'Django Unchained' Decoded: Tarantino, DiCaprio, Foxx Say Film's Gory Plot Was 'Tough'

Director, actors said they struggled with whipping scenes, n-word use.

ByABC News
January 7, 2013, 5:30 PM

Jan. 8, 2013— -- "Django Unchained" director Quentin Tarantino and its stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx opened up about how difficult it was to work through the slavery film's dialogue and violent scenes in an exclusive interview with "Nightline."

"This was one of the most narcissistic, self-indulgent, racist, most despicable characters I've ever read in my entire life," DiCaprio told "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden.

"Django Unchained," which opened in theaters nationwide on Christmas Day, is a controversial film that defies classification. It is an epic revenge fantasy, romance and western. It is also surprisingly funny, a shock given the topic: slavery in the pre-Civil War American South, where slaves are shown being whipped and the n-word is used liberally.

"I don't think anybody is actually going out there saying that we used the word more excessively than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi," Tarantino said. "And if that's not the case, then they can shut up."

"A black person I was talking to says, 'Well, the n-word bothered me.' I said, 'It's supposed to,'" Foxx said. "Movies about the Holocaust happen every two or three or four years. When you think about slavery, we don't have any. This gives us an opportunity to open up the dialogue about that."

Foxx plays the title character Django, a freed slave on a blood-soaked mission to free his wife, Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington. Foxx grew up in Texas and the horse he rides in the film belongs to him in real life.

"He was my cowboy," Tarantino said. "I'm not looking for a hip hop star. I'm looking for my cowboy and my cowboy came walking in."

WATCH: 'Django Unchained,' Movie Trailer

The cowboy part felt natural, but to really inhabit the slave role, Tarantino told Foxx he would have to leave everything he had worked so hard for behind, meaning his identity as a Grammy-winning musician and the Oscar-winning star of "Ray," the 2004 biopic about the legendary Ray Charles.

"[Tarantino] looked at me and he says, 'But you got to be a slave,' and I went, 'What is that about?'" Foxx said. "And as I looked at my Louis bag and I looked at my Range Rover key, and he says, 'If you don't leave that outside, we're never going be able to tell a story. You have to be a person who can't read. You have to be a person who is trying to learn and follow his way,' which was tough for me because I've worked all my life to get to where I am as Jamie Foxx, and now he says, 'You're not there,' and so that's the other thing that you welcome. You welcome the challenge of Quentin Tarantino saying, 'If you do it the right way it'll be an iconic film.'"

"Django Unchained" is fast on its way to becoming one, with five Golden Globe nominations already and Oscar buzz swirling around all three men.

DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, a slave owner and vicious racist who uses the n-word constantly. He said the first day reading lines on set with Foxx was "incredibly difficult" as he tried to say the n-word. Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the house slave Stephen in "Django Unchained," stepped in to support their fellow actor.