While at Comic-Con for a presentation in Hall H, actress Kerry Washington spoke to the press about her role in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino Western, Django Unchained, about a slave-turned-bounty hunter who’s out to save his wife. During the interview, she talked about what it was like to play Jamie Foxx’s wife again, how Broomhilda is a unique character because her strength comes from a very different place, the type of costumes she had to wear, why actors want to work with director Quentin Tarantino, having to learn to speak and sing in German for the role, and how she will start shooting the second season of her ABC drama series Scandal soon. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
KERRY WASHINGTON: Somebody said, “He wasn’t a very good husband in Ray. He slept around a lot. He was doing a lot of drugs. Does he redeem himself in this film?” And I was like, “Yeah!” He goes into the depths of hell to rescue his wife. He goes to the ends of the world. He totally gets a do-over, in this movie. He’s a much better husband. Also, there was a strange, wonderful irony for me with the film being about two people being reunited, as husband and wife, and Jamie and I are being reunited cinematically, as husband and wife.
Why do you guys get along so well, on set?
WASHINGTON: I don’t know. Jamie is hard to not get along with. Jamie is a very easy person to get along with. He’s incredibly inspiring, as an actor, and in this film, more than ever before. He’s just a nice guy.
What is it about Quentin Tarantino that makes everybody want to work with him?
WASHINGTON: I think it’s the same thing about Quentin Tarantino that Hall H was full of screaming fans who adore his work. He has a truly unique vision, and he’s one of our auteurs. He’s a visionary, and a prolific visionary, who continues to produce distinctive work that really has its own voice.
What kind of cool Western costumes did you get to wear in the film?
WASHINGTON: I wouldn’t necessarily call my costumes Western. They are of the pre-Civil War time period, but I don’t know that they’re really Western. There is a section of the film that is very much Western, but the film is a spaghetti Western placed in the context of the antebellum South. My clothes are more pre-Civil War southern. The corsets were ridiculous. I was like, “No wonder it took women so long to get the vote!” You can’t eat, you can’t breathe, you can’t think.” They’re very, very restrictive. They help you sit up straight, but they’re intense.
One of the trademarks of a Quentin Tarantino movie is that they feature strong female leads. How do you bring that same strength to a character who is kidnapped and tied up, and in a situation that is not as easy?
WASHINGTON: Broomhilda is very unique because it’s a different kind of strength. It’s more of an emotional, spiritual, psychological strength. People often say, “How come she doesn’t kick ass, like a lot of the other Tarantino women?” For me, one of the things that I really loved about this character is that she exists in a time when, historically, black women were, out of necessity, independently strong. The breakdown of the black community, in order to maintain slavery, began with the breakdown of the black family. Men and women were not legally allowed to get married because you couldn’t have that kind of love. It might get in the way of the economics of slavery. Your children could be taken from you and literally sold down the river. That’s where we get the expression, “Sell you down the river,” from. I love that this film is about two people who, even though they exist in a time in our Constitution where they’re only 3/5 of a human being, they so believe in their own humanity and so believe in the love that they share and their illegal marriage, that they risk life to find each other. The fact that he travels across the country and goes into the depths of hell to save this woman, in this time period, was so triumphant. And the fact that Broomhilda gets to be the princess in the tower that is rescued by her man, in a way that reclaims black marriage and black love, to me, is a different kind of strength. I felt like the black woman, as the princess in the tower who is rescued, is an archetype we haven’t been able to enjoy. So, that was something I really appreciated about her. It’s a different kind of strength.
As an actor, how unique is your performance when it’s wrapped around Quentin Tarantino dialogue?
WASHINGTON: It’s different. Every writer really inspires different work. For me, one of the most enjoyable things about playing this character was that she speaks German, at times. She also speaks English, but I had a whole scene with Christoph [Waltz] in German, and I sing in German, in the film. That was really fun, for me. To have the opportunity to learn another language was great. Also, to do it with Christoph, who’s one of the coolest, most amazing actors out there who works in the German language, was great.
How was that to pick up?
WASHINGTON: It was hard. I speak Spanish, and I’m much more familiar with romance languages. I have recordings of my initial lessons. I’d say a word and they’d be like, “No, it’s this,” and I’d be like, “There’s no difference!” They have seven versions of one vowel. I was like, “What are you talking about?!”
What kind of song did you have to sing?
WASHINGTON: It’s a lullaby. There was a portion, in the original script, where my character whistles. I actually don’t know how to whistle, which, of course, I did not mention to Quentin until after I got the part, lest it get in the way of my casting. So, after I was offered the role, I told him and he was like, “Oh, we’ll figure it out. We’ll do it in post.” But, I’m a singer, so it’s always really helped me to learn a language by singing in another language, just because it teaches you about the articulation and the placement of vowels, and all of that. So, I asked one of my German teachers, who’s a student at Columbia, for us to learn some music. I said, “Just for fun, let’s pick some songs that are appropriate to the period.” So, one of the songs that I learned was a song from the early 1800’s. It’s an old German poem that is a lullaby. When I sang it in rehearsal, Christoph was like, “You have to sing that in the movie! That’s one of the most beautiful songs ever written in German.” I was like, “Well, Quentin, since I can’t whistle . . .” So, we ended up using it.
Since the Western is one of the oldest genres in cinema, and it means so many things to so many people, what do Westerns mean to you?
WASHINGTON: My dad really loves Westerns. I never really had a personal attachment to Westerns.
Has that changed now, after doing this film?
Quentin Tarantino is known for helping give a sense of influences of each of his films by giving his actors movies to watch beforehand. What helped you the most?
WASHINGTON: I watched some Marlene Dietrich films from the ‘30s, that were more about the social stratifications of slavery. That was helpful. But, to be honest with you, every second that you’re with him on set is like being in film school. He references television shows, movies and music, all the time. He’s an encyclopedia with television, music, theater and movies. It’s crazy!
Which of your work were you surprised that he knew about?
WASHINGTON: You know what I was surprised about? I have this television show Scandal, that’s coming back for a second season, which I’m really grateful for, and I learned that Tarantino is a Shondaland fan. He started quoting Grey’s Anatomy to me. I was like, “What is going on?!” I actually emailed Shonda [Rhimes] and was like, “Quentin loves Grey’s!” I was actually the very last cast member to find out that Scandal was getting a second season because Quentin does not allow phones on set. It keeps everyone focused and it’s not distracting. So, it was all over the internet and everyone was buzzing that we had a second season, and I was doing my movie. All of a sudden, the producers came to me and said, “You might want to go to your trailer.” Everybody had been watching the show ‘cause it was on while we were shooting, so everybody applauded. It was very exciting! It was really sweet.
When do you start shooting again?
Is there anything you can say about the new season?
WASHINGTON: No! But, I will say that it’s been quite an interesting time for me, as an actor. To play these two black women, on opposite ends of history and on opposite ends of the spectrum, politically, educationally and socio-economically, they couldn’t come from more different worlds, but it’s amazing. That’s been a huge challenge, but also a gift.
What TV show are you currently obsessed with?
WASHINGTON: Game of Thrones. They actually call me Khaleesi on set, at Scandal. It’s just so great. The writing is so great, and I love the politics of power.
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