Antoine Fuqua is known for crafting action-packed thrillers with a gritty, dangerously realistic edge. From Training Day to The Equalizer, there's a strong aura of testosterone-fueled masculinity to his work, though his films always come with an unexpected dose of claustrophobic intimacy, forcing audiences to empathize, or at least understand, the mindset of the complex characters at the center of his stories.
The Equalizer is shaping up to be an surprisingly lucrative franchise. An adult-oriented action film about civics, revenge, and heroes in a jaded world that has rejected the very concept of heroism, the films follow Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) as he seeks justice for the innocent by using a lifetime of military skills to brutally punish the predators who prey upon the weak.
We got the chance to talk to Antoine Fuqua about the experience of making The Equalizer 2, allowing actors to improvise on set, and violent moments which needed to be cut back.
When the movie was first announced, the big headline was that it was the first sequel for both you and Denzel Washington. What made you want to return to this character?
Antoine Fuqua: With this character, there was the opportunity to explore him further. We didn’t really give a lot away in the first one, so there was a lot of mystery and intrigue with the Robert McCall character. The writer, Richard Wenk, wrote a script which I felt that, on its own, was a really good movie. Also, in these days and in this time, making a movie about justice is just as good as anything else.
This film makes me believe in heroes in real life, not just in superhero movies.
Antoine Fuqua: Exactly. That’s part of it. (He's doing) simple things. Spending time with a man who has no one left in the world, or helping a kid find his direction, or painting a wall that needs to be painted when no one else will do it. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that add up.
He’s a hero who helps people, as opposed to just like, a night stalker, and he's got this unbreakable, righteous moral fiber.
Antoine Fuqua: Right, exactly.
So, working with Richard Wenk, what are some of your inspirations when you’re developing both this movie and the first film?
Antoine Fuqua: To me, The Equalizer’s weird. It kind of reminds me of a 70s film, or a European film, in that way, for me. Or even a western. I thought a lot about Shane. Ya know, a gunslinger who’s hung up his guns, but kinda got drawn back into it because of a kid. In the first one, he got drawn back into it from Chloe (Grace Moretz). Her character. I kinda… Didn’t really look at a lot of movies that inspired me as much for the second one, as much as it was a metaphor, really, where Richard (Wenk) wrote about him going home, and we came up with the idea of the storm as a metaphor. Man’s hardest journey is the journey back home. I thought that was a powerful theme.
Masculinity is a theme in your movies, and the difference between talking tough and being tough. Robert never drops any one liners. The closest he gets is when he announces to his enemies that he’s going to kill them all, and they can’t do anything because a wife and child are there...
Antoine Fuqua: It was fun to watch that with an audience. They all seemed to enjoy that moment.
It's the 'finger guns!'
Antoine Fuqua: They started clapping when that happened!
How much room do your actors have to cut loose during those scenes? Were the finger guns Denzel's personal flourish?
Antoine Fuqua: Oh yeah, that's Denzel. It depends on who you are as an actor. Denzel, obviously. Pedro Pascal, he’s talented. Melissa Leo, yeah. For me, certain people I wouldn’t do that with, but these guys, they’re always delivering something and trying something. I love for actors to try something. I’ll tell them if 'I don’t think so,' but I love when they do that in the moment. It’s something you can tell wasn’t calculated, because you can tell if someone thought about, “ooh, I’m gonna do this the next take.” Denzel doesn’t do that. He’s just in the moment.
Is Robert McCall related to Sam Chisolm from The Magnificent Seven?
Antoine Fuqua: As much as they live in Denzel, absolutely! They’re all about justice, even reluctant justice. Sam Chisolm didn’t want to do it, but he got talked into it and wound up doing it, and Robert McCall, he didn’t want to do it either! He didn’t want to get involved with Chloe. But he couldn’t stop being who he really is.
You’ve crafted crowd-pleasing shootouts in Magnificent 7, and you’ve got this righteous brutality in The Equalizer, but you’ve also got the villains committing very violent acts. As a director, how do you make the distinction when you’re shooting between heroic and villainous action?
Antoine Fuqua: If it’s Robert McCall doing what he’s doing, he’s justified. He always gives them a chance to do the right thing. If they don’t do the right thing, then, depending on the level of what they've done, they pay a heavy price. The villains, they do what they do because they have different motivations. But I don’t like to do violence and action just to do it, just because. It all has to be part of the story; it depends on what led us there. What led us into that storm? What led us to that apartment? That would determine the level of violence.
Between this movie and Olympus has Fallen, you seem to really like beating up Melissa Leo.
Antoine Fuqua: That was just by accident, man! (laughs) I actually love her so much, she’s so tough. I love Melissa: she’s tough, and she’s an amazing actress. It was just a coincidence, really. In Olympus has Fallen, of course (she gets beat up,) but in this one, when we read in the script that they kill her, me and Melissa were like, “she’s gonna fight back.” So it became more of a brutal fight.
Melissa's big fight is so vicious. Was there ever any pressure or concern that it might be too violent? Did they ever ask you to tone it down?
Antoine Fuqua: Yeah, they did. I trimmed it down a little bit. It was a little more brutal. There’s a few extra pieces to it that I trimmed down.
You got your start doing a lot of music videos. You don’t need me to tell you that Gangsta’s Paradise is probably one of the most famous hip-hop videos ever. I love it when you have these extended sequences with no dialogue and just music. How do you approach that? Is it like making a video from back in the day?
Antoine Fuqua: I learned some tricks from making videos back in the day, but it’s a little different because, as a director, you never want to get in the way. For music videos, you become so self-conscious about you, with your camera, and how cool you can be, and the actors and the singers. In a movie, you kind of want to get out of the way and move the story along and not do anything that’s going to interrupt the audience experience.
Did you always envision The Equalizer as a franchise? When you were making the first one, did you think, “I’m gonna come back to this?”
Fuqua: No, I was just trying to make the best movie I could make out of the script that I had. I didn’t think about a franchise. I don’t think you can do that. I think you just have to, ya know, try to make the script in front of you successful. You can only do one movie at a time. You give everything you’ve got to the one you’re doing, and you make it as though you won’t get another chance.
I’ve gotta ask: The Equalizer 3?
Fuqua: If the audience says so. We’ll find out!
More: The Equalizer 2 Review
ANTOINE FUQUA (Director) is one of the most sought-after filmmakers of his generation, effortlessly blending action and character-driven storytelling.
Fuqua’s most recent release was The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 western of the same name and an homage to Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. With The Magnificent Seven, Fuqua brought his modern and stylish vision to a classic story that starred a diverse and international cast, which included Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke.
Previously, Fuqua directed the boxing drama Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal in a heralded performance, and the smash hit The Equalizer, for Sony Pictures. Fuqua's critically acclaimed drama Training Day earned an Academy Award® for Denzel Washington for Best Actor, and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Ethan Hawke. He has also directed such films as Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman; Brooklyn's Finest with Richard Gere; the international hit King Arthur, starring Clive Owen; and the blues documentary Lightning in a Bottle, executive produced by Martin Scorsese.
Through his production company Fuqua Films, Fuqua is busy generating projects and content for both film and television. He is currently executive-producer on the new FOX medical drama “The Resident,” starring Matt Czuchry and Emily VanCamp. He is also directing and executive-producing, with Lebron James, an untitled HBO Entertainment multi-part documentary film about the life and career of Muhammad Ali.
Fuqua is also a highly regarded commercial and music video director, having worked with such brands as Nike, Armani and Pirelli, amongst others, and earning numerous awards. He was selected to direct an advertising spot for Walmart’s marketing campaign project collectively titled “The Receipt,” which aired during the 2017 Oscars® telecast. The campaign received the coveted Bronze Lion at the 2017 Cannes International Film Festival.
Fuqua is deeply passionate about supporting youth in the community and gives back through filmmaking. He was honored for his charitable work by The Opportunity Network in 2016.
- The Equalizer 2 (2018) release date: Jul 20, 2018