It’s no secret that Will Smith was Quentin Tarantino’s first choice for Django Unchained. The filmmaker’s first foray into Western territory was also poised to be his first time working with the bona fide movie star, making the project that much more enticing. However, Smith ultimately passed and Tarantino moved on to Jamie Foxx, who did a solid job in the role even if the “what could have been” of Smith’s casting still loomed large. At the time, reports swirled that Smith said “no” to the project for fear of harming his squeaky clean image, but that doesn’t necessarily jibe anymore given that he stars in Warner Bros. villain-centric Suicide Squad. And previously Smith explained away his decision as having to do with Christoph Waltz‘s character being the film’s true lead, not Django. But now Smith seems to have finally gotten down the real reason he turned down he chance to work with Quentin Tarantino?
In an actor’s roundtable interview with THR for the impending Oscar season, where he was promoting his turn in the NFL drama Concussion, Smith spoke rather candidly about his decision regarding Django Unchained:
“It was about the creative direction of the story. To me, it’s as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect. And it was just that Quentin and I couldn’t see [eye to eye].”
What, specifically, could they not see eye to eye on? The central thrust of the narrative:
“I wanted to make that movie so badly, but I felt the only way was, it had to be a love story, not a vengeance story,” Smith said. The actor was cautious of the film’s violence. Smith said the only way he would have agreed to make the movie was if Django Unchained centered on a love story, “not a vengeance story.”
Smith continued by pointing to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris as an example:
“We can’t look at what happens in Paris and want to f— somebody up for that. Violence begets violence. I just couldn’t connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer.”
That’s totally fair. Tarantino was keen on making a visceral revenge story that tackled America’s history with slavery head on, while Smith was more interested in the notion of love conquering all. Indeed, the love story in Django Unchained was the emotional drive of the film, fueling Django’s journey, but this being a Tarantino picture and all, it also needed to end in an insanely bloody shootout. Neither Tarantino’s take on the story nor Smith’s is wrong, they just didn’t line up, and in the end it’s much better to have a lead actor who believes wholeheartedly in the film rather than one who has reservations.
Tarantino came close to working with Leonardo DiCaprio on Inglourious Basterds before they finally made Django Unchained, so here’s hoping a team-up between Tarantino and Smith is still in the cards somewhere down the line.