It’s common knowledge that Quentin Tarantino offered Will Smith the titular role in Django Unchained, the ultraviolent 2012 Western which grossed $425 million worldwide. Instead, Smith starred in 2012’s Men in Black 3, which grossed $200 million more and was coincidentally 200x dumber. In an awards-season roundtable conversation with the Hollywood Reporter, Smith explains why he opted out of the role:
…It’s as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect. And it was just that Quentin [Tarantino] and I couldn’t see [eye to eye]. I wanted to make the greatest love story that African-Americans had ever seen … We talked, we met, we sat for hours and hours about it. I wanted to make that movie so badly, but I felt the only way was, it had to be a love story, not a vengeance story. I don’t believe in violence as the reaction to violence … I just couldn’t connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer.
This is the second time Will Smith has talked about his decision to pass on Django. The first time was back in March 2013, when Smith told EW’s Adam Markovitz a slightly different tale. “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead,” said Smith then. “I was like, ‘No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!”
In deference to Smith, that first explanation actually made a bit of sense: Django Unchained wound up being another showcase for the comedy stylings of Christoph Waltz, who won his second Oscar for playing the nicer version of his Inglourious Basterds character (albeit in the Supporting category). But it’s fair to say that “killing the bad guy” counts as an example of violence being the answer, and as a corollary, love not being the answer.
Regardless, it’s worth reading the rest of the Hollywood Reporter piece, which also includes a throwaway line by Samuel L. Jackson asserting that Will Smith doing Django would have balanced out Will Smith doing Wild Wild West.