Denzel Washington is a man constantly on the move. Never content to just repeat his successes, the two-time Academy Award winner (for Glory and Training Day) is always searching for new challenges through his numerous and varied film and stage portrayals.
From Trip, the embittered runaway slave in Glory to South African freedom fighter Steven Biko in Cry Freedom; from Shakespeare’s tragic historical figure Richard III to the rogue detective Alonzo in Training Day; to his recent critically-acclaimed performance as the addicted airline pilot Whip Whitaker in Flight, Denzel has amazed and entertained audiences with a rich array of characters distinctly his own.
The talented thespian has also starred in 2 Guns, Safe House, Unstoppable, The BookOf Eli, The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3, American Gangster, Inside Man, Déjà Vu, Man OnFire, The Manchurian Candidate and Out Of Time, to name a few. And his next film as director was The Great Debaters, where he co-starred opposite Forest Whitaker.
Here, Denzel and director Antoine Fuqua discuss their reuniting to collaborate again on The Equalizer.
Kam Williams: Hi Denzel and Antoine, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with the two of you.
Denzel Washington: Our pleasure!
Antoine Fuqua: Yeah, thanks Kam.
KW: I want you to know that I loved this film and also your previous one, Antoine, Olympus Has Fallen. Thanks for using my quote on the DVD. I hope I get blurbed for this one, too.
AF: Of course! You’re welcome.
KW: I have more questions for you two from readers than you could ever answer, but I hope we can get through a lot of them.
KW: Jamaal doesn’t have a question, but says: You are both an inspiration to me and many of my peers who are pursuing a career in filmmaking. Thank you for your dedication to your craft.
AF: Thank you, Jamaal!
KW: Irene says to Antoine: Thank you for giving us a black hero. Do you see TheEqualizer as blossoming into a franchise?
AF: I hope so, but that’d be up to the audience.
KW: Larry says: Antoine, I have only seen the trailer for The Equalizer, but I was blown away by the cinematography. How were you able to achieve that look?
AF: With the help of a great cinematographer, Mauro Fiore [Oscar winner for Avatar].
KW: Robin asks: As an Academy Award-winning actor, what is it like to work again with one of the few African-American directors, Pittsburgh-born, Training Day director Antoine Fuqua? Is there some special “brother” chemistry in action while working together?
DW: (Laughs, speaks while Antoine also laughs heartily) Yes, we have the “brother” meeting every weekend, at the Brotherhood of Black Directors and Black Actors’ meeting. No, Antoine is obviously very talented, and we’ve had some success in the past, and I also look forward to our next opportunity.
KW: Rel says: Denzel, you have set the standard of excellence for African-American actors for so long. Is there any type of film that you haven’t had the chance to act in yet that you would like to?
DW: No. (Laughs again, then pauses to think) I don’t know… There’s no wish list, but thanks for asking, Rel.
KW: Lisa says: Antoine, based on your childhood, would your mom have been surprised to know all that you were going to accomplish in your professional career?
AF: Absolutely! Absolutely! I played sports. She would never think I was going to be a director. That wasn’t part of our daily conversations.
KW: Hirangi Patel asks Denzel: What can you reveal about your character Robert McCall’s mysterious back story?
DW: It wouldn’t be mysterious anymore, if I revealed it. (Antoine chuckles in background) You have to go to the movie and see.
KW: Joy would like to ask Denzel: What is your secret to staying in fantastic shape for your action movies?
DW: There’s no easy way. Going to the gym, and a good diet and exercise. Well, I guess there are some magic pills available these days, but I don’t take any of ‘em. I may start, though (laughs).
KW: Harriet asks: What message about this action hero do you hope viewers take away from the film?
DW: Maybe Antoine will answer that question, butI never do because it all depends upon what each viewer brings to the film. The idea is just to have a good time. It’s not a big deal. Is there a message, Antoine?
AF: No, just doin’ the right thing. He’s a guy who does the right thing, what’s necessary to help others.
KW: David asks Antoine about The Equalizer: Why would a black man attempting to disappear choose to live in a predominantly white community?
AF: (While Denzel bellows in the background) Who says it’s a white community?
DW: Actually, it’s a black and Hispanic community.
KW: Aaron asks: If you had the power to equalize social injustices in real life, what would be the first one you’d tackle?
DW: Who’s that one for?
KW: He didn’t say.
DW: You got that one, Antoine?
AF: That’s a tough one. There’s a lot of things that need equalizing.
DW: Yeah. Just getting along, Aaron, and having respect for your fellow man.
KW: Kate asks: Denzel, would you ever consider a career in politics?
DW: (Emphatically) No!
KW: Claudia asks Denzel: I would love it if you were the commencement speaker at my graduation from Howard University next year.
DW: Thank you, Claudia.
KW: Patricia asks: What advice do you have for aspiring minority actors and directors, and did either of you have a protégé?
DW: Don’t look at yourself as a minority.
AF: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.
KW: Tony asks Denzel: How have you managed to avoid having your life splashed across the tabloids?
DW: You can’t, unless you stay in the house (belly laughter from both).
KW: Tony asks Denzel: Is there an outcome or theme of a movie of yours that you would change if you could?
DW: I don’t know. We actually changed the ending in Training Day. In the original one, he lived. He walked away into an airport or something.
DW: We changed the ending since, in order to justify Alonzo Harris’ living in the worst way, he had to die in the worst way, which he did.
KW: Steve says: I played the piano for “The All Nite Strut” and worked with your then-girlfriend…
DW: (Denzel cuts me off) Get outta here! Pauletta?
KW: Yes, with Pauletta in Boston and Toronto. I was a skinny white guy with a big Jew-fro back then.
DW: (Laughs) A skinny guy white guy with a big Jew-fro?
DW: Okay, I’ll ask my wife.
KW: Steve was wondering whether you remember walking the streets of Boston with him right before the release of your first movie, Carbon Copy, when he told you there was no greater woman than Pauletta?
DW: Well, I’m glad I listened to him (chuckles).
KW: Denzel, Kevin would like to know whether you have any fond memories of Philadelphia?
DW: Yeah, my son went to the University of Pennsylvania, so I have a lot of great memories from visiting him and working there… Cheese steaks and going to the Palestra to watch basketball games.
KW: Richie asks Denzel about Philadelphia: Do you agree that “A bologna sandwich is a satisfactory meal, whereas caviar and champagne, roast duck and baked Alaska, that might be considered a delightful meal,” which is a line of your characters from the film Philadelphia?
DW: You gotta ask [director] Jonathan Demme.
KW: Kevin is curious about how working on A Soldier’s Story and For Queen & Country improved your craft as an actor? You were so great in those early films.
DW: Well, A Soldier’s Story was a Pulitzer Prize-winning play first. I was one of the original cast members with Sam Jackson, among others in the play. We had great success off-Broadway even before we did the movie. It was a tremendous experience.
KW: Bernadette asks Denzel: Will you ever retire from acting?
DW: We’ll all retire from life at some point, but no. The great thing about acting is you don’t necessarily have to retire. 80 seems to be around the age that people seem to ease out of it. Gene Hackman… Sidney Poitier… So, I have a whole ‘nother quarter to go.
KW: Sangeetha asks: Denzel, how did you come to produce this film?
DW: It’s just a title. It really was a collaborative process. We all got involved as soon as we were given the script. I’m not a numbers cruncher. I just helped make sure we put the best film we could onscreen.
KW: Bernadette asks: Antoine, what was it like directing Denzel again?
DW: Oh, I’m going to walk away while you answer that one (laughs).
AF: Amazing. He’s simply amazing! You can’t ask for better.
KW: Hisani asks: How has the Hollywood studios becoming part of conglomerates affected your ability to work? Do you think it’s feasible for independent productions to go after theatrical release these days?
AF: It’s always been big business. It doesn’t affect it any more now than it did 30 or 40 years ago. You just have to do the work.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
AF: Myself! (Laughs)
DW: The room behind me (laughs very heartily).
Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua’s new movie, The Equalizer, is in theaters now. For more information, go to equalizerthemovie.com.