Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino sent his script for “Django Unchained” to New Orleans actress Laura Cayouette more than a year ago to get her take on the story and a role he wrote with her in mind.
Cayouette had worked with Tarantino on three other projects. When she got to the part of the script that introduces a 40-ish strawberry blonde Southern belle named Lara Lee, “it wasn’t hard to figure out the part was intended for me, and I was so blown away by even the prospect of being in this film.”
The 48-year-old is among a host of New Orleans residents included in the slavery-era saga, which was shot in The Big Easy and two south Louisiana plantation homes earlier this year. Although most of the locals are background extras, Cayouette plays the widowed older sister of Calvin Candie, a plantation owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
The film stars Jamie Foxx in the title role, as well as Kerry Washington, Don Johnson and Christoph Waltz.
Although her role is small, Cayouette is as proud as any leading lady as “Django” prepares to open in theaters Christmas Day. The film just landed five Golden Globe nominations for best picture in the drama category, best director, best screenplay, and best supporting actor nods for DiCaprio and Waltz.
“It’s Quentin’s version of ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and I’m just honored to be a part of it,” Cayouette said, adding that the film has all the brutality characteristic of a Tarantino film. “But I’m the touch of sugar in all the bitterness.”
The film centers on a slave trying to rescue his wife from a Mississippi plantation. Cayouette said her character’s few moments on screen embody “the beauty, refinement and even silliness of the era ... when men were consumed with commerce and power, and all she’s concerned about is finding a husband.
“It’s all hoop skirts and tiaras for Lara,” she said with a chuckle.
The role is the latest example of how Cayouette, 48, has made a career of landing small roles in big films, including 1998’s “Enemy of the State,” 1996’s “The Evening Star” and 2004’s second installment of the Tarantino-directed thriller “Kill Bill.” She also landed a part in the third season of the New Orleans-shot HBO television series “Treme.”
Cayouette said “there are no small parts” when it comes to film and TV, and has recently self-published a book on the subject, “Know Small Parts,” which covers everything from the audition process to how to land a free dress for the red carpet.
Cayouette was born in Maryland to parents who both hail from south Louisiana. She moved to New Orleans in 2009 because of the area’s growing film industry.