Will Smith Explains Why He Turned Down ‘Django Unchained’

Published 2 years ago by , Updated February 16th, 2014 at 9:24 am,

Over a year ago, when Quentin Tarantino was still in pre-production on his blaxploitation/spaghetti western riff, Django Unchainedhe initially had his heart set on Will Smith signing on as his leading man rather than Jamie Foxx.

Of course, the role ultimately went to Foxx and the controversial film’s theatrical run has since come and gone, but Smith opened up the books on Django Unchained one last time to talk about why he chose to turn the project down.

Speaking with EW about his upcoming picture, the M. Night Shyamalan sci-fi thriller After Earth, Smith revealed that he declined the chance to work with Tarantino because of the eponymous character’s position in the film. It turns out that for Smith, Django actually read like a sidekick to Christoph Waltz’s charming bounty hunter – rather than the central character.

Here’s what Smith said (with a tongue planted in his cheek):

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!’

Assuming that Smith is being candid, and turning down the role wasn’t due to controversial content, it’s nice to see a talent of Smith’s stature openly admit his desire to be the hero and acknowledge his refusal to compromise on sacrificing screen time to Waltz (who won an Academy Award for the role). His choice also makes sense on other, more sensitive levels as well – why wouldn’t Smith, one of the most prominent black actors working today, want to be the one to defeat the bad guy in a movie about a revenge-fueled ex-slave hunting down a vicious plantation owner to save his wife?

NOTE: The rest of this article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Django Unchained – if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to be spoiled, STOP READING.

Still some will argue that the true “bad guy” in Django, is actually Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s senior-most house slave, who plots and schemes against Django and Dr. Schultz in their bid to rescue Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Candie’s clutches.

django unchained jamie foxx leonardo dicaprio Will Smith Explains Why He Turned Down Django Unchained

In Django Unchained, Candie actually falls into a more direct conflict of wills with Schultz. Schultz’s politeness, charm, and senses of discipline and justice are all tested from the moment he and Django first make contact with Candie all the way to his last action in the film; he is at turns offended by Candie’s discourtesies and ignorance (the man didn’t even know Alexandre Dumas’ heritage), revolted by his penchant for grotesque barbarism, and outraged by his innumerable racist proclamations. The trip into Candyland is Schultz’s own journey into the heart of darkness.

So when he guns down Candie in a fit of pique, it makes natural, logical sense, even if there’s catharsis to be found in Django performing the deed instead. In the end, it’s Stephen who presents a villainous foil for Django. After all, it’s Stephen, not Candie, who attempts to reaffirm Django’s old identity as a piece of property rather than a human being. Candie merely extorts and abuses our heroes; Stephen, on the other hand, aims to put Django right back where he started when we meet him at the start of the film, and that makes him Django Unchained‘s true heavy.

Of course, we don’t know if the version of the script that Smith was looking at followed the same exact trajectory. While the script leaked early on, the actor and Tarantino could have been discussing a revised version – given that major changes were made to the story prior to the final film cut. Still, those changes did not dramatically alter the Django/Stephen rivalry.

Regardless, it’s interesting to hear why the actor allegedly passed on the movie.


Django Unchained is headed to Blu-ray and DVD on April 16th 2013.

After Earth opens June 7th, 2013.

Source: Entertainment Weekly

Follow Andy Crump on Twitter @agracru
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  1. Anyone who said will smith was afraid to talk to role is completely wrong. Tarintino on the livr circuit stated that will turned down the role
    Because he wanted django to be more involved in the film. They were very close to working through the problems it ended up with will leaving because he didnt want to waste tarintinos time.

    • I’m not sure I agree. Django actually did initiate action on a number of occasions in the movie.

      He seized the opportunity to take out two of the Brittle brothers instead of merely pointing them out as he was instructed to do. He more or less pushed his way into being a sort of partner bounty hunter, raking in several thousands of dollars instead sticking with being a finger pointer with a paltry $75, or whatever the first agreement amount was. He rightly pushed the envelope with Candie during times that made Schultz cringe with nervousness or turn his head in disgust (at the dog scene). He talked his way out of certain doom toward the end, when he convinced his captors that he was a bounty hunter and used the old wanted sign showing his first bounty (he kept for good luck) to do so. He marched his ass back to the big house and sent the rest of Candie’s clan off to the by and by. The man went through hell to rescue and be reunited with his long lost love. Django definitely holds his own as a hero in this move.

      All of that is not to detract from Dr. Schultz’s involvement in the film as a hero, though. I think both he and Django are heroes in their own right. Dr. Schultz starts off as the protagonist in this film and somewhere along the line he passes that torch off to Django. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just how it is.

      • Well said Avenger, well said.

  2. Candyland? Oh my god!!!! Hahahah this is why l didn’t see this movie. Anyone get the feeling that Tarantino is a racist, closet racist. Ever notice how in all his movies the black guy gets killed? Or raped? Or a misogonist? I think that’s how it’s spelled. He treats women and coloured people in his movies like dirt. I don’t understand how people can view him as such a great director. His movies are boring I have seen three pulp fiction. Tried to watch inglorious basters wow that was a chore. And reservoir dogs. They were so painfull to sit through and watch. His movies are all the same. No originality. It’s like he is a grown up kid with violence in his head. I just don’t get him.

    • There is a lot of violence in his movies, yes, but that’s because the world is a violent (and kinda f-ed up) place. The reason Django Unchained had so much profanity and violence, and treated the black characters like dirt, is because that’s the way things were in those times. Despite the impression that good ‘ol PG13 westerns gave you, racism was VERY real and VERY brutal in those days (especially the South).

      As for Tarantino killing off all the black people in his movies, I recall just as much, if not more, white people getting killed too (not that that’s in any way relevant to anything: a person is a person, regardless of their skin color)

      And anyways, in Django Unchained, the “black guy” is the hero. He kills all the evil white folks, gets the girl, and rides off into the sunset… spoiler alert ;)

      But, if you didn’t like any of his previous films, then you’ll probably not like Django either, so my advice would be to just watch something else instead.

      • Well said Avenger

    • M I S O G Y N I S T . So, in a movie where dozens of white people get mowed down, whipped, exploded, mutilated, or shot in the genitals; in a movie where a much higher percentage of white characters than any of the black characters are violently killed, the mere fact that a black character (in a movie set in the Deep South in 1858) gets shown whipped, branded, set on by dogs, etc. makes Tarantino a racist. I call BS. Glad to know that racism only works in one direction.

  3. While I can appreciate Smith being candid about why he didn’t want the role I read his reasons as sort of petty and wonder if he even understood the story itself?
    Django wasn’t the lead??? He didn’t kill the bad guy???
    I’ve seen the movie twice and even read the script and unless he read a draft that was completely different than the movie and finished script I don’t understand his reasoning at all.
    All things considered I like Smith and I admire the career he’s built for himself. He’s unbelievably talented, a great action star and has even shown amazing chops in dramatic roles, I just disagree with his view on this topic.

  4. I’m definitely NOT a Jamie Foxx fan, but loved, loved, loved Django Unchained! Each time time I saw the movie (I’ve seen the movie 5 times and each time I found something new), I forgot Foxx was the actor, b/c I saw the character…and that is what good acting is all about. I think Django Unchained is Tarantino’s best work yet, perhaps his magnum opus. I loved how he began by showing the dichotomies of the slave men not wearing shoes yet the horses had shoes for the rough terrain and winter as they traveled. I’m not a big Will Smith fan either, however if I had to guess, I’d say Smith was afraid of alienating audiences with this very controversial movie role. He wants to be “Mr. All American” clean cut and avoids risky roles where he may lose his following(please don’t mention Six degrees of Separation). His work is ok, but for Foxx to make me forget that he is the actor is important to me as an audience member and he does this well. Stephen was indeed the adversary to the Django character and he got his comeuppance in the end. The line is blurred between good and bad, b/c during this time period in history, it was a normal manner of treatment, however I’d have to say the arc and growth of Django does indeed make him the hero of the story.

  5. Will Smith is probably in my top 3 list of favorite actors and I’m not a Jamie Foxx fan but I thought he did an awesome job. I don’t know that Will Smith could have brought the same grittiness to the role as Fox did. I’m not disappointed Smith turned down the job.

    • Just would like to say that I enjoyed this movie, Christopher Waltz was awesome and I’m glad that it was Jamie Fox that played Django as he was fantastic too… I don’t think it would have suited Will Smith…

  6. Thank you, Will Smith, for not being in this movie. Thank you for being the kind of actor who would choose an M. Night Shymalan picture, but finagle a chance to star in a movie with Tarantino. Way to challenge that populist image. Was the idea of an engaging plot that actually showed character growth a little troubling when one considers your ‘chops’? No, the safer, more family-friendly bet would be to star in ANOTHER SCI-FI MOVIE where you are on-screen 100% of the time. Let’s hope it’s less ‘boring’ than I Am Legend, less bush-league than Independence Day, and less nauseatingly awful than I, Robot(hey, look! My character is wearing retro millenial sneakers available IN STORES NOW!). Nice artistic integrity, Fresh Prince. Now go to sleep

    • Django Unchained, if it could be called a movie–would easily be one of the worst movies ever made.

  7. The silly part is that Will Smith’s given concern was unfounded.

    Django definitely does kill the worst bad guy in the film, Sam Jackson’s character, the slave who is not only ok with slavery but reaps the rewards of playing along with all the b******* that is thrown his way. The ultimate traitor.

    To me that is a worse evil than a staunchly capitalistic and apathetic slave owning businessman (DiCaprio) who doesn’t even seem to be all that racist, basing his convictions on incorrect science.

  8. I think Tarantino’s movies are not only horrible movies but they don’t even have the quality of being so bad they are good, in an Ed Wood sort of way. In other words, Plan 9 From Outer Space is regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, but it’s still entertaining because Ed Wood’s quirky humanity comes through. But all that comes through the Tarantino movies is a really sick indulgence in violence. I saw one of his movies (Pulp Fiction) and will never watch another one. I stepped on something a dog left the other day that was more interesting than Pulp Fiction.

    • You shouldn’t be allowed to watch movies

    • He’s massively successful because he is great at what he does! He doesn’t sugar coat things just to appease other’s fragile sensibilities as too many now do! He portrays characters, scenarios & time era’s with brutal honesty! That is what makes him & his movies successful! If he catered to the faint of heart he would be working for Disney! Look what they did to Iron Man 3! I really did not think it possible to screw up such a well loved movie & characters, but alas, they did! Will Smith needing to be the only hero? What an overbloated undeserving ego!

  9. amazing film one of the best, I watched it 4 time and I find anything New every time torrentino is biggest asset to Hollywood .

  10. They choose the right actor for the job will smith has no edge to himself personally. In it would have shown in the movie. Will would have been great as Stephen though. Jamie foxx did this movie so great.

  11. The whole “Unchained” thing makes me wonder if this is the creation of a recurring character.

  12. Just would like to say that I enjoyed this movie, Christopher Waltz was awesome and I’m glad that it was Jamie Fox that played Django as he was fantastic too… I don’t think it would have suited Will Smith…