EXCLUSIVE: Talks are about to get underway for Leonardo DiCaprio to play the role of villainous ranch owner Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, the Sergio Leone-style spaghetti Western that Quentin Tarantino wrote and will direct as his next film. DiCaprio is being courted to play a charming but ruthless proprietor of Candyland, a despicable club  and plantation in Mississippi where female slaves are exploited as sex objects and males are pitted against each other in “mandingo” style death matches. Candie is a slave’s worst nightmare and the freed slave Django must cross him in order to reclaim his wife.

Now, deal making discussions are just getting underway, but I’m told there is a much higher likelihood of DiCaprio taking part in the film at this point than Will Smith, who had been reported as lead candidate to play the title role of DJango, a slave who is liberated and taught the tricks of the trade by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter. That role is expected to be played by Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar playing Hans Landa in Tarantino’s last film, Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction star Samuel L. Jackson is also expected to play the role of Stephen, Candie’s valet who keeps the slaves in line at Candie’s residence. Tarantino turned in his script in late April to The Weinstein Company’s Harvey Weinstein, and Sony Pictures signed on shortly after to distribute in offshore territories.

The courtship of Smith for the role of Django has gone on for so long that I’m persuaded it has become a long shot. At this point, I’ve heard alternative names that include Idris Elba, Jamie Foxx and Chris Tucker. The latter is a surprise because he hasn’t starred in a movie since 2007’s Rush Hour 3, but he showed some serious dramatic chops playing a memorable small role in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.

The emergence of DiCaprio as the film’s main villain is intriguing. Candie in some ways is comparable to the polished but loathsome Landa in Inglorious Basterds. That role intrigued DiCaprio in the formative stages when Tarantino was just formulating a cast. It didn’t come together and Tarantino decided he wanted an actor who could speak German as well as other languages. Waltz proved a glove fit for that role and it was impossible to read Django Unchained and not see Waltz in the role of Dr. Schultze. Candie is every bit as colorful and ruthless a villain as Landa was. DiCaprio next stars as FBI director J Edgar Hoover in the Clint Eastwood-directed J Edgar. Django Unchained is being produced by Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction producer Stacey Sher, along with Pilar Savone.

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