Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua struck (Oscar) gold with their first collaboration, Training Day, and are now back in action with The Equalizer. We caught up with Fuqua for an exclusive interview where the esteemed helmer shared insight into why Washington is not only a great collaborator, but what it is about his gift that makes him truly our best.
Fuqua also sheds some fascinating light onto his latest film, teased brilliantly in this The Equalizer trailer.
The director dishes how he shot those jaw-dropping action sequences, the casting of Chloe Grace Moretz and how the “hope in her eyes” made Fuqua want to take out gangsters for trying to dim it and how the city of Boston was a perfect locale to reflect the power, tenacity, intelligence and fight for justice elements of Washington’s character Robert McCall.
Movie Fanatic: You and Denzel have a great cinematic relationship that continues with The Equalizer. What is it about him that you personally as a filmmaker find so special?
Antoine Fuqua: One, he’s the king of actors in every way. He comes from the theater so it’s all about the character first. It’s great for a director to have an actor like that. The other thing is that he’s a great collaborator who has great trust for his director. He doesn’t look at the monitor to second guess what you ask him to do. When he looks at the narrative, there are not a lot of conversations about it. We spend a lot of time before we get to the set talking about it. He adds his own flavor to it that makes it better.
Movie Fanatic: Your The Equalizer has a very different feel than the '80s TV show, but what was it about that idea that you thought would make a great movie?
Antoine Fuqua: I thought the character of Robert McCall was interesting. It’s more complex than the TV show. He’s a guy that doesn’t have it all together and wasn’t slick in any way. He felt more like a common man, which I think works more for a movie today. He’s a guy who is trying to fit into the world. I felt that it was more of an origins story than trying to recreate something that’s been done before in the '80s -- how a guy like that would discover what his purpose would be. That’s more interesting to me. And cinematically, the character has a skill set that we designed that is stronger on the big screen.
Movie Fanatic: On that note, you do an impeccable job of showing us what he’s going to do in some ways through Denzel’s eyes and how he approaches a situation. And then there are other scenes where he’s already done it. How did you decide how to orchestrate the action scenes in the most unique of ways?
Antoine Fuqua: That was just as important to me as a dialogue scene to be informative. It’s form and motion and tells you a lot about him. It was challenging for me to figure out a way to do it. He’s a special individual. He’s a civilian and when people are shooting guns or pulling out knives, we’re hitting the ground [laughs]. Our heart rate goes up. People like him, his heart rate goes down. It’s called comfort in chaos. I needed to show the audience that and also I wanted them to see how he would handle the situation in that he’s already assessed everything in the room that can be used as a weapon as soon as he walks in. I wanted to do a little bit of Hitchcock in certain situations where you don’t always see what happened, you just think you did.
Movie Fanatic: I was also impressed with the use of the books that he’s reading -- some of them are the supreme classics of human history and how they reflect what he’s going through in an almost foreshadowing way, such as The Old Man and the Sea and Don Quixote. Did it come to you in the script like that and how did you think that played a part in the overall narrative?
Antoine Fuqua: That was in the script and I was excited about that. I called Richard (Wenk, screenwriter) and asked him why he put those books in the script and we would discuss it. There is a logic about it. For me, it represents the character and it represents a character who is not being truly true to himself. The idea that Don Quixote is living in a world where knights don’t exist, that’s McCall. The Old Man and the Sea, the fish has to be the fish. The old man has to be the old man. You got to be who you are in this world no matter what. But, he’s not doing that. He says that to Chloe (Grace Moretz), but he’s not doing that… yet. That’s why he can’t sleep at night. The books became really important as a metaphor.
Movie Fanatic: Talk a bit about Chloe Grace Moretz, and it’s a smaller role, but so pivotal in that her character truly catapults Denzel’s character into being who he’s supposed to be -- speaking of that.
Antoine Fuqua: Chloe was an interesting find because Amy Pascal, the head of the studio, called me and asked if I’d ever met Chloe. In my mind, she’s a little girl that was Hit Girl in Kick Ass. I met her and she was 15 or 16 and I thought, “Oh man, she has to play a prostitute?!” She walked in the room and was so mature and such a pro and our conversation was so enlightening for a young lady at that age. She’s a real talent. She did a screen test with Denzel and I saw how gentle he was with her. When she walked in the room, she took my heart. I thought, “I want to take care of the bad guy that did this to her.” She was young and still had hope in her eyes. That was really important that she felt that way. That’s why it catapults McCall, because why would anybody put out that light?
Movie Fanatic: The city of Boston was a character too. Why did that city work so well for you as a landscape for The Equalizer?
Antoine Fuqua: I have fallen in love with Boston before. It’s a great town. When I was scouting locations, the bombing happened and I watched the people pull themselves up and get back on their feet again. I felt like Boston makes sense. It’s a highly intellectual town. But it’s also a town with secrets. You still have the Whitey Bulgers of the world and the ports which bring all these things into America. Boston represented McCall, a blue collar guy who is highly intelligent, but at the same time is a really tough, gritty individual. That’s Boston.
Watch Training Day online for a look inside the brilliance of the Washington-Fuqua tandem and check out The Equalizer in theaters September 26.