The pieces are falling into place for Quentin Tarantino‘s new ‘Southern,’ Django Unchained. The Weinstein Company will have North American rights, and now Sony will co-finance the production and handle international distribution in 2012. The key fact of Sony’s participation reportedly is the fact that Will Smith has his home at the studio. Quentin Tarantino really wants Will Smith to play Django, the slave who is freed by a German bounty hunter who needs Django to ID three slaver brothers. But is he actually going to take the role?

We know that Christoph Waltz is likely to be German bounty hunter and Django’s initial liberator Dr. King Schultz. (He more or less has to be — the role was very obviously written for him.) Samuel L. Jackson is reportedly in talks to be Stephen, the chief household slave and unlikely confidant of the film’s big villain, Monsieur Calvin Candie. No word yet on who’ll play Candie; if Powers Boothe hadn’t already been a megalomaniac saloon owner in Deadwood he’d be ideal, but this character would cut a little close to that one. Still, think along those lines.  And while Sam Jackson is pretty much who you’d figure QT’s go-to guy for Stephen would be, I’d almost rather see John Witherspoon, in part because this character reminded me so much of a slightly younger Granddad from The Boondocks.

Back to the lead: the role would be a massive change for Will Smith. This is going to be a very down and dirty revenge movie, although there are triumphant beats and a climax that will be a killer if Quentin Tarantino shoots it right. But the Django character is also very much a product of the slave-owning South (people who recoil at the very mention of the word ‘nigger’ are going to find this one extremely difficult) and, possibly most important, there are many character beats for which the actor playing Django will have to rely on Quentin Tarantino to provide with image and music. If Will Smith doesn’t feel like he can trust Tarantino here, it’ll never happen.

And then there is the question of whether Will Smith is really suited for the role. Reading it with him in mind I kept running into dissonant moments — not only would this be a change of pace for the actor in terms of the type of material he plays, but also in the way he has to play it. Will Smith’s blockbuster tricks have to go out the window. The Playlist suggested The Wire‘s Michael K. Williams, and, yes, he is just as perfect for it as he is unlikely. There are a lot of actors who would work, but QT is evidently thinking very big here. Indeed, Django Unchained could reinvent Will Smith, but given that the actor is making Men in Black III right now, you’ve got to wonder if that’s something that interests him at all. [Deadline]

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