Leonardo DiCaprio has brought many complicated heroes to life on screen but he never played a bad-ass villain. Until now.
In his first film with director Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained,” set two years before the Civil War, he is plantation owner Calvin Candie, who presides over “Candyland” where slaves are forced to fight for sport.
“Quentin has this great tradition of villains in his films and Calvin Candie is one of the most vibrant he’s ever created,” says producer Stacey Sher. “Leonardo didn’t shy away from playing all of the different facets of a truly horrible human being.”
The actor and director had admired each other’s work for years and excitedly put their heads together to build the character.
“They collaborated on different aspects of Calvin to round him out as a character,” Sher says.
While looking for historical sources to help illuminate what might have motivated his character, DiCaprio found a book on phrenology, a racist pseudo-science of the era, and gave it to Tarantino, who incorporated it into the text.
“Their collaboration raised the stakes and made for an exciting atmosphere on set,” Sher says.
One scene in particular stands out.
“Leo had slammed his hand on the table countless times and he moved his hand further and he crushed a crystal cordial glass,” Sher says. “Blood was dripping down his hand. He never broke character. He kept going. He was in such a zone. It was very intense. He required stitches.”
That take is the one used in the final cut. It drew a standing ovation from the cast and the crew
“Not because he cut himself,” Sher says. “Because in that scene he had pages and pages of monologue. His performance was masterful. His level of commitment is extraordinary.”