DÉJÀ VU - Q&A with Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott
At the London press conference with Denzel Washington (Doug Carlin), Paula Patton (Claire Kuchever), Tony Scott (director) and Jerry Bruckheimer (producer)
DÉJÀ VU was the first film since Hurricane Katrina to be made in New Orleans. How was the production greeted by locals?
BRUCKHEIMER: It was fantastic, we got there in February and a lot of people hadn't worked since Katrina happened in August. They were very grateful and gracious to us because we gave them a livelihood back, and we also proved that big films could be made in New Orleans after that tragedy. I really have to give credit to Tony and Denzel. Denzel pushed some movies back in order to make this possible, he's got a great love for the people of New Orleans. And Tony fell in love with the city itself, it's such a beautiful city, more European than American.
Tony, the film opens with a bang, a spectacular visual effect - was that the biggest challenge you faced on this movie?
SCOTT: Actually I think the car chase was more complex. I've done many car chases, and in the end what's really important in terms of action sequences is what's on the page, it's concept, not in terms of how good a shooter you are. I think one of the most refreshingly different things about the movie was the car chase, because it takes place in the present and four days in the past.
So the sequence with the exploding car ferry was easy then, was it?
SCOTT: I've got to give credit to the special effects guys, because what you do as a director is you storyboard it and you give it to them and talk it through. They ask if you want more smoke, more fire, more flame, what shape you want, then you leave it to them and they spend the next six weeks worrying about it. In the morning, when you shoot, you just set up your cameras. Conceptually that sequence was good because it came right at the beginning of the movie and it came off a point in time. I'm sure the audience is waiting for it, but we set them up in a way: we see the kids on the ferry, it's a feel good experience and then BANG!, it happens. I know the audience is waiting for it but they don't quite expect it to be as big and as hard when it came.
What were the logistical issues with that sequence?
SCOTT: It was funny because even though it was advertised in New Orleans, which is a relatively small city, we told people there was going to be this explosion and it would be a big one on the river, I think they had something like 900 calls to the emergency services, the same as if it was a real terrorist attack on the ferry. It's amazing how people don't pay any attention. The explosion rocked the city, it really did, and they didn't know what it was. It was amazing, we were all over the press all the time, and there was everybody ringing in saying it was a terrorist attack. The logistics were more down to the special effects guys than to me. And it's all over in a heartbeat. It's funny, when you do these huge stunts it's sort of anti climactic when you get to do it because in a split second it's gone. It's over. You just wait and see the ferry didn't sink. That was the main thing, because it was such a huge bang.
WASHINGTON: One take?
SCOTT: One take, yeah.
Paula, in your first scene in the film you are a dead body on a pathologist's slab. How weird is that to act?
PATTON: You know it's a funny thing because it's not as weird for me as it is for my family. I was sitting next to my mom watching the movie and she said 'oh no, you're dead!' and I said 'I'm right here next to you, what are you talking about?' But at least they believed it. I think if they get involved in the movie in that way then Tony was doing his job.
You had a lot of physical work to do after that, how was that for you?
PATTON: All the physical parts of the movie were really fun for me, because I'm a tomboy at heart. But you do have to get yourself in an emotional state when you are acting being kidnapped or tied up. That's really where make up helps, because the make up artists work so long on you, and then you look in the mirror and you see the bruises and the blood and the burns and it actually gives you an emotional feeling, seeing yourself like that. That all helps the performance.
How did you get the role in the first place, Paula?
PATTON: Yeah, definitely, I auditioned multiple times, all ending like the AMERICAN IDOL final round. I had to audition with Denzel Washington and luckily I got it. It's remarkable. When I got the call I couldn't believe it. I screamed and cried, but I wasn't even sure that I'd got it even then. I remember feeling they could take it away. That same day Tony sent me a script, and had embossed on it 'Déjà Vu' with my name there too. My dad was with me, and my mom because this was a big day, and I said 'oh my God it's real, look!'. My dad, who's a lawyer, said 'that's not real!', so until I got to the set it didn't feel real.
Were you apprehensive, Denzel, over anything you were asked to do here?
WASHINGTON: I don't like heights. So that was a tricky day, underneath that bridge. But I do have an ego, so I couldn't let anybody know that.
Did you try to get your head around the science in this story?
WASHINGTON: No, I didn't want to know that, because my character didn't know. I guess I'm like the eyes and the ears of the audience.
Did you get into the science, Tony?
SCOTT: I spent a lot of time fighting with the writers over that. My goal was to make it science fact, not science fiction. I'm not a big string theorist, and I didn't know anything about this world, but I love the fact that I get paid to educate myself and entertain myself and touch the world of Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene, who was our technical advisor. He got hold of the script and said this was about as close as you could get, that this theory was about as good as it gets. It's great, I get paid to do all this research, it's fun.
Did you spend time, Denzel, with real ATF officers like your character? And if so what did you learn from them?
WASHINGTON: The guy we worked with, Jerry Rudden, was great, he had a great sense of humour. I found it fascinating that he's seen all kinds of death and destruction in his job, but he didn't like talking about children [being harmed]. He would go right into jokes or try to lighten things up. I also love the research, it's a great job being able to step into all sorts of professions. For example, Jerry said that a lot of times, your first few days [on a case] you don't get much sleep, so instead he would brush his teeth to keep himself awake. That was something I put right into the movie.
At one point you have to escape from a submerged car, Paula. How was that for you?
PATTON: I had about 45 minutes of training in scuba gear, in the shallow end of the Hilton pool in New Orleans, about a month before I had to do that sequence. I'm the kind of swimmer who likes to lie on a floatie, I'm not an athletic swimmer, but we had to do this underwater sequence in one of the largest tanks in the US. I think it's 50 feet deep by 50 feet wide, so it's like being put on the ocean. There are actual boats on it, it's massive. I didn't realise that they also put weights on your body so that you can stay down there. I'm on the regulator, the device to keep breathing, and I take my last breath of air, take off my mask and do the work underwater. Then Tony yells cut, by the way Tony's amazing, he's underwater with you, in his flippers and the whole thing. He really gets involved, which makes you feel safe.
WASHINGTON: You didn't go underwater with me, Tony! I didn't see any flippers.
PATTON: So then when I went to put the regulator back in my mouth, because I hadn't had a lot of training, I breathed through my nose which is not the thing you do, and at that moment I felt I was going to die. I just saw these black figures, these Navy SEAL guys come to me and get me to the surface. But in those moments, as you're going up to the surface, you think 'this is it, this movie is going to be In Memory of Paula Patton'.
Why do you think the theme of time travel has continued to fascinate audiences so much, through the history of science fiction?
SCOTT: My goal was to make it science fact, not science fiction. But who'd have said at the turn of the last century that you could hit a button and see people walking around in Iraq. All this technology keeps overtaking us. ENEMY OF THE STATE was a semi prediction of Google Earth, I'd love to claim responsibility but I can't, it was the NSA that gave us that idea. Now with Google Earth you can dive into your living room and watch your wife having it off with the guy next door.
Is part of the appeal to get some sense of controlling our own destiny?
WASHINGTON: I guess that's part of our fascination, probably more now than ever there's that desire to control what's going on in our lives because we clearly can't control what's going on in our world.
Were there ever any doubts over the title of the film?
SCOTT: Ask everybody what their interpretation of déjà vu is and they each have a different interpretation. I picked up my Oxford English Dictionary and the first words were 'an uncomfortable feeling of a time or place that you've experienced in the past'. So that word 'uncomfortable' was my goal. Each day I'd have this word on my storyboards, I was always looking for these moments in time where I could capture this other worldly thing where there's something wrong in his life, in the movie, something he feels.
Is it true you've had some déjà vu experiences yourself, Denzel?
WASHINGTON: A couple of times, but I don't know if it is déjà vu. I've had a recurring dream about going sideways in an elevator. And we had dinner the other night in the Eiffel Tower and there I was in an elevator, going sideways. In my dream things didn't work out so well, so I was a bit nervous. And I don't know if it was a dream or what it was, but I saw this street in Brooklyn. I don't know if it's because I'd been there as a child, but it was very vivid in my mind. And then one day I was shooting a movie, THE SIEGE, on that street and it looked exactly like I'd imagined it. Maybe my aunt lived there when I was two years old, or something. I don't know. But that's the thing, every time I ask someone what déjà vu is there's as many answers as there are people."
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