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.

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