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SAN DIEGO - It started off a bit slow, but by the time "Django Unchained" had finished its hour-long panel Saturday director Quentin Tarantino and stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington and Don Johnson left the Comic-Con faithful entertained and, quite possibly, educated.
Tarantino's first film since the critically acclaimed and box office smash "Inglorious Basterds," "Django" is the auteur's attempt at a Spaghetti Western set in the mid 1800s. He notes it's about "a slave who becomes a bounty hunter and hunts white men before the Civil War" but it has to be grounded in reality. Just as the revisionist "Basterds" was.
"It can't be more nightmarish than it was in real life," Tarantino says. "It can't be more outrageous than it was in real life. It was f***ed up. It is surrealistic. It is unimaginable to think of the pain and suffering that went on this country. Hence making it perfect for a Spaghetti Western."
Oscar winner Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave selected by Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) to assist him on a mission to take out three nasty slave trailers (for lack of a better word). At some point, they also move on to rescue Django's wife, Broomhilda (Washington) from an evil plantation owner (a missing Leonardo DiCaprio). For the "Ray" star, it wasn't easy trying to find humor (at times) in a film where a majority of the African-American characters are slaves, but Tarantino's deft direction helped.
"We're big boys and big girls. You expect Quentin to blow the walls off it. You expect him to go the extra mile." Foxx says. "When we started shooting it, [that aspect] didn't fall away but you watched Quentin put together a fantastic film. It was like going to an All-Star game."
That's not to say Tarantino wasn't concerned his leading man would be able to find his character. Foxx recalls, "'I'm worried you can't get to that slave.' What he was saying is that you live your life as Jamie Foxx. You live your life as this celebrity. So, the most important thing was letting everything go, because we all have egos. We all have things we do, but throw that out of the door now to get to the work.'"
"I was talking about the movie before the movie," Tarantino adds. "The whole movie that has to be lived before it starts. I took a piece of paper and made a couple of x's and I circled the seventh one. Django is the sixth [x] from the seventh from the left. The whole movie is about him becoming a hero. He has to be anonymous from the start."
Foxx admits he was able to draw on personal experience to find Django.
"Some of the things I went through as a kid and being called nigger as a young kid growing up by grown people it was something I had to deal with coming from the South," Foxx says. "Having that done to me, I was able to grasp what was in the script because I knew it had been done to me. When the project becomes special, it becomes magical at certain points it parallels it's story. "
As for Waltz, Dr. King Schultz not only brings comic relief, but as Tarantino notes he's almost Django's "Yoda" to an extent.
"Dr. King Schultz needs Django," Waltz says. "He needs him to get the story going. I'm not going to tell you the story. Go and see the movie. This is a different relationship than someone picking up a slave and rescuing him. This is a unique and fabulous relationship that is forged in the course of fantastic adventures. We are talking about a Spaghetti Western. I find it sensational that Italian directors import a genre to Italy and then an American erector and takes the new thing and brings it back to America. Talk about the surrealism. It's all happening up there. Dr. King Shultz, the character that I am playing."
Making sure to recognize the fact that most Westerns don't deal with slavery, Tarantino adds, "I didn't do a movie about a slave. I was interested in a slave narrative. I was interested in a movie that took place in the antebellum south. To me, one of the fun things and exciting things about telling the story was to take the Western genre that we know so well and to take that type of Western story and to put a black character in the center of it."
Tarantino then got the crowd excited by revealing they'd be showing not two or three, but eight minutes of footage from the movie. He clarified it was just from the first half of production so it featured very little of Washington or co-star Samuel L. Jackson, but he felt if it could be shown to industry professionals it was suitable for this crowd (cue big applause).
To say the footage went over like gangbusters is an understatement. For a detailed rundown of what it contained, check out HitFix's report from Drew McWeeny at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
One actor who could get a big boost from "Django" is Don Johnson. The former 80's superstar plays Big Daddy, a pleasant plantation owner (if such things were possible).
"I would prefer if you call me Big Daddy…some of us have earned the right," Johnson says in his character's long drawl prompting big laughs from the crowd. "My character is the kinder, gentler and plantation owner. All my slaves tell me that."
"That's what they tell you," Washington deadpans getting a bigger roar.
Here are some other key moments and revelations from today's panel.
Washington on her character's name
"Broomhilda got her name most people of African descent did, by those who owned her. She was owned by a German family. I had to speak German and luxury of having the coolest German language teachers on the planet. To both speak and sing in the film," Washington says. "I tend to gravitate toward things that scare me. I was paralyzed on how to step into the brutal world that Broomhilda had to step into and survive in. Those things kept me connected to the world at times when I wanted to just get under the covers and hide."
Tarantino on Jonah Hill's character
"We just got through sooting his stuff last week. He's in a sequence with Don. They aren't the Klu Klux Klan because that came about after the Civil War, but the predecessors were a group of people called the Regulators. To find them if they escape, keep them from escape. It's a Regulator raid being led against Django and Schultz. It starts off very scary but I think it's one of the funniest things I've written since 'Reservoir Dogs.'"
The "Django" connection to none other than John Shaft
Tarantino makes a point that Washington's chararacter is named Broomhilda Von Shaft. He points out, "Her and Django will eventually have a baby, that baby will have a baby and one of these days - John Shaft will be born. John Shaft started with this man here [Foxx] and this lady [Washington] here." Big roar from the crowd.
A fan gets a major wish
A woman who waited hours in line to meet her idol freaks out after being told she looks damn hot by Tarantino (highly entertaining for the audience). Her question was quite smart though: Where does he get his inspiration for such strong female characters considering how rare they still are in Hollywood? Tarantino says there have been very strong characters in genre films for decades, but they come from Hong Kong, Japan or other countries. Moreover, "I just dig strong chicks. I'm not sure how to write it anyway but that."
On why Broomhilda isn't a typical Tarantino heroine
The filmmaker admits he's heard criticism of Washington's character already, "'I would think that from the man that made 'Kill Bill' [you] would like to see the black heroine kicking ass.' That's not this story. This story to me there is an aspect of Broomhilda is a princess in exile. Leonardo DiCaprio's character is the Evil King…"
Tarantino adds, "She needs the love of her life to come in and burn this motherf***er down.
Cue a roar from the crowd.
Last but not least, Tarantino seems to hedge on the long expected third chapter of "Kill Bill" happening anytime soon. He skittishly notes, "I'm not sure there is going to be a Kill Bill 3. I always said it was going to be one 10 years later. but..."
At least we have "Django."
"Django Unchained" opens nationwide on Dec. 25
Everything: Comic-Con 2013
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