Thirteen years have passed since director Antoine Fuqua and actor Denzel Washington last worked together. Which is surprising, given that their first collaboration, the 2001 hit film "Training Day," garnered Washington a Best Actor Oscar.
Fuqua and Washington had been in talks to work together in the 2007 film "American Gangster," but Fuqua was replaced as director before the film was finished casting. Other opportunities never materialized.
Their latest film, "The Equalizer," stars Washington as Robert McCall, a retired government intelligence officer who now leads a quiet life as a big-box hardware store employee. When he meets a troubled young prostitute wrapped up with the Russian mob, he can't stand by while the bad guys get away with countless crimes.
The film is based on the TV series of the same name, which starred Edward Woodward and aired on CBS from 1985-89.
The Frame's John Horn sat down with Antoine Fuqua recently to discuss "The Equalizer," what makes his collaboration with Washington work so well and what he learned from being fired from "American Gangster."
On what it was like to finally work with Denzel again:
It's interesting with Denzel...it's like music, you know what I mean? Some people just have a rhythm and an understanding of each other's shorthand from the beginning. I remember on the first day of 'Training Day,' I asked him if he wanted to look at the monitor, and he said, 'Nah, you're flying this plane' — and walked away. I was like, Oh my god. I can't screw this up, ... That gives you a certain amount of confidence, but it's also scary as hell, because of who he is and how powerful he is as an actor. So when we got into 'The Equalizer,' it felt the same — the rhythm felt the same. It was like getting back on a bike again.
On the Robert McCall character's relationship with violence:
What's interesting about Denzel's character is...the violence is like alcohol or a drug, it's an adrenaline rush. There's violent men, and there's men that understand violence. And sometimes men that understand violence will avoid it at all costs because they're actually comfortable in it. This is a person that becomes really comfortable during the process of violence — his heart rate slows down, everything becomes even more in focus for him, whereas most people panic. If you get in a car accident, people panic and freak out. He does the complete opposite. That's a really dangerous individual, you know?
On what Denzel Washington expects from the filmmakers he works with:
It's pretty simple, John. Denzel is a perfectionist — he expects the best from everyone. And he gives you a lot. Denzel's very generous in the sense that he'll do whatever it takes to support the movie and the other actors, he really will. And he comes ready, and he expects for you to come ready, and what he wants to hear is that you know what you're talking about and what you're doing. If you don't, if he smells that, it's a wrap. Forget about it, he's moving on ... that's it.
On casting Chloe Grace Moretz in "The Equalizer:"
Well, to be really honest with you, it wasn't my initial choice. We had read six other actresses — most of them were in their 20s — and I was locked into one of them, Haley Bennett. She plays the other prostitute in the movie...I met Chloe, and it was something really special about her. She walked in the room and she was very mature and she reminded me — from what I could see and what I knew — of Jodie Foster.
She was so clear and specific about her thoughts on the script, and I just fell in love with her. But I was worried about her age (17). So I had her come back and read with Denzel, and she was nervous, but she was amazing! He was so great with her, and they joked and talked, and she was right there with him. And I thought, You know, this young lady's special. And then I sent her to go meet a bunch of young former prostitutes, at a home, and she went out and did all this homework and hung out with them and put on a couple pounds, because one of the girls told her, 'You're too skinny, you wouldn't make any money. You need some meat on you.' So she went and put a little meat on her. I was really impressed with her.
On what he learned from being fired as director of "American Gangster:"
Well it was a heartbreak, for sure. Still a heartbreak, but I learned some valuable lessons from it, you know? Russell [Crowe] wasn't involved at that time. I had hired Benicio del Toro, and there were some other things going on internally at the studio that, you know, I was just too young to understand. I was just thinking about making a great film and I was passionate about it. You grow up thinking that you just fight for everything, and there's some things that you fight for and there's some things you need to listen a little bit more to or talk a little bit more about to the head of the studio.
It's one of those valuable, heartbreaking lessons that you take with you and you try not to let it happen again. I think directors have to put a producer's hat on sometimes, and it's hard to do that when you're in a creative space because you're discussing budgets and restraints and things and you think, If I compromise, I'm compromising my vision, and that's not always the case. Sometimes you just have to compromise and come up with a different vision to fit the budget and fit the situation you're in.