Leonardo DiCaprio Was Really Bleeding in This Iconic Movie Scene
The gruesome accident made it into the final cut.
It's not unusual to hear about actors' improvisations or mistakes that end up in movies and TV shows, but it's rare that an actual injury makes it into the final cut. That's exactly what happened on the set of Quentin Tarantino's 2012 movie Django Unchained. The Western drama is about a former slave named Django (Jamie Foxx), who accompanies a bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz on a mission two years before the Civil War. The film also stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Over the years, those involved in Django Unchained have shared many anecdotes about what it was like filming the audacious and controversial movie, but one of the wildest has to be about DiCaprio cutting himself during a monologue and not skipping a beat. It was all worth it when that take was the one chosen for the film. Read on to learn more.
Tarantino changed the character to fit DiCaprio.
In the Oscar-winning movie, DiCaprio plays Calvin J. Candie, a sadistic plantation owner who has Django's wife, Broomhilda (Washington) on his property. Tarantino told The Hollywood Reporter that he initially conceived of Calvin as a "a little bit older, a real cotton man." But as soon as the filmmaker heard that the Titanic actor was interested in the script, his idea of the character changed.
"All of a sudden I thought about a bored, petulant boy emperor: Caligula, Louis XIV. Where his daddy's daddy's daddy was the cotton man," Tarantino explained. "He's the idle, decadent rich." Those traits are characterized by the hissy fits and temper tantrums Calvin throws, including the one in the scene that left DiCaprio literally scarred.
He delivers an epic monologue.
One of the most memorable scenes in the movie occurs when Calvin goes on a tirade aimed at Django and Dr. Schultz (Waltz) for playing him. The intense rant has its roots in history; according to THR, it was inspired by a real book from the Civil War period that Jackson had in his collection. (As The Guardian notes, "phrenology"—a thoroughly debunked "science" that determined mental and emotional characteristics based on the shape of a person's skull—"was used to justify slavery.") Jackson told THR that they had to shoot the scene over and over again, and that DiCaprio even lost his voice at one point. But it was the sixth take that really did the actor in.
"Leo slammed his hand on the table and hit a glass," the Pulp Fiction star recalled. Stacey Sher, a co-producer on the movie, added that the glass "disintegrated into his hand, and he never flinched."
They kept right on filming.
"My hand started really pouring blood all over the table," DiCaprio told the outlet. "Maybe they thought it was done with special effects. I wanted to keep going. It was more interesting to watch Quentin's and Jamie's reaction off-camera than to look at my hand." He added that after Tarantino finally called "cut," everyone in the room "erupted in a standing ovation."
In the name of continuity, Calvin's hand was "bloodied and bandaged" for the rest of the movie, the actor said. This gave the director the ability to use the take with DiCaprio's injury, which he ended up doing.
"I'm glad Quentin kept it in," the actor said.
Speaking to Vibe magazine in 2012 (via Yahoo! Entertainment), DiCaprio said that he was concerned at first about how extreme Django Unchained is in its depiction of the violence of slavery and racism, but that playing such an evil character gave him freedom as an actor. "Playing a bad guy opens you up to not having as many rules or restraints," the star said. "It takes you to the darkest place of where you are as a person and lets you indulge in that." That may explain, in part, how the Academy Award-winner was able to keep going with his performance after slicing his hand mid-take.
Django Unchained was a huge hit.
Tarantino's eighth film was a critical and financial success. As reported by Parade, Django Unchained is the director's highest-grossing movie yet, bringing in over $425 million in worldwide box office receipts. It was also nominated for five Oscars in 2013, winning two: a Best Original Screenplay trophy for Tarantino and a Best Supporting Actor award for Waltz.
Despite putting literal blood into the production, DiCaprio didn't even get a nod. But he would win Best Actor a few years later for his performance in the 2015 survival epic, The Revenant.