Director Antoine Fuqua is known for delivering on his violent action movies, whether they be with swords in King Arthur, the military elite in Tears of the Sun or the Secret Service in Olympus Has Fallen. The one that earned him the most recognition however is 2001’s Training Day which scored a pair of Oscar nominations for its two leads and a win for Denzel Washington.
This September, we finally get to see the product of Fuqua and Washington working together again in The Equalizer, a “hard R” action movie based on the ’80s TV show of the same name where Robert McCall, an ex-CIA operative hidden away in self-retirement is forced back in, using his special ops training to do right by those in need. And if the wrongdoers don’t stop wrongdoing, they’ll meet a violent end. We don’t yet know what training and background Washington’s version of McCall will have, but we can say for certain he’s trained to kill.
We spoke with The Equalizer producer Todd Black during a set visit last August at length about the film’s development and asked him how the lead role almost went to fellow Oscar winner Russell Crowe before Denzel Washington snagged the part. As it turns out, it simply came down to finding the right style of acting to bring the new Robert McCall character to life and then having a really, really good script to send.
Yeah. We originally were talking about Russell Crowe. And as we were developing the story, even before he wrote the script, it just kind of felt like I don’t know that Russell Crowe is exactly right for it in the way we kept talking about it, and I really like Russell and he’s a great guy and he’s a great actor and he probably could have done a fantastic job at it, but the more we internally in our office were developing it with the writer, it didn’t feel like Russell. And literally I had a lunch scheduled with Denzel I think like the next day and I said to the writer and to my partner it really is Denzel. It’s more Denzel than anybody. And like there was light bulb moments. And so I sat with him at lunch I just said, you know, Denzel and I had been looking for a franchise. He’s a friend of mine that I worked with for a long time and I said, “I think maybe I have a franchise for you that’s not written it yet, but if you’re interested I’d like to have the writer write it for you.” And he said, “what is it?” And I said, “Have you ever heard of The Equalizer?” And he goes, “I never saw it bit it was a show right? It was about a guy…” and he explained what it was. And I said, “yeah.” And he goes, “that’s a great idea. Make the script great and I’ll come in.”
So we literally for eight months worked on a script with the writer and just tailor made it for him. And then once that happened and we gave it to him on June 30, he called me on July 3 of last year at 2:30 in the afternoon, and we were off because it was July 4 weekend; it was on a Tuesday. And I said, “hey.” I said, “How are you?” And he goes, “I’m Robert McCall. How are you?” So he was in. So then I was going over to Amy Pascal’s house, the chairman of Sony the next day for a Fourth of July party and I brought the script. They had nothing to do with it because we had developed it internally in our company, but our deal is at Sony. So I brought the script and I wrapped it up and I said, “Happy Fourth of July.” And she said, “What is it?” And I said, “It’s your next movie starring Denzel Washington.” She read it that night. She had her staff read it that night and July 5 we were green lit. And then the cast came together – it all came together very quickly.
Initially, Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) was in talks to direct before Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) become the top choice. Neither had the same vision for the lead character of Robert McCall though until Denzel Washington suggested Fuqua who had his own ideas for the film that matched that of the producers.
Yeah, those were the only two we talked to. There were a lot of directors that wanted to do it. We did talk to Nick. Nick wanted to make a very different movie than we wanted to make. I like Drive. We all like Drive. We thought it was pretty cool. We were concerned that there wasn’t going to be the heart to this man and the soul because Robert McCall has a lot of heart and soul. You can get it in the Chloe [Moretz] scene, and he throughout the movie, I mean he’s a very emotional man and he’s very – he’s emotional. He spiritual and he’s emotional and we were afraid after spending some time with Nick that Nick didn’t see that, or maybe he saw it but he didn’t want to make that more of a centerpiece than we did. So we moved off of Nick and then we talked – Rupert read it and Rupert wanted to do it but he wanted to make a different movie than we wanted to make. And we very nicely parted ways and we really like Rupert and we’re looking to do another movie with Rupert.
I think he’s a really talented guy and Denzel loved him also. So we’ll do something else with Rupert for sure and I would like it to be with Denzel, he just wasn’t quite right for this. And Denzel actually was the one to say have you guys talked to Antoine. I had a great experience with him on Training Day. And we hadn’t seen Olympus Has Fallen or any of that yet so Antoine was posting Olympus Has Fallen and he had read the script and he loved the script, and obviously he loves Denzel and it had been many years that they had worked together. And he came in and he sat with us quietly and he just everything he said was what we wanted. And he felt the most right and Denzel obviously felt very comfortable with him. I mean he won the Academy award with him. So that came together very organically and very naturally and the studio was super happy and that was that.
For fans of the action genre, getting a new project from Fuqua is a big win. Getting to see him work again with Denzel Washington makes it that much better. What’s your fave Denzel Washington film? Fave Antoine Fuqua film?
The Equalizer hits theaters September 26, 2014.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.
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