Adam R talks to Denzel Washington about UNSTOPPABLE, TOP GUN 2, Tony Scott, directing & the recession!

Before he has even entered the room, Denzel Washington's presence can be felt. My fellow journalists and I sit in a state of silent, respectful and in slightly terrified anticipation as we wait for his arrival. And we have good reason to be this way; how many people can you name who have played the baddest cop in L.A., the most wanted Gangster in New York, a special ops assassin, a Heavyweight boxer, a marine, a Civil War soldier and even more intimidating, won two Oscars? Times up! For you just like it was for us when Denzel swaggered into the Eisenhower suite, sat down at the head of the table and coolly said, €œhow we doin?€ Silence pervaded the room for a moment; the simple, €˜yeah not too bad, yourself?€™ just doesn€™t seem suited as an answer for Denzel. Then suddenly he sat forward and invitingly exclaimed, €œwell somebody jump in!€ We took this open invitation and let the questions fly. A fellow journalist playfully quipped, €˜so are you and Tony on first name terms?€™ Denzel coldly responded, €œWhy?€ Before smiling and saying obviously, €œoh because of all the films we make together€. He then laughed and as he struggled to recall all five of the films they have made together over a fifteen year period he said, €œit€™s like this: I work with him because he calls me. He makes good movies, we get on well and he calls me.€ And then, he bows his head and tries to underplay what he knows will get pulses raising, €œBut he didn€™t call me about Top Gun 2.€ I€™m in there faster than the Freight in Unstoppable, €œWho has he called about Top Gun 2.€ He looks me square in the eyes €“ he looks everyone who he€™s talking to square in the eyes €“ and says, €œI don€™t know, you tell me. Is that actually happening?€ He€™s raised heart rates in a second, and just like that, he€™s let them fall. Maybe he knows more than he€™s letting on, maybe he doesn€™t, but either way, he€™s loving toying with us. And he€™s just as coy when it comes to discussing Scott€™s pet project The Warriors, a remake of the 70€™s Walter Hill classic. €œWhat€™s that?€ he exclaims when I ask whether Tony has ever discussed it with him. Who wouldn€™t love to see Denzel play Cyrus the leader of the gangs? And yet he knows nothing of it. But then he says something that is encouraging for all writers: €œhere€™s the thing, for me, it€™s all about the script. I don€™t have time for people saying €˜I€™ve go this amazing idea and it will be great€™. Go write it, then I€™ll read it and if I like it, I€™ll say let€™s do this thing.€ Obviously he loved the script for Unstoppable; although he had no knowledge of the real life events that the film is based on, or rather to quote Denzel, €œinspired by€. €œThe first time I saw the footage was when Tony showed it to me, so I didn€™t know about it before.€ But it was the basis of an amazing story, and that€™s what movies should be.€ Although the film isn€™t based closely on the real life events, Denzel did get to meet the man who his character was based on, though he is certainly no Denzel doppelganger. "The real guy is not black, his name isn€™t Frank Barnes. He is a great guy though and I did meet him and drew some things from him. In fact it was his idea that we have my daughters in the movie work at hooters.€ While Denzel appreciates the need for a film to choose entertainment over blunt honesty, he also feels a responsibility to the people and the place where the event occurred and was passionate about filming in Pennsylvania, where the events occurred. €œI can€™t imagine it being filmed anywhere else. I mean I guess they could have done it in a back lot in L.A. but that wouldn€™t have been right. And after I had been there and seen how bad the area had been hit by the recession, it was obvious we had to come here.€ The recession is an area of great concern for him, and he€™s more eager to talk about that than anything else. €œTimes are really tough, particularly in the areas we shot. We had a casting call for five hundred extras. Five thousand turned out. It€™s scary. But what was great from our point of view was we were able to fill the hotels and create business down there and keep people working. It was only short term but everything is important. Something is needed. I don€™t know what will come along but something has to. We had the Internet buzz that saved Clinton. Then we had the fake real estate buzz for Bush, which is why we€™re in the trouble we€™re in now. I don€™t know what€™s going to come next, which is concerning.€ But despite his fears for the economy, he has no doubts for the continued success of his films and entertainment in general. €œIt€™s like my Mother who ran her own beauty shop always used to say: €œwhen times got tougher, business went up. Because although a woman might not be able to buy that extra dress, she still wants to feel good about herself. And that€™s the way it is now. People are sad, so they need movies and music and art to take their mind off their troubles. I€™m very lucky I€™m in the business I€™m in. Because no matter how bad things are, people will always want to watch a movie.€ And yet amazingly he admits, €œI don€™t watch a lot of movies. I€™m not a movie guy. Never have been.€ A shocking admission from a man who has appeared in over forty films. €œHowever, I do watch a lot of movies when I€™m going to direct. I will watch two hundred movies in a week. Because I€™m checking out the shots of other directors. So I can steal them.€ He laughs loud and hard, it€™s impossible not to like him. While he is extremely intimidating, he€™s also warm and exudes charm and charisma. So what does the future hold for the man who has surely accomplished everything an actor could dream of? Well he recently finished a run on Broadway, where he starred in the multiple Tony Award winning Fences. €œThat was a truly great experience, and we were fortunate to win a lot of awards. I was very tempted to come on over to the West End with it, but after 14 weeks straight of performing, I had to say, €˜thanks but I need to give my knees some time off€™€. Then there is directing, which he has loved on the few occasions he has went behind the camera. Once more he was tight-lipped, but was developing two projects. And then there is acting; does he still feel the same desire and burn to be on set early in the morning and still be filming through the wee early hours? And if so, by what? €œI€™m always drawn by a good script, a good story. If you€™ve got one of those write it, give it to me, because I€™m always looking. If I read a good script then I want to be a part of telling that story. We all need entertainment, particularly now, and acting is what I have loved for as long as I can remember and it remains my passion and I€™m certainly not bored of it yet.€ Unstoppable is in U.K. cinema's now. You can read my review of the film, HERE.
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Frustratingly argumentative writer, eater, reader and fanatical about film ‘n’ food and all things fundamentally flawed. I have been a member of the WhatCulture family since it was known as Obsessed with Film way back in the bygone year of 2010. I review films, festivals, launch events, award ceremonies and conduct interviews with members of the ‘biz’. Follow me @FilmnFoodFan In 2011 I launched the restaurant and food criticism section. I now review restaurants alongside film and the greatest rarity – the food ‘n’ film crossover. Let your imaginations run wild as you mull on what that might look like!