Any actor will tell you: It’s good to be bad. Playing bad is a hoot, and many actors, like Gary Oldman, built their career on portraying crazy-eyed villains capable of the most vile deeds. Superstar actors, on the other hand, can become handcuffed – if only temporarily – by a certain level of fame after audiences demand a certain heroic or darling character each and every time. Ask Will Smith or Julia Roberts or Clint Eastwood. So it’s admirable and refreshing to hear from Deadline that Leonardo DiCaprio is reportedly in talks to play the villain in Quentin Tarantino’s next film, Django Unchained, the story of an escaped American slave who seeks vengeance on his cruel master. (Both DiCaprio and Tarantino’s reps have yet to respond to EW’s request for comment.)
DiCaprio has flirted with the dark side before. In fact, Tarantino once considered him for the deliciously nefarious Nazi role in Inglourious Basterds eventually played by Christoph Waltz. Many of DiCaprio’s characters, like Catch Me If You Can’s Frank Abagnale and Revolutionary Road’s Frank Wheeler, are deeply flawed men, but he’s never played pure evil like Django’s Calvin Candie, who reportedly runs his plantation like some antebellum Southern Thunderdome, with sexual slavery and sporting fights to the death.
There are simply only so many times an actor can save the world, knock out the champ, or win the girl before he or she gets trapped in a box. Breaking bad might be new to DiCaprio, but he wouldn’t be the first superstar to challenge his fans by tackling a loathsome character. (And I’m not talking about anti-heroes, like Michael Corleone or Travis Bickle. I’m talking about despicable miscreants.) Denzel Washington won an Oscar playing a crooked cop in Training Day. Harrison Ford’s murderous adulterer in What Lies Beneath was mostly frightening because it was our hero, Han Solo and Indiana Jones, doing the strangling. Ditto for Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. His cold-blooded Frank isn’t nearly as scary if he’s played by the more conventionally-badass Jack Palance.
So I hope that DiCaprio is lured down the path of darkness – at least this once. Anyone who’s seen those wolfish eyes in Blood Diamond or his edgy genius in The Aviator knows that the potential for cruelty is there, and it’s all the more effective coming from boyish Jack Dawson, the king of the world.
Are you eager to see DiCaprio wear a black hat? What’s your favorite example of an established hero playing the heel?