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. What???? O_o

  2. He’s full of sh*t, the original draft is widely available and Django’s role was always the central character, the hero. He passed because of the N word.

    • + 1

  3. Smith comes across as a bit to “clean cut” for this type of role/movie anyway IMHO. In the end, Foxx was a superior choice

  4. Is this a joke? I thought Will Smith would say something reasonable like he was too uncomfortable with the subject matter. But it’s because Django wasn’t leading enough and didn’t (SPOILERS) kill the bad guys? Ridiculous on his part. Django was the hero of the monomyth), journeying and learning from the ‘wise sage’ who helps him on his journey as he treks to complete his mission. Yes, Dr. Schulz was a major character, but he wasn’t even the hero (almost the opposite once we reached the films pivotal turn of events). And Candie wasn’t the villain anyhow (what did he do besides torture his slaves and threaten the trio?). Stephen was the one who devised the plans and plotted against the goody guys. Will Smith says yes to M. Night but no to Tarantino? Yeah, I think I’ve lost a lot of love for him.

  5. I think Will’s built up the kind of reputation where he has to overcome whatever his characters are up against in some way, either by personally defeating a bad guy or somehow affecting an outcome so that good triumphs over evil.

    Having not seen Django yet, I can’t say if that happens.

    • It doesn’t.

    • He triumphs over a very specific kind of evil, which is why I’m a bit surprised he didn’t take the role.

  6. Whatever the real reason is, I’m glad that Will Smith declined. He’s done a decent job a many of his films, but I can’t see him fitting in as Django.

    • + 1

  7. So his ego prevented him from taking the role that would have revived his faltering career. Figures. Pride goes before a fall. Enjoy sharing the doldrums with Shyamalan, Will.

    • – 1

  8. He probably would have wanted to cram his son in the movie some how if he got the role

  9. Will Smith wouldn’t of been good in Django because frankly he has not been good in anything for a while now. His big house and Ego have made him far less appealing than he once was. It’s sad because I liked the guy back in the day but i guess once you demand a high quote like he does, you either thrive in your work or you turn into a shell of what you were chasing the next blockbuster. Don’t get me wrong, he is where he is for a reason but to think he NEEDS to be the top dog shows exactly what the fresh prince thinks of himself

    • – 1

  10. He would had been a very bad Django but he could do Batman

  11. There is probably a certain amount of truth in his statement, but the fact that it was a provocative role and script seems like more of a factor. Smith makes his money by being accepted across many demographics, so doing something like this would be too risky. I doubt he would do a movie like Training Day either, he is just not that type of actor.

    • Exactly what I was thinking, I like Will Smith but he definitely doesn’t seem like the person to tackle this role, Jamie Foxx was the clear choice for me.

      • I found foxx performance forgetable and overshadowed by everyone else. Not really foxx fault but django never felt like the center of attention more like the right hand man

    • I don’t disagree that Smith doesn’t look like a good fit for the role on paper, but that’s exactly why I love the idea of him doing the movie- it’s exactly the sort of offbeat casting choice that QT excels at.

      As far as Will’s money goes, the movie made a bunch of money globally, so it would have satisfied that criteria.

  12. The reason he didn’t do it is because Taratino sucks. He steals all his ideas from other movies and calls them a “tribute to the genres”. He doesn’t have a creative bone in his body, just a cheap writer who has to rely on his racist comments to get Pepe in the seats

    • @ Charlie +200K I could not have worded it better myself.
      Bravo! Taranturdo sucks major b@llsack!
      I’ve suffered through a few of his movies, and no more!
      he’s a low rent racist crass hack

      • – 1

        • @Paul lol

    • @ Charlie and @ Randominternetgirl

      You wanna call Tarantino a hack, but you have watched how many of his movies by now? yea shut up….Lets see you two make a movie lmao!

    • Oh, get a grip. Tarantino completely has his own style, no matter what genre he takes on. He has since Reservoir Dogs.

      Whether you LIKE his style or not is fine, but not being able to see it within every film he does is simple ignorance.

      I once thought he was a Scorcese rip off back when Dogs and Pulp Fiction came out, but even THOSE have a total uniqueness to them.

      He’s not my favorite director, none of his movies necessarily break my top 5, but he is incredibly talented and I find his humor absolutely hysterical.

      Django was incredible, btw regardless.


      • Got to agree here. Tarantino borrows from a LOT of different directors- Kubrick and Scorsese notably- but his style is his own.

    • Yeah and MiB3 was a good movie, well written. You deserve sucky Hollywood movies.

      • My only problem with quintan tarintino is his lack of growth along with him never challenging himself as a director he stays within his comfort zone.

        • Tarintino’s comfort zone is the zone everybody else is afraid to be in. His movies are not the best, but he got some balls. (Director Spike Lee can go to hell by the way)

    • Glad to see some intelligent comments and people on this site. Will Smith obviously doesn’t like Tarantino films but is too polite to say so, and chose to joke about it instead, but all the vacuous little sheep with their dumbass comments can’t see that!

  13. its a decision he’s going to regret when his next movie with the aweful m. Night shamalan flops critically and hopefully financially too.

    • M Knight’s movies have sort of tapered off lately, and I’m not a huge will smith fan,
      but the 2nd trailer to After Earth is at least a little more interesting than the first.
      I might actually go see it.

      Yes, I’m turned off by the need to crowbar his son into the movie, but I doubt any of us would do any different if we were in the same position.

      let’s see.

      the Kid might end up being a decent actor when all is said & done.

      at least he was smart enough to stay away from that stinking turdy remake of Red Dawn

      • -1

  14. Will Smith is overrated, and why do you guys constantly kiss Hollywood’s ass with every article you write. Defending Will Smith?

    • @Don – I don’t think he’s overrated. He’s exceled in music, television, and all types of movies (comedy, action, drama). He may not entertain or impress you but that doesn’t make him overrated.


      • Will Smith is not overrated because nobody really cares for him. Thats a fact.

  15. Hilarious. He must have gotten himself mixed up with Will Smith 1997.

  16. Jamie is a way better actor, and Django wouldn’t have been half as good as it was if this clown was in it. In fact, the ONLY role I have ever seen this guy in that I thought he did a decent job with was ALI, and big shocker, Jamie was in that too and wiped the floor with him, easily.

    I actually find this extremely hard to believe, but w/e. I’d like to ask Quentin about the truth of this.


    • Yeah no, will smith made ali, and was phenomenal in the persuit of happyness

      • I would say those 2 of the very few movies that show his acting ability…As for most of his movies though…He will always be the Fresh Prince.

  17. I’m sorry but Django Unchained is overrated, will smith yes he has an ego even bigger than himself but Django is a sidekick to schultz, and although waltz is a great actor, the django character is an excuse for waltz to win an Oscar.-

  18. Djesus Uncrossed is a great parody of Django. Watch it here youtube.com/watch?v=u00C5Q1LCYo

  19. or maybe he just couldn’t stand the film because it might remind him of wild wild west. haha

  20. I hate Foxx in Django. You can clearly see that Tarantino didn’t write that character for Foxx. Django is a great movie, but i just can’t see that movie a second time because of Foxx

  21. Mr. Smith offered a plausible explanation that i can absolutely understand and accept. Thankfully, we still live in a world of choices, barely.

  22. That’s a BS answer. He was probably just too scared to tackle a movie with that subject matter… and all that profanity.

    Of course Django was the lead! The movie is called DJANGO Unchained. And IMO he did kill the villain: Stephen. And what about all the guys Django killed in that massacre? That was pretty bad @$$. I think it’s clear there’s more than one “bad guy” in the movie.

    I’m a big Will Smith fan (ever since I was a kid), but I think he made a huge mistake not taking this role. Jamie Foxx did a great job, but I’ll always wonder what it would have been like if Smith was starring instead…

    • Django is a sidekick, he is a character that betters waltz a compliment. The first half of the film is about waltz getting the brittle brothers the second half supppose to be about django getting his wife but that falls backseat to the struggle of the uperhand between candy and shultz and of course steven. Waltz is the lead i firmly believe that

      • Just because you believe that, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily so 😉

        Django had the most screen time, the movie’s called Django Unchained, all the awards Waltz won was for best supporting character and when the writer/director of the film says Django’s the lead (in multiple interviews), I’m inclined to go with what he thinks…

        I agree that during the first part of the film, Django is more of a “sidekick” than the “hero”/lead, but taking into account the overall story, it’s clear to me that Django has the spotlight.

        • Of course my opinion isnt the only one that matters, but i didnt didnt find shultz at all as supporting. He didnt support the film he led it.


          the climax of the film is essentially when shultz sacrifices the saftey of his disposable sidekick django by letting candie push him to far. Django is disposable in the story and for me and many other after that point the movie could have ended. The last 30 minutes was an uneven unecessary reason for 1. Tarintino to be in his own film 2. To clear up the stories that got lost within the film aka his wife. I like the film dont get me wrong but the original screenplay is far supperior

          • I haven’t read the original screenplay yet, but concerning the movie (which I assume is what we’re still talking about?), we’re gonna have to agree to disagree.

            IMO Django wasn’t “disposable” at all. When the winter was over and Django & Schultz went after Hildi, the roles of “hero” and “sidekick” definitely started shifting, even to the point where Django started telling Shultz what to do/giving the orders as they neared Candyland. Finding his wife was DJANGO’S mission, and Schultz killing Candie wasn’t “sacrificing” Django’s safety (he did care about Django), it was simply, as you said, Candie pushing him too far… he couldn’t resist. Maybe he thought Django could take care of himself?

            • Thats fair i guess you could take it as knowing him well enough that he believed he could survive

      • Schultz isn’t the lead. He’s the mentor figure meant to train Django, impart wisdom upon him, and give him the tools he needs to carry out his mission and arise victorious. Yes, Django Unchained is about Dr. Schultz, but it’s about him primarily in his capacity as sage/teacher, rather than hero.

        Ultimately, it’s Django who succeeds in the mythic quest to rescue Broomhilda from the dragon’s lair, so to speak. It’s Django who really grows as a character, while Schultz remains more or less static throughout. I get why people think Schultz is the lead, but nothing about his arc suggests “principal character” the way that Django’s does.

  23. To be honest, Will Smith is a coward, a play it safe corporate paycheque coward too concerned that his fans must always associate him with the ‘Fresh Prince’ persona. He once said he was undecided about ‘I Am Legend 2′ because he didn’t want to be the sequel guy. This was during an interview where he was promoting MIB3. ‘After Earth’ will be dreadful simply because it’ll be Will and Will mk 2 (or should I say ‘Fresh Prince’ and ‘Fresh Prince mk 2′) inserting wacky asides after each scenario. This guy could’ve been Sidney Poitier. Instead, he chooses this.

  24. Simple business decision on his part no matter how much you read into it. He had nothing to gain but would have risked much. No upside, simple as that.

  25. Will Smith is full of himself ! I’m glad he wasn’t in it. I sure as hell won’t be paying to see any of his upcoming movies. He’s a has been who brings the same shouting and screaming to all his roles.

  26. Wow. Ya’ll are harsh!!

    Did everyone like “Django Unchained”? If so, who really gives a flying Frenchman’s donut why the cast wasn’t different? Is anyone still slamming Sly Stallone for passing on the lead of “Beverly Hills Cop”? Or a million other examples?

    Mr. Foxx knocked that role clear out of the park. Will Smith is a great actor, maybe in a slump, but he puts a ton of charisma and energy into every role. He is not evil for passing on a role.

    This is an interesting story, though. I don’t buy it is because he didn’t kill someone. I agree he read the script and thought it wasn’t his style of flick at this stage of his career. But I am not MAD at him. More power to him.

  27. He was probably afraid that he’d screw the movie up. After all look what he did to Wild Wild West.

  28. Ego baby enough said. I’m disappointed. Foxx does nothing for me. Common would have been better or 50 Cent.

    • Common would have been great!! Nice call on that one….

  29. I thought the lead actor playing django should have been Asian.