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From the creative team behind Italian crime drama Gomorrah, Django is loosely inspired by Sergio Corbucci's cult classic movie and stars Matthias Schoenaerts in the title role as the mysterious gunman with a tragic past.
The series follows four key characters: Django, his estranged daughter Sarah (Lisa Vicari), John Ellis (Nicholas Pinnock), founder of the idealistic city New Babylon, and Lady of Elmdale, Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace), who wants to wipe out Babylon.
A story filled with violence, dark secrets and a modern slant on the Western genre, Django is a gritty gun-slinging thriller.
We caught up with the Django cast and creative team to get some behind-the-scenes secrets about the making of the series…
A gang of Western fanatics
“If you look at my social media, it says in my bio that I spend my spare time dreaming of being a cowboy and that’s not a lie,” laughs Nicholas Pinnock, who reveals he grew up on a diet of Westerns.
“When I was presented with the opportunity at being John Ellis, I ran with it. He seemed a really complex character and after lots of back-and-forth conversations with the creatives, I was aware that this was going to be a hard task and I wanted it.”
Noomi Rapace, who plays the puritanical and brutal Elizabeth, grew up on a farm and has been waiting for the right role to come along to allow her to live out her dreams of horse riding and gun-toting.
“Westerns was my favourite genre growing up and I saw this and it had Nicholas, Matthias and it was the perfect combo of everything. It was an easy choice to come aboard.”
Lisa Vicari, who plays Django’s estranged daughter Sarah, didn’t grow up on a diet of Westerns, but has fallen in love with the genre after signing up for the series.
“I was introduced to the Spaghetti Western through this project. I’d seen Django Unchained and newer films, but I fell in love with them preparing for the series.
“I watched a few of them and discovered the beauty of them. I’m happy we took something so original and specific and brought it into modern times and made them relevant again.”
Django – Reinventing the Western in 2023
Director Francesca Comencini believes that the Western is due a comeback, because the genre fits with modern anxieties.
"It's a genre that helps us deal with our fears - like a dark fairytale," she explains.
"In my opinion it is a genre that gives you the opportunity to talk about our contemporary times very well.
“In the Western, danger can exist in any moment and everywhere, nature is very important, it’s beautiful and frightening. There is a feeling of a threat everywhere.
“There is also a theme about how you can still live when all your dreams and hopes are failing and have been betrayed. The Western has all these ingredients, and it really resonates very well today, just like it did in the '60s and '70s.”
Noomi Rapace said Django’s writing team had successfully updated classic Western tropes, which means there are no “typical” male or female characters.
“All the characters have different flavours and colours that separate them. Matthias is sensitive and not just the tough guy.”
Expanding on her character, she adds: “[Elizabeth] wouldn’t stay in this box. If men can play like this, I’m going to do that – and do it worse. She’s revolting and you see that throughout the series. She’s taking back control and has this inner battle between the woman in her and the man in her.
“It explores the masculine and feminine in all these characters.”
Nicholas Pinnock added: “It’s a genre we know 20% of, which is the white European male gaze. There were women, there were African Americans, Mexicans and Native Americans, and those stories haven’t yet been told.
“A show like this, it throws in things like trans people, which we presume to be modern-day, but there’s nothing modern about it.
“There were people like Elizabeth around and there were men with the sensitivities of Django around, we just haven’t explored them yet.
“We’re exploring a lot of these things en masse in a way I don’t think TV shows have done before.”
Filmed in Romania, Django looks stunning and the cast admitted that the crew did such an incredible job at building their world, it was sometimes hard to snap themselves back to reality.
“The Babylon set was built in three and a half months, and you could live in that place,” said Pinnock.
“One scene that is in the trailer where Elizabeth and John point guns at each other, it was filmed down a long corridor and in the Western genre it’s a classic set-piece. But there were times that day, we didn’t speak much to each other, and you could feel the tension rising on set.
“We were one bullet away from killing each other. It was all set up for us to imagine what it was like being these people, but there was a very fine line where we didn’t have to imagine anymore. Romania had the ability to do that.
“The set designers did an incredible job of creating a world for us to play in.”
Violence, fire and blood
Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth is introduced in episode one in a brutal and stunning sequence which captures the contradictions and surprising nature of her character.
“My character has two sides to her,” said Rapace.
“She’s very traditional and religious and is very together and organised. And then she also has this alter ego where she dresses like a cowboy and a man and she goes out and kills people, in a brutal way.
“It felt very epic in the way it was coordinated. There weren’t many breaks or stunt doubles. It was one long dance of violence, fire and blood. And knives and guns.
“We wanted it to feel real and larger than life at the same time. We got to do lots and get dirty and gritty.”
Nicholas Pinnock said the cast tried their best to avoid using stunt doubles, to allow them to get fully immersed in the action.
“We’re risk-takers and when you’re given the opportunity to do your stunts, you want to dive into the character. I don’t want to short-change my character,” said Pinnock.
“If I can do it and the viewer can see it’s the same person in every shot, it helps you as an actor get a real view of every experience.
“The moment you step out, it feels like you lose a sense of what it would feel like. We take it as close to the line as we possibly can.
“We like to push the boundaries and go close to the edge. There is magic on the line and the line is so thin.”
One extra physical challenge for Lisa Vicari was shooting scenes on horseback.
“I’ve sat on a horse when I was 12, but other than that I’ve never had contact with horses,” said the German actress.
“We had intense horse-riding lessons, and I really grew to love them, learning about how sensitive they are as animals and how much you need to be in sync with the horse to navigate them.
“If you’re nervous, the horse is nervous. On a film set with lots going on, it’s hard, but we had incredible horses and that made it a lot of fun.”
Stream Django on Sky Atlantic with NOW from 1 March.