With the latest addition of Kerry Washington, the already impressive cast of Quentin Tarantino’s next movie, “Django Unchained,” just got a little more impressive. Throw in his other recent hire — Don Johnson — and it’s clear that the auteur is up to his usual quirky casting tricks. Tarantino has always been known for his, ah, interesting choices with his ensemble casts, pulling from both mainstream Hollywood actors and the dustiest corners of pop culture, and resurrecting the careers of fallen stars.
“Django Unchained” is no exception, but how does it stack up with the rest of Tarantino’s oeuvre? It’s got some tough competition from what have become iconic ensembles, so let’s take a look at where the new cast stands in comparison.
Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney
The Rundown: The color-coded cast set the tone for the rest of Tarantino’s movies. Rounded out by mostly indie players and b-actors from film eras gone by, the mix gave the bloody debut a unique flavor and features several actors who would go on to become Tarantino regulars like Keitel, Madsen, Roth and Buscemi.
Versus “Django Unchained”: Tarantino’s “southern” definitely beats “Reservoir Dogs” on star power. No one even close to the level of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx, but the low budget charm and indie cred of the original Tarantino ensemble holds strong even against the big-budget awesomeness of “Django.”
John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames
The Rundown: “Pulp Fiction” started the Tarantino tradition of bringing an actor back from obscurity in the case of John Travolta, and made stars out of the rest of the cast. Another enormous contribution Tarantino made with this movie was giving the world the Samuel L. Jackson it knows and loves, and starting a working relationship that would continue through every subsequent release, minus “Death Proof.”
Versus “Django Unchained”: The tradition that began with Travolta continues here in a number of ways. Jamie Foxx could definitely benefit from a rep boost, as could Kurt Russell, but Tarantino reaches back even further by casting Don Johnson and Dennis Christopher from “Breaking Away.” Samuel L. Jackson returns in the biggest Tarantino role since his turn in “Jackie Brown,” his fifth collaboration with the director, hopefully signaling what to expect from the future career of Christoph Waltz.
Pam Grier, Robert DeNiro, Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Chris Tucker
The Rundown: Always the under-appreciated Tarantino film, “Jackie Brown” boasts the return of Pam Grier to her old “Foxy Brown” ways, the director’s teaming with Robert DeNiro and another classic Samuel L. Jackson role as Ordell.
Versus “Django Unchained”: When the search for Django was at its height, many rumors threw Chris Tucker’s name into the mix as a contender for the role that ultimately went to Foxx. Tarantino has always been one to cast comedic actors in dramatic roles, and Tucker’s role here is another example of that. But again, “Django” gets the nod for more star power and overall more exciting choices.
“Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and 2”
Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah
The Rundown: The big story here was another attempt at a career revival. David Carradine as the titular Bill showed the world that the “Kung Fu” star still held onto every bit of cool from his old days as Caine. Tarantino also drew from the movies he loved as a child with the casting of Sonny Chiba.
Versus “Django Unchained”: “Kill Bill”’s biggest connection to the newest movie is that it’s Tarantino’s first western that isn’t a western. The cast in the two-parter has arguably the most recognizable faces too, and revivals “Django” in that regard, so we’ll have to see when “Django” hits theaters next Christmas whether it can compete with the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.
Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
The Rundown: For his half of “Grindhouse,” Tarantino made the interesting choice of casting stunt badass Zoe Bell as herself and making his first attempt at a well-deserved comeback for Kurt Russell.
Versus “Django Unchained”: Tarantino decided to go with a much lesser-known cast than he had worked with previously. With the exception of Russell, Dawson and Rose McGowan, most of the cast were strangers to a wider-audience. Compared to “Django”’s cast of recognizable stars and Tarantino regulars, “Death Proof”’s ensemble is much more low key. Anyone familiar with Russell’s body of work should have their fingers crossed, hoping that the comeback sticks better this time around with “Django.”
Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger
The Rundown: In the years to come, movie goers will look back at “Inglourious Basterds” and thank it for launching some great careers for a few European actors. “Basterds” marked most US audiences’ introductions to Waltz, who won the Oscar, Fassbender and Laurent, who all have already crossed over or started to in big ways.
Versus “Django Unchained”: With the exception of Pitt, “Basterds” was mostly about the until-then unknown European actors. “Django” falls closer into the tradition of rehabbing the images of older actors, but in the case of DiCaprio and Pitt, both films mark the first collaboration of Tarantino and a major star.
Which cast you do think is the best? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter.