Denzel Washington doesn’t do franchise movies. He picks certain directors and certain projects based on his interests, but you’ve never seen him in a superhero blockbuster and you’ve never seen him do sequels or prequels. With Sony’s The Equalizer, that may finally change, and with good reason.
The “hard R” character-driven action movie was pitched to Washington as a potential franchise by producer Todd Black and he loved the script, even helped bring in director Antoin Fuqua who worked with Washington on Training Day to helm it and his vision for the project matched what the producers and studio wanted to deliver with The Equalizer.
We learned months ago that Sony was indeed already beginning to plan a sequel based on positive feedback from early test screenings and from what we learned while visiting the set of The Equalizer last August, we’re not surprised. The adaptation of the ’80s TV show of the same name takes the logo, concept and the name/skills of the protagonist Robert McCall but little else from the original series, but it makes its main character more mysterious and more layered. We spoke with Denzel Washington about the film after watching him work on set in the outskits of Boston and you can read how it went below.
I think one of the really interesting things about your character in this is that you’re dealing with OCD, which is not typical for someone showing physical prowess in movies. Can you talk about that dynamic?
Denzel Washington: We added it so he’s just not the action guy. He’s troubled, flawed and we don’t finish the story- it’s not like suddenly at the end he’s fine [laughs]. It’s been an interesting development as we’ve gone along. We started talking about it and adding things, opening doors five times. We obviously did a lot of research about it. I was surprised to find- it’s just obsessive behavior, it could be anything. In fact I read a book “I Never Wash my Hands”, so it’s not necessarily about someone who always washes their hands fifty times.
Is there something about that obsessive behavior that’s related specifically to the characters propensity for violence? We saw the clip where you go into confront the Russian guys in the office.
Denzel Washington: They cut that together already?
We didn’t see you fighting, but we saw the conversation and how you kind of go to the door and look at it a couple of times and open and close it.
Denzel Washington: They do it five times [laughs] yeah, okay.
Is that a prep thing for him?
Denzel Washington: Not every time, not every time just whenever I feel like it [laughs], because the movie would be twice as long if I did it every time. But that was one of the times. You never know when it’s going to rear it’s ugly head.
Are you always the man in black?
Denzel Washington: No, just this part of the movie.
We know the character’s past is very mysterious from what we’ve been told, but can you tell us anything about Robert McCall’s motivations?
Denzel Washington: No. [Laughs] I’m not going to change that now.
Like why he got into helping-
Denzel Washington: Well, I think he’s looking to put his past behind him and circumstances brought him here, working at Walmart. He’s trying real hard. I actually say- there’s a line I say, “I’ve done a lot of bad things in the past, things I’m not proud of.” I actually promised- in my back story, I promised my wife that I wouldn’t go back to being that person, but you wouldn’t have a movie then [laughs], so he’s drawn back in.
Is that why the character doesn’t use a gun?
Denzel Washington: What do you mean?
We were told the character, at least for part of the movie, doesn’t carry –
Denzel Washington: Well he doesn’t carry one, other people have one. He takes a lot, takes guns from people.
So he does use a gun in the film?
Denzel Washington: He doesn’t carry one, I don’t think we see – yeah, he disarms people though.
They showed us to scenes today, one was your second conversation with Chloe’s character.
Denzel Washington: Which one was that?
Where you’re at the diner.
Denzel Washington: Where we’re walking across the bridge or something?
Where you discuss her wife and a little bit about her background.
Denzel Washington: Oh okay, see you guys are ahead of me. I don’t know what’s still in and what’s not in.
I guess that the characteristic of the two sequences that they showed us earlier today is that they’re quiet and dialogue heavy, which is not necessarily what I expected to see in this movie. Can you talk about the balance?
Denzel Washington: We’ll see. [Laughs] I don’t know yet, it hasn’t been cut together yet. But they do have the story to tell and I think my character and Chloe’s sort of connect and then she’s literally snatched away. So he doesn’t come out of the gate just fighting. He’s trying to lead a normal life, but it’s not normal. He’s not able to sleep. Actually in the film, or in the script anyway, after he dealt with Slavi’s men is the first time we see him actually get a good nights rest. So he’s got issues. He’s a night person and obviously because of her work Chloe’s character is a night person.
Todd [Black, producer] told us that the script had been groomed for you.
Denzel Washington: What does that mean?
That’s what I was going to ask you?
Denzel Washington: I don’t know what that means. I’m sad to hear that. And what does that mean? I’m playing the man who kills [laughs]. What does that mean?
[Laughs] Beyond that, after the script was written you guys went through a couple of directors before you decided on Antoine [Fuqua]. What was that process like for you?
Denzel Washington: You know, that’s just a part of the process. Each time it’s different. Sometimes it’s filmmaker first, sometimes – you never know, sometimes a filmmaker’s attached. In this case he wasn’t, or she wasn’t, so we had to find one.
The characters that you choose often have redeeming qualities to them. Is that how you pick your movies?
Denzel Washington: Well the last one I did with Antoine he didn’t have too much [laughs].
[Laughs] Well, it was a fun movie nonetheless.
Denzel Washington: Oh, forget about the people he killed. It was fun. He killed them in fun [laughs].
It was great to see you play terrible.
Denzel Washington: Thank you, I think.
What does the script need to have when you pick movies?
Denzel Washington: I don’t know. It just needs to be something I’m interested in, something I haven’t done before, but no it doesn’t have to have – if the character doesn’t have any redeeming qualities then I guess then he’s got to die [laughs], but that’s not what I look for.
Pairing with Antoine again, hearing you guys talk it sounds like you have a great shorthand. How does that help you as an actor having that familiarity?
Denzel Washington: I think it’s good. That was one of the reasons I was excited about him coming on board, we had obviously good success together before [on Training Day] so it makes it easier, yeah. We know each other. I guess it is sort of a shorthand.
What characteristics make him a good director?
Denzel Washington: I haven’t thought about it like that. What are his characteristics? I mean, he’s a good filmmaker, a good friend, a good storyteller, and we get along well.
The Equalizer seems to have sequel potential, which is not something that I would typically associate with you. Is that something you’re interested in?
Denzel Washington: No. No, everybody else is, but I’m not. I’m like, let’s make one- you don’t have a sequel without a good film, so there’s no point in thinking about sequels. I’m just trying to be a part of making the best film that I can.
So you weren’t looking for a potential franchise?
Denzel Washington: No, never have. I don’t know what that is. Obviously I guess when you have a name, Spider-Man or something, some name brand thing there is that potential. I mean you don’t look at Training Day and go I’m going to do Training Day 2. I don’t look at it that way, I never have.
Are you aware that you’ve actually been put as #2 for the highest grossing stars who have not done a franchise?
Denzel Washington: That and a dollar-fifty will get me on the subway, right? Or is it two-fifty now? I’m #2 for the what, now?
Stars who have not done franchise films or sequels.
Denzel Washington: They’ve got more categories… stars who have not done franchises. Is that a complement [laughs]?