John Jarratt (left) with Michael Parks in Django Unchained.
Quentin Tarantino's western Django Unchained has quickly become the director's highest-ever grossing film at the US box office despite a wave of controversy centred on its depiction of slavery and violence. Actor John Jarratt, who appears briefly in the film as an Australian slave trader, knew early on.
“I read it and I knew it was fantastic," says the actor, who is currently filming Wolf Creek 2 in South Australia. "I knew this was going to be as big, if not bigger than Pulp Fiction. He’s really nailed it."
The film has grossed $US129.1 million after three weeks, slightly ahead of Nazi film Inglourious Basterds' $US120.54m total (however Pulp Fiction would still be number one if adjusted for inflation).
Django Unchained, which follows bounty hunter Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and former slave Django (Jamie Foxx) as they attempt to rescue Django's wife, has reportedly attracted a large African-American audience despite criticism from director Spike Lee. A furore even erupted about the film's heavy use of the 'N' word: film critic Jake Hamilton tried to ask Django actor Samuel L. Jackson about the issue but couldn't bring himself to say the word itself when challenged by Jackson.
Jarratt has no such qualms.
“That’s the ridiculousness about the ‘N’ word because he’s been insensitive before – Quentin – he did Inglourious Basterds and used the other 'N' word – he had the temerity to call Germans 'Nazis' in a World War II film. Of course he’s going to call 'niggers' – that’s what they were called you know… it’s just PC [political correctness] beyond its own limits.”
Tarantino recently cut off Channel 4 Evening News host Krishnan Guru-Murthy when prodded on the issue of on-screen violence. Jarratt is similarly non-plussed.
“To me you get on a roller-coaster in Disneyland because you get to fall off a cliff – you get to drive off a cliff and hit the bottom without crashing but does that mean that all those people who drive off cliffs and crash and commit suicide – is Disneyland going to get sued for that because they encouraged it? That’s kind of what it is – to me it’s ridiculous.”
The director is a noted fan of Australia's own style of genre pics – in particular, the 'Ozploitation' films of the 80s made during the 10BA funding heyday. He's also a fan of Jarratt – a 40-year veteran of the Australian film and television industry who has appeared in such diverse fare as the first Wolf Creek film (playing serial killer Mick Taylor) and as a host on TV series Better Homes and Gardens. Jarratt's role in Django is short but amusing – as a slaver for the The LeQuint Dickey Mining Co – which also features an 'explosive' Tarantino in a light-hearted comic moment.
“I thought he did really well – if Meryl [Streep] can’t do an Australian accent no-one can. ‘Dingo’s got my baby!’. It’s the toughest accent in the world to do right."