You’d think actors would be moving heaven and earth to co-star in a Quentin Tarantino film. Each new Tarantino release becomes an event, and the director has worked with some of the industry’s biggest stars, from Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis to Mr. Avengers himself, Samuel L. Jackson.
But as Tarantino continues to work on his upcoming Django Unchained, announced cast members are exiting like rats leaping from the Titanic.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Kurt Russell were the latest names to reveal that they were leaving Unchained. Cohen appeared on Howard Stern’s XM-Sirius radio program and said that his press commitments on behalf of The Dictator (in theaters on May 16) will prevent him from making a cameo appearance in the planned film, which currently is shooting in Louisiana.
Russell’s exit was a little more controversial. Keep in mind that the legendary tough-guy actor played the lead role in Tarantino’s Death Proof, and was supposed to play vicious slave trainer Ace Woody in this new film. These two have history, yet Russell still walked away. There’s a theory floating around online as to why, but it’s from the IMDb forums, so we’re taking it with a million grains of salt and prefer to hear from either Tarantino or Russell why the two have parted ways on this project.
The thing is, this has been happening since Tarantino announced production on Unchained. Originally, Will Smith reportedly was circling the lead role of a freed-slave-turned-bounty-hunter (which eventually went to Jamie Foxx). Then Kevin Costner signed on for the Ace Woody role before it went to Russell – who, of course, is now gone. Later, as production was getting underway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt dropped out of Tarantino’s cast to pursue his own directorial debut. The actor says it was an amicable split, but as more actors leave, I’m starting to wonder if I believe it.
Why the mass exodus? We might never know. Films lose cast members all of the time, but rarely do this many actors drop out of a movie that’s already in production and racing to meet a pre-announced Dec. 25, 2012 release date. Could the film’s controversial subject matter – slavery – be a bone of contention with some of the cast? Foxx, in an interview with EW, says Tarantino’s script found a “mind-blowing” way to address slavery on screen, but admits to the magazine that it’s going to be controversial. Perhaps too controversial for some members of the cast?
Not that Tarantino really has to worry. He still has Oscar talent in Foxx and Christoph Waltz, and one of the brightest marquee names in the business in Leonardo DiCaprio. So long as those three go along for the ride, Django Unchained should be in good hands. (No sooner was Russell’s absence announced than Tarantino’s camp revealed that the character of Ace Woody was going to be absorbed into Walton Goggins’ character of Billy Crash. Problem solved.)
But the proverbial warning level surrounding Unchained has been elevated from “green” (low risk) to “blue” (general risk). Something is prompting these talents to walk away from Tarantino’s anticipated film. It might be the script, or the envelope-pushing director’s handling of the sensitive subject matter. We’ll see when Django Unchained opens in theaters on Dec. 25.