Ah, just looking at the above promotional shot of Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Django Unchained reminds me how far the baby-faced heartthrob has come from shouting “I’m the king of the world” on the bow of the Titanic. Trusty Leo has become one of the more exciting actors to watch evolve, and I’m particularly excited for his new role as villain Calvin Candie in Tarantino’s next because it is a completely different character for him. Taking a risk as an actor is something that far too few take advantage of these days, yet it seems that it could be the best possible career move for many.
Last year, when early casting talks were beginning, the internet was alive with buzz that Will Smith was actually being considered for the lead role of Django. My mind immediately ran with the possibilities. Mr. Nice Guy in a Quentin Tarantino film? Brilliant! Not only has he proven himself as an actor in some of his more serious roles (for which he’s been nominated for 2 Oscars), it would finally be an opportunity for him to play against type.
And then…he apparently turned it down. While the film geek in me wallowed that no one else would be as good in the role (and no, I haven’t even read the script for the film), I remembered that Will Smith is a smart guy. He knows what audiences pay to see, and he knows that playing the hero or nice guy has suited him fairly well in the past. Why make a risky venture for a filmmaker known to be, well, a little out there (He changed history and killed Hitler in Inglourious Basterds! What?!).
Plenty of people are going to shell out money to see him reprise his role in Men in Black III, and while I’m sure Jamie Foxx is going to do well in the role, I thank god that Tarantino roped in DiCaprio for a villainous agenda.
Playing against type has proved fruitful for many an actor. Hilary Swank, then a relative unknown, famously won an Oscar in 1999 for her portrayal of a transgendered man in Boys Don’t Cry. Not too many years later, Charlize Theron ditched the blonde bombshell look to play a serial killer and won her Oscar for Monster in 2004.
While it can backfire (who in the world gave John Travolta the okay to play a space alien in Battlefield Earth? Too far…), I think in general that if chosen wisely, a change of pace can only benefit an actor, especially when they’ve been stuck in a rut. I may be jumping the gun here, but come Oscar season next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Leo finally gets that Oscar gold he’s been digging for.