallery above to see the cast of Django Unchained at the NYC press conference.

What do you think of Django Unchained’s depiction of slavery, DiCaprio’s performance, and its portrayal of slaves? Watch co-star Sammi Rotibi’s exclusive interview with Celebuzz about his supporting role in the film, and then let us know what you think of the film as a whole in the comments section below!

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