Even as fans go orgiastic over the trailer of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, it’s the prospect of watching Leonardo DiCaprio play the villain, Calvin Candie, thereby getting his hands on a much elusive Oscar, that has Aniruddha Guha most excited.
In a May interview with Empire magazine, David S Goyer, who created The Dark Knight Rises in collaboration with brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, revealed that the studio, Warner Bros, was toying with the idea of getting Leonardo DiCaprio to play Batman’s nemesis, Riddler. That remained an idle thought, nothing more. But DiCaprio as a deranged, maniacal villain? Hell, yeah.
Which is why Quentin Tarantino’s casting coup for his next film, Django Unchained, left us feeling chuffed. As if a QT film isn’t an event worth looking forward to in itself, the filmmaker revealed each casting card slowly. Jamie Foxx was cast as the slave, and lead character, Django, and Christoph Waltz as the German bounty hunter who joins Django on his mission to save his wife from the hands of a rich, white plantation owner, Calvin Candie. Taranrinto favourite Samuel L Jackson was cast in a supporting role. Tarantino’s trump card — DiCaprio as Candie.
“You’ve had my curiosity, gentlemen. Now you have my attention,” DiCaprio says in the first look trailer of Django Unchained released last week. Needless to say, the web world went ballistic, with plot details, actors and Tarantino’s continued romance with violence (and an uber cool background score), being much discussed. Personally, I found the promo a tad underwhelming, although Tarantino’s penchant for smart lines comes through (“The name’s Django. The D is silent,” is Foxx’s parting line).
The real takeaway from the promo, really, is what DiCaprio might have in store for us. The actor looks positively wicked, the gleam in his eyes evil yet playful. His Candie seems like a bad guy who doesn’t compromise on style. The first shot of Candie has him look up as you notice a skimpily clad woman performing fellatio on him (his den includes women acting as sex slaves and men fighting death matches).
A complete actor
DiCaprio’s done it all before: lover boy, crook, vagabond, revolutionary. But never a bad guy. Django Unchained gives him that mouth-watering opportunity to play the villain with elan.
If earlier performances are any indication, DiCaprio’s up for the challenge too. Everyone’s favourite pin-up boy after Titanic (1997), DiCaprio did what no other actor would – he never acted in a romantic film again. His very next film, The Man With The Iron Mask (1998), had him play a dual role as the ruthless King Loiuis XIV as well as his twin brother Phillipe, a more compassionate ruler. In 2002, he acted with two of the most influential filmmakers of our times, Steven Spielberg (Catch Me If You Can) and Martin Scorsese (Gangs Of New York).
It was around this time Leo showed us what he was truly capable of — taking on an array of roles, each different from the other, a bouquet of interesting films and collaborating with some very talented directors (his résumé at this point had Sam Raimi [Quick And The Dead], Baz Luhrmann [Romeo & Juliet], James Cameron, Danny Boyle, Spielberg, Scorsese). At 30, he played Howard Hughes in his second consecutive film with Scorsese, The Aviator (2004). Portraying the megalomaniac Hughes over a 27 year period, DiCaprio stunned one and all with a crafty performance.
From then to now, DiCaprio’s record has been impeccable. Whether standing out among an incredible ensemble in The Departed (2006), or being absolutely believable as a South African with an Afrikaner accent in Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond (2006), or even appearing spiteful as the slightly arrogant chauvinist in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road (2008), the actor continues to get better. That Scorsese finds it hard to imagine working with another actor — unless his protagonist is a twelve year old boy — is a testament to his talent (they’ve done four films together, and two more, The Wolf of Wall Street and a Frank Sinatra biopic, are in the pipeline).
An Oscar, though, has eluded DiCaprio for way too long. At 19, he lost one for Best Supporting Actor to Tommy Lee Jones. In 2004, his Django Unchained co-star Jamie Foxx robbed him of a much deserved Best Actor award for The Aviator (doesn’t that make their face-off in Django Unchained so much more of a guilty pleasure?). And in 2006, the year of Blood Diamond, Forest Whitaker beat him to it.
Let, then, this year be Leo’s. On one hand, there’s the cinematic adaptation of The Great Gatsby which sees Leo reunite with Luhrmann. On the other, there’s Django Unchained.
Tarantino’s films haven’t exactly been favourites at the Oscars so far, but the director’s Inglourious Basterds won Waltz a Best Supporting Actor nod for portraying the villainous Hans Landa. Also, even though he hasn’t played a complete baddie before, The Man In The Iron Mask, Revolutionary Road, and to some extent The Departed, show that Leo can be bloody convincing when it comes to playing mean.
Maybe, this year, the bad guy will win. He’s had our curiosity for the longest time. It’s time he got our attention too.