MAN ON FIRE - Q&A with DENZEL WASHINGTON
Movie Interview by Neils Hesse
Denzel what was your involvement with the development of this film, considering that Tony Scott has been attached to it for so many years and how did it affect you?
Well when I first read it I did not think it was all there so I sat down with Tony and he was so passionate about it. He walked me through it and made it clear that we could work on the script, as he also wanted to get it right. Tony was originally meant to have done this film a long time ago but at the time it was not possible. He was worried about me portraying a 'heavy', I just told him to concentrate on the camera and leave the rest up to me! [Laughter].
How did you prepare for this role?
Well I did not do any bodyguard training as my character is not actually a bodyguard by profession he just takes it on because of his government intelligence background. I did look into the marines aspect of the character though. When I worked on TRAINING DAY, one of the cops I was working with introduced me to a few verses in the book of Romans that carry the theme of coming out of the dark, so I introduced them to Tony and we worked that into the film. The cop also explained to me how it is that some people are meant to protect others - this is their calling. My character in the film has bourbon in one hand and the bible in the other - he is a disturbed soul.
Meryl Streep and Dakota Fanning, who was more daunting to work with and what was it like working with Christopher Walken?
Dakota... I was just an extra in one of Meryl's scenes for THE MANCHURAN CANDIDATE, I should have demanded to have had at least one proper scene with her, although when we did the read through I sat next to her. Dakota is great, mature and very charming. I was trying to get into character so I was keeping my distance from her and so she told Tony that I wasn't talking to her so she wouldn't talk to me either. I am convinced that she is actually 40. Chris Walken is great most of our dialogue was improvised we got along very well.
You seem to have entered into darker roles?
I think TRAINING DAY brought this all out, after I did that people in the industry started to perceive me in a new light.
There are 3 more books with the exploits of John Creasy, your character in the film. Do you intend to do them as well?
I honestly did not know about those other books, so thank you for that. I saw THE BOURNE SUPREMACY the other day and it pissed me off, he has a nice little franchise going there, maybe I could do another one of these Creasy stories we can just say that he fell asleep at the end of this one. [Laughter].
Since ANTWONE FISHER have you been learning more about directing from Tony Scott and Jonathan Demme?
Yes, and I will steal more from the both of them as I direct more. [Laughter]
What is this next film you are directing all about and will you act in it as well?
No I will not act in this one. It is about a small college in America that beat every town in the country at debating contests and there is a love story between a young boy and an older teenager that has been added to the mix. The debating storyline is based on fact but the love story is not. In this one the girl as usual goes for a bad guy. Why it is that women always go for the bad guys?
In both your new films THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and MAN ON FIRE you play desperate people. Are there any parallels to the characters?
I like the way you put that, I may just use that line myself thank you. In MAN ON FIRE my character was depressed because of a past of killing that he regrets, whereas in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE he does not know what is wrong with him and so he is desperate to find out what it is.
Any roles that you passed on that you wished you hadn't?
The lead in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, no I am just kidding. I don't think anybody would have gone to see it so I told Mel that I had to pass on that one. Just kidding. The Brad Pit role in SEVEN. I was also recently offered I, ROBOT but I was worried about the robots, if they got them wrong but actually I would have done it but it came down to a choice between that movie and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.
So You have no regrets?
Don't you think it's time you did something lighter, would you be tempted by slapstick?
Yes I would actually although a lot of people have doubts that I could do that kind of a movie but after TRAINING DAY people are more willing to try me out in different things. In fact at the moment I am looking at a script for a romantic comedy with Halle Berry.
You must be the only man on earth who would hesitate to do a movie with Halle Berry good script or not?
Well as they say, if it ain't on the page it ain't on the stage.
How do you feel about the violence in MAN ON FIRE?
Well at test screenings a lot of men complained about the scene with the fingers being chopped off but surprisingly almost no women complained at all, that scene was originally much longer and more gruesome. I think that the subject matter of the film makes it unavoidable. It is a, what would you do if that happened to you kind of movie. He is the most heroic character that I have ever portrayed.
You have mentioned the Sammy Davis Jr story in the past what is happening to that?
I am working on developing that with Brian Grazer.
Would you play Sammy?
[Denzel bursts out laughing] The tall Sammy or Sammy grows up, no I wouldn't do that, but hey now that you mention it I might. [Laughter].
How much of a kick do you get out of working with other big stars like Meryl Streep and does it make you raise your game?
"The dingo's got my baby!" (A line from one of Meryl Streep's movies). Of course it raises my game and she is a brilliant actress, although as I said earlier I did not really work with her.
How do younger actors relate to you, and in particular Dakota Fanning?
She just performed. Roll the cameras and she does it no holds barred. After I saw her first take I said damn this chick can act and I said to Tony the girl has got to go. [Laughter]. I was very protective of her. I would not let anyone speak dirty around her even though she said she did not mind I insisted that it would not be right. She is a cool little person.
Do you have a list of films that you must do in terms of acting?
No, I never had a list, I had never seen the original MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE so my agent sent me the book and I was intrigued by the story. Perhaps from the directing point of view there are certain projects that I would like to pursue but not from the acting point of view.
Are you doing HANNIBAL?
Maybe it is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality.
Was the Linda Ronstadt song your choice?
No I don't like that song but I like Linda that was all Tony's doing he liked it.
Although I suppose it suits the character's mood and the feel of the movie.
Has anything strange happened to you, anything supernatural?
Well when I was a young boy I saw someone who looked like my sister only with wings in my bedroom so I told my mother and she said that it was probably my guardian angel.
You have had a fantastic career so far do you think that your guardian angel may have guided your choices?
Yes I do, for example when I did the scene in GLORY where I get whipped by Matthew Broderick's character I just prayed before it happened so I was in charge as my character would have been because to him it was just a normal thing, then he hit me and I went oh shoot! [Laughter]. For me it is just faith not science.
How do you use your Oscars?
I play games with them [laughter]. My mother always says that man gives the award and God gives the reward. Like with TRAINING DAY I was not bothered whether I won or not either way I was getting a free suit and a good meal. Shortly after that though I met a young black actor at my gym and he was saying how his fellow young black actors were very disappointed when I did not win for THE HURRICANE because they felt that if I couldn't get it for that great achievement then what hope was there for them. He made me realize that winning that Oscar was not just about me or Halle it meant a lot to a lot of people out there. I think it is about getting the right part and giving it your best. Halle and me had good parts and this year Jamie Foxx has had good parts so he has a good opportunity to win. I am trying in my capacity as a director to create good roles.
Considering the level of crime in Mexico you must have had a lot of John Creasy like characters protecting you all over there?
Yes there is a lot of corruption, you cannot trust the police over there - we were constantly surrounded by heavy protection. Occasionally I gave them the slip but yes it is dangerous over there, there is a big gap in society - they have the super rich and the super poor.