People "in the business" tend to say, only half-jokingly, that Will Smith's career path is pretty-much set right now: Coast comfortably in blockbuster-territory until "The Barack Obama Story" has an ending, star in Obama biopic, win Academy Award. It's a cynical, borderline-"race-ish" view (i.e. "of course the #1 black star wants to play Obama!")... but let's face it, it's a sort of plausible track for the industry's premiere "business-first" movie star; a guy who's famous for avoiding risky roles (even his biggest disaster, the surreally-awful "Seven Pounds," probably worked on paper.)
But if there's one name in Hollywood who can summon almost any star to lay down their guard for a risky, offbeat part just for the chance to work with them, that name is Quentin Tarantino. And now Variety says QT wants Smith for the lead in his next project, an ultraviolent "Western" (though set in the 19th Century American South) called "Django Unchained."
For those who've not been keeping track, the project ("top-secret" but with the usual widely-leaked handwritten QT script already in circulation) is a "spiritual successor" to the infamous Italian western "Django," with original star Franco Nero supposedly appearing in a wholly different capacity. The lead part of the "new" Django is (reportedly, I've not read the script myself and don't plan to) written for a black actor, and if your mind is putting that together with the 1800s Southern setting... yes, the "Unchained" part of the title (supposedly) means exactly what you think it does: Django is an escaped slave turned bounty-hunter, and the early buzz is already touting that it's a "slavery-revenge" sibling to the "holocaust revenge" setup of "Inglorious Basterds." Holy shit.
This would, without question, be the edgiest role Smith has ever taken - much of his early fame came from much-vaunted "crossover appeal" (a rapper who got play in "white" pop circles when that was still unusual, the star of one of the few post-Cosby black sitcoms that became mainstream hits), and "ex-slave exacting brutal vengeance on white bad guys" is as incendiary and far-removed from that as you can get. Nevermind the visceral backlash that could be provoked from audiences by the sight of a symbol of 21st Century black achievement (which Smith is, in-and-of himself) being the victim of slavery-era lashings both verbal and literal. I mean, good God... a Quentin Tarantino movie about slavery? Somebody check on Spike Lee, make sure he's breathing okay.
Thing is... I can totally see Smith pulling it off. He doesn't get enough credit for it, but he's a terrific "dialogue actor" (watch his interplay with Martin Lawrence in the terribly-scripted "Bad Boys" and observe how much he elevates that material) and would be well-matched with Tarantino's signature rapid-fire joke-serious-joke-dead-serious patter. Executed properly, this could change the trajectory of Smith's career and persona (for the better) overnight.
But do I think he'd do it? I'd be surprised, honestly. The thing of it is, Smith is notorious for demanding rewrites and script-supervision on any project he signs for (he's supposed to be a devotee of the screenwriting book "The Moral Premise," and is said to employ writers to bring scripts in line with it's precepts) and that's just not going to fly on a QT project. I believe he wants him, as Tarantino famously starts out looking at the biggest possible actors (at one point "Basterds" was framed as an "Expendables"-style aging-action-guy team-up movie, with Leonardo DiCaprio offered Hans Landa); and I'm sure the Weinsteins have made the offer - but I'll be BLOWN AWAY if it happens.