December 2002
Antwone Fisher : An Interiew with Oscar Winner and Director Denzel Washington

Interviewed by Monikka Stallworth

Director Denzel Washington on the set of Fox Searchlight's Antwone Fisher - 2002Antwone Fisher : An Interiew with Oscar Winner and Director Denzel Washington

T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap can not conceal Denzelís good looks, nor can his decidedly frank manner camouflage his charm. Denzel Washington is the perfect blend of artistry and intelligence and it was very cool to chat with him about Antwone Fisher, his directorial debut.

MS: Congratulations! Antwone Fisher was a wonderful film.

DW: Thank you.

MS: So, what was it about this particular story that attracted you?

DW: It was a long process. The script came to me in about 1996 and we (Denzel

and producer, Todd Black) worked on it and developed it together for almost 6 years. So we worked on it, really getting inside Antwone and what heís been through. Then, Iíve done a few movies about real people, so I thought, okay, thatís a positive for me. I think I know something to maybe make a film like that. Also, itís really about 2 people, it wasnít some big extravaganza, so I figured I could cover that.

MS: By "cover", do you mean technically cover it?

DW: Yes, technically I thought I could cover it. Thereís usually two people in the room, Antwone and Joy, or Antwone and his mother, or Antwone and Davenport, so I figured I could "cover" that. Also, itís a performance piece, I figured that was my strength, and also I think I know a little something about acting.

MS: How did it feel to tread in new territory as a first time director?

DW: It was the most frightening thing Iíve ever done in my life. I was so scared. It was like once I got going, I was fine. But when I talked to other directors I was like "do you get sleep when youíre directing? Cause I didnít get any." They said, no that never goes away ‚Äď you jump up in the middle of the night like "did I get that shot?" I had a lot of fun, a lot of fun. I would definitely do it again.

MS: What was your preparation like, did you storyboard?

DW: Yeah, quite a bit, but not all of the shots. I did storyboard the dream sequence, but I ended up not using half of that. And I boarded certain scenes, just to give myself an idea of my options. I boarded the first 2 days of shooting, the scene where he comes to see his aunt and uncle and then, we had to shoot the next day the scene with the entire family and we were suppose to be shooting it outside and it rained. So the storyboards went

out the window.

MS: What about the jail scene with you and Derek?

DW: No, I didnít board that one.

MS: I really enjoyed that jail scene - you and Derek in the jail cell - can you talk a little about shooting that particular scene?

DW: I think we had a full day to shoot that one and we rehearsed it a lot. On set, you just start looking around and it just came to me - he was walking away and he was walking toward the bars and we just took a look from the outside and Philipe Rouseau is a great cinematographer and he walked into a close up. And I had this idea, we should just fade down and try this, like Iím not there and weíre inside of his head and that was actually something that Norman Jewison did in A Soldierís Story and I remembered it. Itís not exactly like that, but thatís where I got the idea from, right there on the spot.

MS: Was there any particular director or directors that inspired your choices?

DW: I had my homage to different directors everyday. In other words, I stole from everybody! You can go back and look at all my movies and you can see each and every scene.

Derek Luke and Denzel Washington on the set of Fox Searchlight's Antwone Fisher - 2002MS: What were some of the challenges being both an actor and director on the set?

DW: I had to learn to watch myself in movies because I donít. Iíll watch them one time, then talk to you guys and thatís it. And I had to get used to watching myself cause I knew I had to look at the monitor. And when I finally took on the job and I was looking at some films and I realized how hard a job it is and I realized how good a filmmaker Spike is and I was like "wow". You begin to really appreciate what people are doing. As an actor, youíre so busy just looking at yourself. Thereís just a lot that goes into it.

MS: Do you think that this film will "cross over" into the main stream?

DW: If you do your job. (laughter) No, listen, I mean, abuse is colorblind and thatís really the point. Itís not that this happened to him because heís black. So hopefully it will have a universal appeal.

MS: I found the use of that Slave Mentality book that your character gives

Antwone to read pretty interesting. Can you tell me how that came about?

DW: Thatís what he (Antwone Fisher) wrote and I wasnít sure if I was gonna buy it because it was so "lip quick".

MS: Lip quick?

DW: Yeah, a quick fix which was the point, but itís been interesting to talk to

people about it. That was something many people remembered about the film.

I wasnít totally sold on it as an actor.

MS: Didnít the real story take place in the 1950‚Äôs?

DW: Yes, but I changed the time, it really took place in the 50ís up to the 80s,

but I wanted to bring it right up to the now. I wanted young people to look at Derek and Joy and think, "theyíre like me. I can relate to them, Maybe I can get help or maybe I can stand up or maybe I can share this with someone or help someone."

MS: Watching an older black male take a serious interest in and mentor a younger

black male was very poignant and sadly, a unique aspect of Antwone Fisher. Was that part of your attraction to the story?

DW: Actually, I didnít think about it really, but Iím going to take credit for it from now on. Youíll hear me saying that. (laughter)

Derek Luke, director Denzel Washington and Joy Bryant on the set of Fox Searchlight's Antwone Fisher - 2002MS: What were some of the challenges of working with new actors?

DW: I just shared with them how I work. We had a good rehearsal process. I set up with the department of defense; we got a boot camp set up for them. They got to go out on the ship, they got to eat the ship food, and they had to learn to march, they had to learn to wear their uniforms. I know as an actor that all of those things add up to character. I had both of them write extensive journals on their history. I said, I want you to write a whole book, where you grew up, what you ate, what food you liked, whereíd you go to school and fill in all of that ď thatís the kind of work I do as an actor. So I just helped them in that way. They came in with a lot of confidence and I tried to be gentle and kind and supportive. And I used all the tricks I know as an actor and shared them with them.

MS: Derek said he didnít study the real Antwone Fisher.

DW: Thatís one of the things I told him, donít imitate, I said capture the spirit of him. Like when I played Malcolm X, I captured the spirit of him, Reuben "Hurricane" Carter, I donít look anything like him, but the spirit of him is what matters, you have to get to know the man.

MS: Derek also said he got flustered a few times, howíd you help him through that?

DW: I said, "Letís go!" (laughter) No, it happens and it just depends, you know. We improvised a lot. I gave him a lot of freedom and I worked with Jonathan Demme and he was one of my favorites because he would create an environment where you felt like you could fly without fail. And I told them, itís alright, we got more film, it doesnít matter, it doesnít have to be perfect and it doesnít have to be precise, but honest, make it honest.

MS: And Derek said that during that scene where he goes off on you in the bathroom, that he was just making it up as he went along.

DW: Oddly enough, I had to find a way to get Derek to be angry. Iíd say letís take it back to the bricks, cause heís from Newark, New Jersey Ė Iíd say "youíre not rough enough, youíre not rough enough" come on! Heís such a kind, soft-spoken person.

MS: What was it about Derek that made him the right Antwone?

DW: He was just the one. He came in and won the part. Iíd been casting that part for about 5 years. Iíd scene everybody. People got too old, it took so long. In fact, Cuba Gooding did a reading with us years ago, right after he won the Academy Award. He got too old and then, somewhere in the process, I just realized I wanted a new face, someone no one had seen before, so when they see him up there, theyíd think "thatís Antwone".

MS: The real Antwone Fisher must be an amazing person, to have endured all of that dysfunction and to come out of it sane and successful is a testament to, I donít know, perseverance in spite of huge obstacles.

Derek Luke and Denzel Washington in Fox Searchlight's Antwone Fisher - 2002 DW: Yeah, I donít know if youíre going to have a chance to meet Antwone, but when I met him and in getting to know him, thatís when I realized I had to do this picture. Iím telling you we only cover a third of what he actually went through. He had a rough, rough life. I donít want to go into details. But we sort of hint at it and suggest it. For this young man to have the kindness in his heart now and a desire to help other people is amazing. I mean heís exposing himself to the world and heís doing it so that others who may have similar problems will feel that they can make it and that they can get help. And that was reason enough. We can act like this doesnít exist, but it does. And Iím amazed in working through the production process and post-production process and working with people day in and day out and all the sudden one day; someone will open up and talk about something theyíve gone through, one form of abuse or another. Weíve all been close to that or know someone whoís been close to that. Itís an important story to tell.

Young people can stand up and you can overcome this.

MS: So, how has Oscar #2 changed your life?

DW: It hasnít. Iíve got one next to the other one now.

MS: You just finished Out of Time with Carl Franklin? How was working with him


DW: Carl is a talented director and we had a really good experience on Devil in a Blue Dress, so it was a real easy decision to go back and work with him again. You know it was interesting directing and then being on your first film back because youíre like "hey, Iíve got ideas too". (chuckle)

MS: Can you talk a little about the character you play in Out of Time?

DW: I play a guy who fools around with another manís wife.

MS: Sanaa Lathan, right?

DW: Yes, Sanaa Lathan and you come to find out, the other man and the wife are setting me up the whole time.

Derek Luke and Denzel Washington on the set of Fox Searchlight's Antwone Fisher - 2002MS: Ooh. If directing is such a high-pressure job, why do you think everyone wants to do it?

DW: To do something new, fresh. I was getting bored with acting. The collaboration with other talent, designers and costumers, its just the whole picture, the whole pie.

MS: Now that youíve directed, has it changed your perspective?

DW: I try to come out of the trailer on time now. (laughter)

MS: Do you have any directing projects coming up?

DW: No, not yet.

MS: Would you direct again?

DW: Absolutely.