March 2003
Tears of the Sun : An Interview with Director Antoine Fuqua

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Tears of the Sun: An Interview with Director Antoine Fuqua

Making the transition from directing commercials and music videos to directing feature films has taken a number of directors to greater heights in the film industry. Michael Bay, for example, has made a big name for himself by directing such high octane films such Bad Boys, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor. Another director who has made a successful transition is Antoine Fuqua. From his first film Replacement Killers to his most recent film Training Day; his talents have not been questioned. In fact, it was Mr. Fuqua who directed Denzel Washington his first Oscar as Best Actor for his role in Training Day. In his new film, Tears of the Sun, he tackles a subject matter that hits close to home as the threat of war emerges. In an interview with, Director Antoine Fuqua talks about his latest film and how much realism he wanted the film to be.

WM: What does the title mean?

AF: Tears of the Sun is the tears of the people of Africa. I think that once you see the movie, you get a sense of it. I donít think you can make it clear to the audience because of the nature of the film. The trailers and all that stuff gears it more toward the action. You donít really see the suffering so itís difficult.

WM: Was it your decision to use Nigeria as the country?

AF: When I first read the script it was a fictional country with a made up name. That always pisses me off because you donít have to do that. You can pick any country in Africa and tell their story. Nigeria made sense simply because when I read it, it said ďexterior major city in chaosĒ and thereís only a few major cities in Africa that have many diverse cultures that made sense for me and I couldnít wrap my head around any other place. So I pick Nigeria, not to pick on it specifically, but it could be any place in Africa. But I needed it to ground myself.

WM: You mentioned that this was one of the most difficult shoots youíve done. Can you talk about it?

AF: Well, it was difficult just logistically because we were up in the rainforest. Weíre recreating Africa. We were shooting in Hawaii. Itís difficult when you canít predict the weather and you got guys running around with these heavy pack sets and theyíre up through mud up to their knees sometimes. We were running cables to get lights up in areas that are really remote and bringing certain pieces of equipment by helicopter. Emotionally it was tough because there are two stories. Thereís the story of the African people, which is hard because the Africans in the movie are real Africans. They are from Sierre Leon, Rwanda, Zaire, and Nigeria. Theyíve experienced these things so at times they would break down and start crying which would remind us that this was real for them. At the same time I had Navy SEALS around and I would talk to some of these guys and you realize that this is also very real for them. They are what I call ďanonymous heroesĒ. They are the guys that go out and get drop into the jungle and eat snakes to stay alive and do these jobs that nobody ever hears about. They die there sometimes and their names are on a plaque somewhere. It made it tough all the way around.

WM: What about your decision to use real people from that area? Was it to add a sense of reality to the film?

AF: Well, I wanted to film in Africa obviously, but this movie was prepared after 9/11 and I think it would have been irresponsible on my part to take people away from their families at that time and try to make something like that happen. So we researched places in Hawaii because of the terrain and the safety elements of it still being within the United States. But for me, I wanted it to be as real as possible and I talked with Bruce and I talked with Joe Roth and they agreed to let me bring in about 300 Africans. Part of that reason is that they have experienced these things. You canít get that look in their eyes. I donít look the way they look. Thatís the reality of it. I canít begin to understand to what they have seen and been through. It helped me stay honest. I thought it would be better for the movie and I thought it would better for Bruce and everyone to talk to these guys. People who have actually experience things.

WM: What do you think about the timing of the film? Do you think audiences can see a war movie during a time of war?

AF: I donít know. Itís hard to say. Weíve always have war films during a time of war. I think itís a heroic film. Itís about heroism. Itís about humanity. I think itís a film that, for me shed some real light on the fact that war is ugly and if we go to war, people are going to die, including our own. Women and children are going to die. Thereís a bit of reality that people should face. At the same time, we do have heroes. There are people out there fighting for the innocent. I think in a time of war, itís a good film to see. I donít think people should run away from it. After ďTraining DayĒ, everybody thought that film was going to die and they should move the date and people didnít want to see that, but I think theyíre wrong. Today, people are more interested in seeing some things that have substance simply because the world is much more realistic all of a sudden after 9/11.

WM: Most films of this genre tend to do well during a time of war. Did you think about that?

AF: No, I didnít think about war. I just made the movie. What I was trying to do in the film was ultimately show manís inhumanity to man. I was trying to say that we do have heroes. Iím a big believer in our military. Iíve been on the boats with these young guys. I know Navy SEALS. Some of them are between the ages of 19 and 22 and giving their lives to a country. I think thatís a noble thing.

WM: Did you talk to the producers about not trying to overkill the subject matter?

AF: Of course, we talked about it later because this wasnít happening when I was shooting the film. 9/11 happened, but the idea of going to war against Iraq didnít start happening until recently. We talked about it, and of course I wanted to kill all the Navy SEALS down the in the hill. As a director, what I wanted to do was to make none of them make it out of there because it doesnít matter. Itís there deed. Itís what they attempted to do is whatís important. The reality of it is that if none of the Africans would have made it, our Navy SEALS wouldnít have made it. The most important thing is that their redemption comes from what they try to do is righteous. For me, that was the ultimate goal. Obviously, itís Hollywood, itís a movie, and I couldnít get away with it. I tried, but couldnít get away with it. And I think itís better that you do see them make it, at least some of them. I think itís a better way to end the film.

WM: When did you know you had a success in ďTraining DayĒ?

AF: When I read the script. When I sat down with Denzel (Washington) and when I got Ethan (Hawke) into the film. What I knew is that I had a piece of material that turned me on. Thatís all I really knew. I knew that I would fight like hell to keep it true to what I wanted it to be. I didnít know it would be successful as it was. It was an opportunity to show what Iím really about. ďBaitĒ and ďReplacement KillersĒ were two separate films. ďReplacement KillersĒ was a good opportunity to get into the movie business. Coming out of commercials and videos is difficult and the films I want to make are tough to get made. Jaime (Foxx) is a friend of mine and ďBaitĒ was more like a comedy film. When I read ďTraining DayĒ, it was closer to my heart and the type of storytelling that I like to do. So thatís all I really focused on with that film.

WM: What are you working on next and how does that fit with what you want to do?

AF: Iím working on ďKing ArthurĒ; the true story of Arthur. Itís manís inhumanity to man. The story is also about the battle between Arthur and the Saxons. The Saxons were destroying everything they came across and Arthur was left when Rome was falling because this movie takes place in 400 A.D. The writer of ďGladiatorĒ wrote this and itís fascinating. For me, itís all about making a righteous decision and putting your life on the line for what you see and believe in.