DÉJÀ VU - Q&A with Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington's latest film, the intelligent action thriller DÉJÀ VU, reunites him for the third time with director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Washington plays agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Brought in to track down the perpetrator of a catastrophic explosion on a New Orleans ferry, Carlin angrily exclaims that for once in his life he'd like to catch someone "before they do something horrible", not after. By tapping into a top-secret government project run by scientists specializing in quantum physics, agent Carlin gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to do just that and attempt to prevent a crime that has already happened. Along the way he gets ensnared in a car chase that is simultaneously happening right this minute and four days ago and caught up in a love affair that plays out in reverse. This Intriguing action thriller has already earned great reviews in U.S. and seems set to confirm Washington's elevated status as one of the few actors of his generation to be both a consistent box-office draw and a critical favorite. A two-time Oscar winner - as a Civil War soldier in GLORY and a corrupt police officer in TRAINING DAY - Washington went to university planning to become a doctor but the acting bug bit at the end of his first year and medicine's loss became Hollywood's gain. The actor's films include CRY FREEDOM, THE HURRICANE, JOHN Q, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, PHILADELPHIA, THE PELICAN BRIEF, MALCOLM X, REMEMBER THE TITANS (for DÉJÀ VU producer Jerry Bruckheimer), MAN ON FIRE (for Tony Scott) and CRIMSON TIDE (with Scott and Bruckheimer). Washington talked to us about shooting in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina and what it takes to be a sex symbol.
Do you get moments of déjà vu?
Yes, I had an odd one today. I'm going to get the mail out of the mailbox and I'm walking around out in the street by my front gate, and I have a feeling that somebody I know is going to drive by. I thought, I'll just stand here another second. So I just stood out there and a white truck comes by, stops, and Eddie Murphy jumps out the back.
The film ties the phenomenon of déjà vu in with the possibility of the existence of parallel universes. What's your take on that?
I wasn't sure about the whole parallel universe, reversing time thing in the original script. Tony and Jerry had to convince me that we could make it somehow plausible. But Tony was saying, "Look, we want to steep this in the latest scientific theory and all the recent advances in surveillance techniques". And a lot of what you see in the film, particularly with regard to surveillance, they are capable of. You only have to go on Google to look at a satellite view of someone's house. They're using that sort of stuff in Baghdad as we speak, looking at buildings from eighteen miles above and using heat detection to see who's inside.
How about the love story in the film? That's pretty unusual too.
To begin with I wasn't sure about that either. This guy meets someone who's not even alive and then spends four days looking at her in the past. But I just saw the finished film a few days ago and it makes sense. I really like the film and all the offbeat science, the love story that goes backwards, that's what's unique about the film.
Is it easier to take a chance on something knowing that it's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott?
Yes, definitely. It's my third time with Tony and third time with Jerry and, needless to say, we've had tremendous success. Jerry just knows how to do it. I don't think there's anybody out there as successful as he is now. And I really enjoy working with Tony, so it makes for a pleasurable experience. I've been at this too long for it not to be fun. It's sort of a no-brainer. The next time they call me, I'll be there.
You've made very serious dramatic films and high-energy action movies. Do those films each take a different approach?
You research, you try to develop a character and interpret the screenplay whatever the film. But it also depends upon the part. The Hurricane was not an action picture but I obviously had to be in shape. In the case of Inside Man I liked the fact that he was a little beat up, a little overweight. It was a cheap excuse not to work out [laughs].
So what did your preparation consist of for DÉJÀ VU?
A lot of research. Tony, like myself, likes research and he always tracks down real guys. We did it with MAN ON FIRE, we did it on CRIMSON TIDE, we did it with DÉJÀ VU. Jerry Rudden is an ATF guy who was instrumental in figuring out the Oklahoma City bombing. We used his methods and applied it directly to this film. They found small pieces of plastic in the destruction of the Federal Building in Oklahoma. They identified it, tracked it, found out it came from barrels, found out where they were made, found out where they were purchased and worked their way back. We took that directly and applied it to our story. He would get very tired working twenty, thirty hours at a time and he said that if you brush your teeth it's like getting an hour's sleep. So I put that in the movie too.
The woman you fall in love with in the film is Paula Patton, who's pretty much a newcomer. Any apprehension about working with someone who has so little screen experience?
Tony Scott said, "This girl, you don't know her, she hasn't done anything, but she's right for the part." And he was right. She has that quality that you want to care about her, you want to take care of her. And the camera likes her, that's for sure.
Was she nervous being around you?
She's young as an actress and as a person and yes, she's got all these veterans around her, myself and Tony and Val Kilmer among others, so she must have felt some pressure. I just wanted to make her feel comfortable. I told her, "Look, you're not here because you won the Miss Whatever contest. You're the best actor for the job, Tony believes in you and I trust Tony, so just feel free to make mistakes." And I really liked her enthusiasm. On those days where you just don't feel like coming out of the trailer, you meet this young person like Paula that's all fresh and new, and it reminds you, it takes you back. It's a reminder of what a privilege it is to be in this industry and to be compensated in an amazing and ridiculous way for doing something you enjoy doing.
DÉJÀ VU was the first film to shoot in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but for a while there had been talk of shooting in Seattle instead. Were you instrumental in the decision to stick with New Orleans?
It's Tony Scott's movie so it was his decision. He wanted to make the film in New Orleans before Katrina and post-Katrina he looked at other locations that he didn't feel comfortable about. And there was no reason to shy away from it. It was a good thing to spend money there and put people to work and I'm glad to have been a part of helping to make that happen.
What impact did the experience of being in New Orleans at that moment have on you?
There was a lot of listening to people's stories of what they'd been through. And just riding around and seeing the devastation, it affects you.
You've hit the 50 mark. Does it surprise you that you're still regarded as one of Hollywood's sexiest leading men?
I'll be 52 in December but I don't know anything about being sexy [laughs]. I don't know what it means. What was interesting to me about turning 50 is that it made me realize that this is not the dress rehearsal. It really hit home to enjoy every day, to try to lead a good, healthy life and keep things simple.
Does it change your perspective on your earlier life or on your career?
I just don't look back. For what? To reminisce? People say, "What's your favourite film?" I say, "My next one". I'm not interested in sitting around thinking about the past. I've just never been that kind of a person.
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