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American Gangster - Denzel Washington interview

Denzel Washington in American Gangster

Compiled by Jack Foley

DENZEL Washington talks about working with Ridley Scott on American Gangster, the allure of playing the real-life character and his own aspirations as a director…

Q: What’s your view of DVD? Do you see it as a format that gives filmmakers a chance to revisit their films?
Denzel Washington: Yes, especially from the actor’s side it’s good to see. I’ve just directed a film called The Great Debaters, which is inspired by a true story about a young college debating team in the 30s and two of those people are still alive and we put them on tape on the film and I’m sure that will be added to the DVD, and to get the opportunity to do that is very cool

Q: Did Ridley Scott give you any idea that he might do something like that with this?
Denzel Washington: We didn’t talk about it. I would imagine they obviously interviewed the real guys. But I don’t know if that will be included or not.

Q: How hard was it for you to relate to this character?
Denzel Washington: Well, it’s fascinating. I think we are all intrigued by these figures. You just have to look at the box office that the movie got this weekend. I’ve had more people come up to me before this film came out than ever before saying: “I can’t wait to see this.” I think we’re fascinated by gangsters and that whole lifestyle and crossing the line. We get sort of stuck in our normal lives, if you will, and you want to be bigger than life and I think people somehow live through these sorts of characters.

Q: You worked with Russell Crowe 12 years ago on Virtuosity?
Denzel Washington: Yes, I was seven-years-old [laughs].

Q: What was it like working together again after that period of time?
Denzel Washington: It was great. He’s been through a lot and had a lot of success. No one knew who he was when I worked with him 12 years ago. He’s just come off a great film in Australia – Romper Stomper – and so it was good to see him again. Obviously, I’d seen him since.

Q: You’ve worked with some of the very best filmmakers. How does Ridley Scott compare?
Denzel Washington: And he’s one of them. I didn’t realise that he has never won an Academy Award. In fact, someone was telling me that Gladiator was the one film where he didn’t take a producer’s credit. And it won. But this guy changed the industry twice; with Alien, which was a whole new way of looking at things, and Blade Runner – that was also a whole new way of looking at things.

Q: Is there something that marks him out and makes him different from the other guys you’ve worked with?
Denzel Washington: Well, you know, I’m older and wiser. Well, older anyway [Laughs]. So and now having segued into filmmaking I’m looking at him and what he does in an entirely different way and I have respect for what he does and how he composes shots. So that was what was completely fascinating.

Q: And, of course, you have directed yourself. Has this experience changed your approach?
Denzel Washington: It’s definitely made me not want to do it anymore. The only reason I’m acting in films I direct is to get the money to make them, quite frankly, it’s not what I’m interested in doing. And we’ll see when I go back to work next year. After directing the first film it feels kind of tricky being back to being in front of the camera, because I’ve always got one eye over there, kind of thinking of what they are doing, and how the shot is being composed. I think it takes a couple of films to just get back to just being an actor. As it is next year I’ll be working with Ridley’s brother, Tony, again, someone who needless to say we’ve had a great amount of success together. I trust him – so I won’t have to think about it or I’ll try not to.

Read our review of American Gangster