In 2001, Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua made the edgy police drama Training Day, for which Washington won the Academy Award for Best Actor. On Friday, September 26th, the actor and director reunite for The Equalizer, a drama based on the popular eighties TV series of the same name.
Washington portrays Robert McCall, who is living quietly in Boston, after putting his past behind him. But when he meets Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young girl being abused by violent Russian gangsters led by Teddy (Marton Csokas), he is drawn back into a life he had sworn he would leave behind.
The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last weekend, where the press conference for the film was held with Washington and Fuqua.
What made you want to do this The Equalizer?
Denzel: Good script. I read it, I think it was the Fourth of July weekend, and it was a quick read and called [the producers] right away and said, ‘This is Robert McCall calling.’ It was a real quick decision.
Tell us a little about your character.
Denzel: Robert McCall has done a lot of bad things in this past, and he’s trying to get beyond that – he’s not proud of his past, and he’s trying to do better. He didn’t like himself – he never lost his skills, he made a conscious decision to put that behind him.
It’s when he meets an innocent young girl who is being abused, that he decides to do something about it.
Antoine: I saw this movie as a throwback, like the westerns that Sergio Leone made.
There’s an antihero, in a struggle, reluctant and ashamed to pick up his gun … but when he gets a chance to help other people, he does.
He uses his skills for that.
What was it about the project that inspired you to call Antoine to direct it?
Denzel: The smartest thing I did was to call him. He’s an excellent filmmaker, he knows what he’s doing, he knows how to put a film together and he’s open to ideas, he’s a great collaborator. And he makes my job easier, I don’t want to go into a film worrying about if the filmmaker can make the film.
I didn’t have to think about that, once he signed on. And then we collaborate obviously, we all work on the material and try to make the best picture we can.
Antoine: The smartest thing I did was say yes. (Denzel laughs) What he said, that’s how we collaborate!
Denzel: To Antoine’s credit, when I saw the film there was the movie I thought I was making, then there was the movie I saw.
There was a lot more on screen than what I thought I did, because of what he was also doing with the camera. It was a much bigger film than I thought it was.
Some people might say this is just an action film, but it’s intense and I wondered if the character stayed with you at the end of the day?
Denzel: People are just lazy, ‘Oh, it’s an action film.’ I don’t know what that means.
Antoine’s been talking the last couple of days about shooting the ‘action’ scenes like [a] drama and I didn’t know he was thinking that way, but I like that idea. I don’t know what an action film is, and I don’t even know if I’ve made one.
You take some of everything you do home, unfortunately my wife has to deal with it. She’s like, ‘Who’s coming in the door today, oh, it’s Malcolm X today, it’s the white man’s fault today.’ (he laughs) It’s Training Day, it’s everybody’s fault!’
Have you ever turn a project down because you didn’t want what it might do to you?
Denzel: I made the mistake of turning down Seven, the Brad Pitt part, then I saw it and I was like, ‘Oh.’ It was just too much when I read it, but it was different when I saw it.
Antoine: I was going to do Prisoners, I prepped it and I actually brought up Jake Gyllenhaal for the lead at that time, but he was doing a play and the timing was all wrong.
I was struggling with the movie because I have children and it was the idea of kids being abducted. I couldn’t bring myself to think about making that film for a year of my life, dealing with the idea of a child being abducted and being a father going through that.
In The Equalizer, there’s the inevitable, yet still cool, shot of the hero walking away with the detonator and the explosion going off behind him in slow motion. How did that come about?
Antoine: For me, I did it for a lot of reasons. One, I love Tony Scott. Tony was an inspiration because I [too] came out of commercials.
I remember Man on Fire when I saw them do that shot and I thought, ‘That’s pretty hot.’ It was literally hot for him (indicating Denzel) because I saw his jacket blow, and I thought, ‘I don’t know how close he is to that fire’ –
Denzel: Too close –
Antoine: So it’s a little bit of a nod to Tony, a personal thing for me. But also it was a big part of the story, [McCall] timed everything out.
We didn’t show you where the bomb was, I just took you right into the scene, and it was all about how he timed everything. And it’s a really cool shot.