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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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…"