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Man on Fire - I think this is one of the most heroic characters I’ve played



Feature by: Jack Foley

DENZEL Washington is not an actor usually associated with roles involving torture and merciless killing, so it might comes as a surprise to find him playing a hero with a penchant for both.

Man on Fire represents one of Washington's toughest roles to date in that it is a no-nonsense thriller about a former military expert-turned-suicidal alcoholic who is given a shot at redemption when he agrees to become a bodyguard to the daughter of a Mexico City industrialist.

When the girl in question (played by Dakota Fanning) is kidnapped and left for dead, however, Washington's character, Creasy, becomes a ruthless killing machine, vowing to gain revenge on anyone who was involved with, or profited from, the abduction.

The ensuing thriller, directed by Tony Scott, involves scenes of fingers being chopped off and high-ranking police officials being assassinated, as the search for the truth reaches the highest of places.

Yet Washington, speaking at a recent London press conference for the film, remains unapologetic for the blood-letting on show.

"We had a test screening of the film and the scene with the fingers was even longer and more violent – interestingly enough, the women didn’t complain, the men complained more; it was the men who thought it was more violent," he observed.

"So I don’t know what that means, I think maybe it speaks to the maternal instinct or something like that, I don’t know.

"But I don’t see how you could get around it [the violence] – that’s what it is, it’s not a ‘how to’ movie, it is a ‘what would you do if you were in his shoes movie’?

"And I think this is one of the most heroic characters I’ve played in that he’s willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for this girl’s life."

Washington maintains that he is being offered more edgy and violent roles off the back of his Oscar-winning success as a bad cop in Training Day, which opened directors' eyes to the possibility of stretching him further.

"I think Tony got the idea of me doing this film because of Training Day, but even then he was like ‘well you know, you gotta be heavy, you gotta be dark’. And I’m like, ‘what, you want me to cut your throat, to show you I can do the part?’"

In preparing for the role of Creasy, however, Washington turned to something that one of the cops he had worked with on Training Day told him.

"He had introduced me to a couple of scriptures in The Bible, from the Book of Romans, which I shared with Tony - the part of it being about coming out of the darkness into the light, which I felt is the arc of this character: the darker that we could make him, the more depressed and alcohol-driven he was at the beginning of the film, the greater the journey for him.

"The other part of the scriptures that we applied to the story is that they talk about certain people who are designated to protect those of us who can’t protect ourselves, you know the protectors – like soldiers in the war now in Iraq, or whatever, or in any war, especially in America as regards to the Vietnam War; we didn’t take care of those young men and women when they came home.

"It was like, well, what happens to them, when they’ve seen all the death and destruction that they’ve seen? What happens to them?

"Creasy was a man, a character, who’d seen a lot of death and destruction and probably had his share of killing, and what we see at the beginning of the film is the result of that; it has destroyed his soul.

"I mean he literally has The Bible in one hand and the Bourbon in the other hand, and obviously the two of them don’t work well together!"

Through his relationship with Dakota Fanning's Pita, however, Creasy learns how to live again, and the first half of the film develops the rapport between them in suitably touching fashion.

Working with 10-year-old Fanning was something that Washington admits to finding more than a little intimidating, however.

"I was really impressed with Dakota, not only her acting skills, but she’s such a mature young girl and very humble, her parents have done a wonderful job with her.

"The toughest part for me was actually keeping my distance early on in the scenes where we’re not supposed to be so friendly.

"And I think Tony had said to her ‘Denzel – he’s very concentrated’, and she said ‘yes, I know – acting! I won’t talk to him either, don’t worry about it!’ She’s really just straight ahead and I’m convinced she’s 40 years old!"

He also admits to becoming quite protective of Fanning on-set.

"I didn’t appreciate people swearing around her, or not realising she was there, but she was like ‘oh, it’s ok, I’m used to it’.

"But I’m like ‘no, it’s not right’. But she’s just very bright and a star – I don’t know what it is, she’s a little person or something, she’s amazing."

For a man who has won two Oscars and has become one of the leading actors of his generation, Washington is remarkably down to earth and humble.

Looking to the future, he is currently mulling over the possibility of starring alongside Halle Berry in a romantic project, and also intends to direct again.

The star has already gone behind the camera for the film Antwone Fisher, and confesses to finding that aspect of film-making more interesting.

"It’s a little story about a Black college in East Texas called Whiley College.

"They only have 500 students and, in 1935, they were the best debating team in the country – they beat everybody. So it’s the little train that could.

"There was a 15-year-old freshman, a very smart young man by the name of James Farmer, who became an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement in America, who was one of the debaters, and who was actually an alternate.

"In our story, he’s also in love with this 19/20-year-old sophomore junior. She doesn’t know it – she falls in love with the bad guy, I don’t know why women always love the bad guy.

"But she falls in love with another student who’s a real renegade, so it’s a coming-of-age little love story and mixed with, like I said, the little train that could."

Prior to that, however, there's the remake of the political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, co-starring Meryl Streep, which features another blistering turn from Washington.

And there's even talk of a Sammy Davis Jnr project.

"I’m just at a place now in my life, as a result of Antwone Fisher, that I’m just as, if not more interested in what goes on behind the camera, so there’s two or three projects that I’m developing now and Sammy Davis Jr’s story is one of them," he explained.

"It’s a book that I read last Christmas and I thought it was a great book and I convinced Brian Glazer, at Universal, to option the book and we’re trying to see if we can fashion a decent screenplay – so it’s just one step at a time, at this point, it’s nothing more than trying to fashion a good screenplay."

Asked whether he intended to step into Sammy's shoes himself, however, the star just delivered another big laugh and said:

"Now THAT’S comedy: ‘The Taller Sammy!’ ‘Sammy Grows Up!’

"No, I don’t think so, and please spread that around: I’m not going to play Sammy Davis Jr… I am NOT going to play, I AM not going to play Sammy Davis Jr!...But I might. No, I’m not going to…"

 

 

 

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