Exclusive Interview: Sammi Rotibi Talks Django Unchained, His Preparation, The Mood On Set, and More
Sammi Rotibi, star of indie film LUV, will soon be seen on screen as Rodney, one of the Candyland slaves in the film Django Unchained. The film, starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, tells the story of a slave who aims to save his wife and defeat the evil slavemaster Calvin Candie. Film Equals was happy to be able to speak to Rotibi about his role and the mood on set. Django Unchained will be in theaters Christmas day.
How would you describe your character Rodney?
Sammi Rotibi: Rodney is kind of a bit of a rebellious slave. He feels like Django [Jamie Foxx] feels like he’s better than the rest of the slaves and we don’t really know what his agenda is. Me [Rodney] and two other slaves that were with me were the three slaves that didn’t get sold and were brought back to Candyland, which is Leo’s [Leonardo DiCaprio] ranch. Leo is the slave owner [Calvin Candie]. He deals in slave trade, and he also uses slaves to fight for entertainment. So, I just felt like Jamie’s character—I [as Rodney] didn’t like him, but in the end, I kind of understood what he was doing.
How did you prepare for this role?
Sammi Rotibi: …[W]hen I read the script, it was an intense script,it was an amazing script but it was also a troubling script because I’ve never seen someone call somebody a [n—–] in my life, you know what I mean? But I understood the story and what it was trying to do and make us not forget what had happened but try to do it in a humorous way. Basically, my preparation—when I met with Quentin [Tarantino], he asked me, “It’s going to be intense. Are you going to be okay with the whole thing?” And I go, “Yeah,” and he goes, “We’re going to be shooting on an actual plantation,” which really helped me out. We’re actually where slavery took place in New Orleans. It’s amazing.
As an actor, it just takes you there because you’re not trying to make something up. You can feel the energy, going to that place and looking at the displays on the plantation where slaves wrote letters or inscribed stuff on the walls. Actual slaves. And I swear to you, I don’t care who you are, that will move you. I mean you just get blown away. This was at Oak Alley, a place where we shot at, outside of New Orleans. That in itself will put you right there because it’s the real thing. It’s not like a studio and you got to get yourself there. But being there on that plantation, on that ground, that just takes you there.
Where I am right now, in Birmingham Alabama, there’s a plantation. It’s a museum now, and you can go to and walk through and it’s really eerie to walk through, so I understand completely.
Sammi Rotibi: Yeah, and I would say it was a blessing for me to just be there and see and to be a part of this movie. You always have to find the positive. I always find the positive in things and just being a part of this movie and being a part of this journey was just amazing. To be working with a director like Quentin Tarantino, who is always pushing the boundaries. It’s a troublesome project but he really finds a way to bring humor to it and still send a message.
Jamie [Foxx] was amazing. Working with Jamie, I can just tell his dedication. Leo [DiCaprio] was just amazing. Mr. [Samuel L.] Jackson—Oh my God. There are days when actors are off; on my day off, I would still go on set to watch Sam Jackson perform. The man is just a genius. He’s a god. And watching Leo giving his all, when you work with Quentin Tarantino, it’s a given. You have to give more, because he’s going to make you look amazing. He’s an actor’s director. He’s an artist. The man’s just incredible. He knows how to put the cast together and he knows every character down to the bone. It’s just amazing. The guy is so talented. He’s a genius. And his passion for what he does is so infectious that he makes you want to give more than you can.
I had been reading about the movie through Ebony and Essence and things like that, and I had read that there were some scenes that were specifically troubling for the actors who were in them. I think when Kerry Washington’s character got whipped, they were saying people were crying on set and how Leonardo DiCaprio was having trouble getting into racist character and he had trouble saying the n-word and things like that. You were speaking about how incredible it was to be on set, but were there any scenes that got at you, that moved you?
Sammi Rotibi: I think there was a scene that really got to me, and I know the camera was on me, because of the three slaves, there was Rodney, Chicken Charlie [Omar J. Dorsey] and Chester [and] I was the leader of the three. There was a scene where we came back to Candyland and one of the slaves tried to escape and they caught him and he’s pleading for his life to Candie. And Leo is like, “Why would you run away? I have a guest here, you make me look bad by having to come after you, blah, blah blah,” and afterwards, he was attacked by dogs. And that scene—I swear to you—Oh God. That just killed me. And I think Quentin captured it on film. I know there’s a shot of me looking at the whole scene and you could see tears just coming.
There are scenes that get to you, but afterwards, what Quentin does is so great. He breaks that tension off by playing different music. He’ll play gospel music, James Brown, a different variety of music, just so there’s no tension, and everyone remembers that we’re making a movie, so that kills that tension on set between the blacks and the whites. Honestly, there were scenes that you look and someone just called you a n—– and you want to kill them, and then they yell “Cut” and you go back to “Oh yeah, how was your weekend?” (laughs)
Something like that. But Quentin kind of sets that tone from the get-go. He made sure everyone was comfortable. We’re here to do a movie. We’re all one. There’s no black, white, Spanish, Asian, whatever. We’re telling a story that just happens to be a slave movie, a movie about slaves, but I tell you what, we’re going to tell this story to the best of our abilities and we’re going to be truthful to the story and genuine to the story, and that’s why we’re shooting on an actual plantation. But still, we all are family.
It seems like with this kind of a film, it’s almost like a modern day Roots.
Sammi Rotibi: Yeah, in a sense, but with a Quentin Tarantino’s style twist to it. I think it’s more of a love story between Django, Jamie Foxx’s character and Kerry Washington’s character Broomhilda. It just so happens to be in that time period and that circumstance. It’s a man’s journey to get to the one he loves, his wife. A man and a woman who are separated by slavery and they’re trying to get back to one another. It’s a beautiful love story, actually. Believe it or not, it is a love story.
How do you hope audiences react to this movie when it comes out?
Sammi Rotibi: I honestly hope that first of all, they enjoy the movie, and second of all, look at it as a love story (laughs) believe it or not. And also, to kind of take from it that —I think at times we forget [about] our forefathers that went through a lot for us to be where we’re at right now and there are times we take things for granted. It goes from generation to generation–before Rosa Parks and the other people before [us] who went through slavery, the people who stood up for us, and Martin Luther King and now we have Barack Obama as the President. I feel there’s hope and it’s good to remind ourselves that it’s not just about me, you know what I mean? There are times people get selfish and they forget but there’s more. Let me speak for myself —and I’ve always believed in this— that before I leave, before I die, that I can make some kind of mark in my lifetime and make some kind of difference or contribution to my race. To the human race, period.
What we can do is to find the positive. I remember when the script first came out, people were saying the script was so intense, racist, or whatever, but it’s not. It’s [the] circumstances. I remember a director friend was saying, “Why is Quentin Tarantino directing it?” And I feel he’s probably one of the few directors who can direct a movie like that and be honest and not try to sugarcoat it. And other might try to water it down to try and satisfy other people or another demographic, so I am glad Quentin Tarantino directed this movie. That’s me, personally.
Honestly, he such a wonderful person, and I do not believe there’s a racist bone in his body. That’s just me, personally. He treats every single person with respect and equality, and I’m not just saying that because of who he is, if he was regular Joe Schmoe I would say the same thing. He’s a true genuine person, and whether you’re a big-name star or a little person, he talks to you and treats you with respect. And all he asks is that you do the work, you put in the work. We had a great time and I’m sure no one complained of any problems on the set, not that I know of, anyways. I had a great time. It was such an amazing experience and I can’t wait to work with him again.
(Photo Credit: Dennis Apergis)