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March 2006
Inside Man : An Interview with Denzel Washington

Inside Man: An Interview with Denzel Washington

by Wilson Morales

Since winning the Oscar in 2002, Denzel Washington has taken on some challenging, and some may similar darker roles. “Training Day” was as dark as it can gets, but with “John Q”, Out of Time”, and “Man on Fire”, his characters were just as flawed. Washington has a way of making the audience feel for him whether he’s the good or bad guy. He recently just finished playing Brutus on Broadway in “Julius Caesar” and with some time left in his schedule, he decided to reunite with Director Spike Lee for the 4th time and make “Inside Man”. Their previous collaborations included Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and He Got Game. In “Inside Man”, Washington plays Detective Keith Frazier, who tries to stop a bank robber (Clive Owen) from committing the perfect heist, while juggling his own corruption scandal and dealing with power player (Jodie Foster) with shadowy objectives. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Washington talks about working with Spike Lee again, working with Owen and Foster, and goes over his upcoming films, including “American Gangster”, which reunites him with Russell Crowe.

In this movie there was some social content that replaced action, like the repartee with the guy you thought was Arab about, "I bet you can get a taxi." Some of it was quite funny.

DW: We had no dialogue in that scene. I had no lines. I don't think there was a scene written there. I think we just kept it going by improvising it. Everybody fall out, we didn't even do another take.

Do you think that line would have worked in a context outside of New York City?

DW: No, I don't think so.

How do you prepare for a scene like that when there's not much language, or Spike just lets you go?

DW: I started improvising with Spike 17 years ago on "Mo' Better Blues.' That's the first time I can remember, just fooling around and setting the scenario. It was a scene in "Mo' Better Blues' where we were just coming off stage and I sort of get in an argument with Wesley Snipes' character. That's one of the first times
I can remember, okay let's improvise.

Did you think of "Dog Day Afternoon" with this movie?

DW: Spike did. I don't say that to say he was doing that, but he was showing all kinds of heist movies every night. I didn't see it.

Your character is ambiguous because of the check situation the $140,000. You never find it. It's sort of high-powered people and working people in this movie and you have some great chemistry with Jodie and Clive?

DW: I like Jodie a lot and obviously she's a great actress and I was excited about the opportunity to work with her. Yeah, there on these levels, that the character I play will never get to. He didn't make it to that party in the Hamptons.

Is this one of the few movies in America that we see deals with class?

DW: No, I didn't think of that at all.

How was your relationship with Chiwetel (Ejiofor)?

DW: Chiwetel is just an elegant man and a good actor. I was tough for him because I was just rippin' and with his accent he's trying to learn to speak American. He doesn't know what I'm going to say and he has to try and respond to it. He had to run to the speech guy and figure out how he was going to play it.

What kind of physical preparation did you do for the movie?

DW: None, because I felt like, especially when he has a younger girl and he was settled in his ways, he has his routine, and sort of in over his head, I was actually in better shape for the play, so I just let it go. He had style, but he didn't have money.

What was with the hat?

Denzel Washington: Yeah, it's a handle. I worked the hat. We had one hat and one tie. By the last scene in the restaurant the hat was falling apart. I liked that hat and I guess they couldn't find anymore of them. I don't want to get someone in trouble. But it worked out.

What makes you want to do a particular movie, and what is it that speaks to you, the role or the script?

DW: Just coming off from "Julia Caesar' it just felt like a different kind of rip and I said, "Ah, okay. I was here in New York already and Spike promised me it would take four weeks.

Who was first on board?

DW: Spike was on board first.

How did you decide to do it?

DW: He called me up. I read it and said 'Yes.' It's as simple as that.

You've created a niche for yourself being the good guy everyone roots for. Is there a villain in you just dying to get out?

DW: I haven't created that. I just play the part.

Would you want to play a villain again?

DW: I played that in "Training Day." It's only been four years. And…maybe I shouldn't say this., but we're talking about producing a movie version of "Julia Caesar."

What is next for you?

DW: I'm working now in New Orleans with Tony Scott. You know we did "Man on Fire" together. This is an interesting picture. It takes place in different times; it's strange. It's a reverse love story with time travel. I wouldn't know what you'd call it. It's new technology. It's wild. I don't want to give it away. It takes place over four days and moves
around it time. It's called "Deja Vu"

What is New Orleans like these days?

DW: It's a tale of two cities. Most of the downtown district and French Quarter is intact. They still have wind damage, yet 80 percent of the town is… I saw a great sign in the downtown that says, "Smile." Isn't that better?

They've been through a lot, especially when you ride around on Saturday. You see them doing whatever they can. A lot of people are gutting the houses, back to the bones of he house, and letting it dry out, but there's nothing really t o do until you can see if the levies will hold up. It's bigger than you can imagine, mile after mile

Do you go out and talk to the people?

DW: You get in your car and ride around, but there are not a lot of people out there to talk to. I try to leave people alone. What do you say? People are, you don't speak for everyone, but they are trying to put it together. I went to a basketball game the other night. The first game back for New Orleans and there was an energy there, like a
reunion. They hadn't seen each other in a long time. But then, of course, there were the people who weren't back. It's going to take a long time.

Talking about the Oscars, what did you think of "Crash" upsetting "Brokeback Mountain?"

DW: You know, I didn't watch the Academy Awards. I took my daughter to
teach her how to drive.

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