Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. How did Tony Scott imbue you with the passion we see
on screen – in one of the best performances of your career,
if I may say so?
A. Yes! Actually, you know when I read the script I was
like ‘Hmm, I don’t know’, I didn’t think
it was all there.
I sat down with Tony and he was so passionate, and he kind of
walked me through his history with the material. It was something
that had been in his life for about 20 years, and he had done
a film which I enjoyed, called The Hunger. And evidently it wasn’t
a box office success, I don’t know if it was a critical
success, but for whatever reason, the people who owned the rights
to Man on Fire, didn’t have the confidence in him at that
time to do the film.
As he put it, he went off and did a small film called Top Gun,
and 20 years later it was finally time for him to do it.
And he was just so passionate about the story, he had so many
great ideas about how he wanted to tell the story and he convinced
me with his passion and ideas that we could get the script right.
He was just as concerned with whether or not I could play a character
this dark, and he said ‘well you know, you gotta be real
heavy, and I’m kinda nervous.’
And I said ‘you worry about where the camera’s going
to be, let me worry about being the heavy!’ So after much
collaboration and 15, 20 versions of the script later, we started
Q. How can you prepare for a character like this, when
you have to get inside this man’s inner turmoil?
A. When I was working on Training
Day, one of the cops that I worked with, who was a real interesting
man, he had introduced me to a couple of scriptures in the Bible
from the Book of Romans and I shared those 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 can 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 talked about certain people 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
Like, well, what happens to them, when they’ve seen all
the death and destruction that they’ve seen? What happens
Well this 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!
Q. Who’s the more daunting co-star, Dakota Fanning
or Meryl Streep?
A. Dakota Fanning! I mean I didn’t get to really
work with Meryl, you know I was an extra in one of her scenes!
But obviously her track record speaks for itself.
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!
Q. Can I throw another name at you? Chris Walken.
A. Yeah, Chris man. You know Chris Walken is Chris Walken!
But Chris is a great actor and it was such an honour to play;
it’s really playing with Chris and I like to do that, I
like to improvise a lot and I don’t even know if we ever
said anything out of the script actually! We’d just get
up there and start acting up.
Q. Are your choices of dark, complex characters down
to your new standing in Hollywood – or do you now just know
a good role from a bad one?
A. I think a part of it is Training Day, I think Tony
had an idea of me doing this film I would imagine because of Training
Day, and as I said earlier, even then he was like ‘well
you know you gotta be heavy, you gotta be dark’, I’m
like, ‘what, you want me to cut your throat, to show you
I can do the part?’
Training Day wasn’t a stretch, that was the easiest part
I’ve done in a long time, the other roles were the acting.
Q. There are three more Creasy books...
A. Yeah? Prequels – you know what, I didn’t
even know that, to be honest with you, but thank you!
Q. It’s too late now!
A. No it’s not we can go back to before –
how he got to be where he is. But, although I must say I saw The
Bourne Supremacy the other day and I was like ‘it pissed
I was like, 'man he’s got a good franchise going on'. I
don’t know, maybe we could go back and do a prequel. We
cut, and we oh actually he was just sleeping! He reaches down
and picks up that little medallion and puts it back on!
Q. What was the most useful advice given to you by your
A. I didn’t do a lot of research about bodyguard
work because he had never been a bodyguard.
But probably the most, since he had a background in the Army,
and Marines and Delta, that you’re taught about protecting
your assets and, in this case, the child was the asset. So he
said just look at it that way, but I didn’t want to be an
expert bodyguard, because he wasn’t an expert bodyguard.
Q. Given the critical acclaim you enjoyed following Antwone
Fisher, will you be intending to direct more in the future? And
did you pick up any tips from Tony Scott?
A. I’m going to direct a film next year and there’ll
be a lot of spinning cameras.
The one thing I learned from directing the first film was how
much I knew, or how much I had stored away from all these wonderful
film makers I’d worked with, and I plan to steal from each
and every one of them for the rest of my life!
Q. Tell us more about the film you’re going to
A. I don’t want act in it, it’s an obvious
advantage, you can get more money out of the studio to make the
film if you act in it.
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.
Q. You’re playing desperate characters in both
Manchurian Candidate and Man of Fire – any parallels between
the two characters?
A. Yeah, thank you, I’ll use that. I didn’t
think of it that way, that they’re both desperate, I think
in the case of Man on Fire he was ready to give up.
He wasn’t desperate, he was depressed and this little girl
wakes him up and teaches him to love and to live again.
Definitely the case in Manchurian Candidate, he was desperate
once he found out. Here’s a man who doesn’t know what’s
wrong with him.
I did a lot of research about mood disorders and bi-polar disorders,
and things like that, because he doesn’t know what’s
wrong with him, and he’s been told that it’s post-traumatic
stress disorder, Gulf War Syndrome or something like that.
But in the story that he tells, he’s not congruous with
his dreams. So once he finds out that something’s awry and
something really is going on, he doesn’t know who to trust,
then yes, I think that he becomes quite desperate, if not manic.
Q. Are there any roles you’ve passed on in your
career that you wished you hadn’t?
A. Se7en. Not seven films,
the movie Se7en – I turned that down, the role that Brad
Pitt did, man!
The lead in The Passion of the
Christ – no! I’m kidding, it’s a joke, I’ll
be hearing about that now! I said Mel – no way I’ll
do that man, nobody’s gonna see it, it’s not interesting.
And of course you can see that I was right!
One other one actually that was a hit this Summer was I,
Robot, they asked me to do that one.
But I was like man, if they don’t get these robots right…!
I think actually it wasn’t quite as simple as that, it was
I, Robot or Manchurian Candidate, and I chose to do Manchurian
Q. No regrets?
A. I’m pleased with what I’ve done.
Q. You’ve played a
lot of tortured characters recently – time for a comedy
– some slapstick, or gross-out?
A. I don’t know, I think that would be good. Yeah,
I would you know it’s just like what’s happening now:
before Training Day, I guess they didn’t think I could be
heavy if you will.
I don’t think he was a heavy, he was misunderstood. So now
that’s coming. I actually have a script in my bag that I’ve
been asked to do with Halle Berry, that’s sort of a romance,
I’ve gotta read it first.
So we’ll see, I think that’s sorta like how Hollywood
works – they all head in one direction…every book
in the bible’s being optioned now!
Q. You must be the only man on the planet who gets asked
to do a film with Halle Berry and need to read the script first!
A. Well, if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t
on the stage!
Q. Did you have any reservations about the extreme violence
in the film?
A. 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,
the men thought it was more violent.
So I don’t know what that means, I think maybe it speaks
to the maternal instinct or something like that, I don’t
I don’t know what it is, but I found that interesting, so
we toned it down. I don’t see how you could get around it
– 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
As I said earlier, too, 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 – and
Q. What about the Sammy Davis Junior film? Is it true
you're working on something?
A. 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.
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.
Q. Would you be interested in playing Sammy yourself?!!!!
A. 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…
Q. How much of a kick do you get from working with Streep
and Walken? Does it raise your game?
A. Absolutely, it raises your game. Like I said, in the
case of Meryl, I don’t have anything to do in the film with
I will admit that when we sat down to read the screenplay, I was
sitting next to her, I was a bit nervous. You know: “The
Dingoes got my baby.”
She’s brilliant, I mean what can you say that hasn’t
been said about Meryl Streep? Had I been smarter, I would have
suggested that we write a scene, just make something up. You know
maybe I go visit her and ask her what’s going on or something,
anything – I didn’t think about that. But hopefully
I’ll get an opportunity one day.
Q. How do younger actors relate to you? Was Dakota in
awe of you?
A. No, actually, quite the opposite. The first scene
we really did together is when she takes me up to my room, and
she got up and sat up on the bed and looked me dead in the face
and just performed.
And they said ‘Cut’ and I was like ‘oh shoot,
I’m in trouble – this chick can act. Hey, wait a minute,
Tony come here for a second… the girl’s gotta go!’
No, whatever it is, she’s just got this god-given ability,
she’s a great actress, her parents have done a wonderful
job with her – she’s very humble and as normal as
a 10-year-old movie star can be.
I pray that she gets the chance to just hang out with kids and
be a kid. I mean she’s growing up with adults on a set.
I was really protective, 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
Q. Do you have a list of things you'd like to do?
A. I don’t have a list, it’s not an agenda.
The mystery is what’s good about it – opening a script
and being blown away.
I had never seen Manchurian Candidate and my agent sent it to
me and said – they made it back in the 60’s and you
should read it.
And I read it and I was like ‘wow’, it’s a great
idea. So there’s nothing I wanna do, there’s not any
story I necessarily want to tell. If there are that’s more
from a film-making side than an acting side.
Q. And are the rumours true about Hannibal?
A. Yeah, it’s around, it’s being talked about.
It’s gotten closer.
Q. Your character in Man on Fire listens to Linda Ronstadt
– did you like that choice?
A. No I didn’t like that choice – I hate
that song, I couldn’t stand that song. I mean, I love Linda,
Linda I love you, but I just didn’t like the song. I was
like ‘I wouldn’t listen to this Tony’. But he
liked it. He liked it!
Q. Are your Oscars currently being used as bookends or
are they stored somewhere more prestigiously?
A. I play little game with them!
Q. They’ll write this – it’ll be in
the British papers.
A. No, I just check to see if they’re still there,
and nobody stole them. But as my mother says: ‘Man gives
the award, God gives the reward’, so I don’t concern
myself with awards, I really don’t.
I think in the case of this last one, for Training Day, it’s
interesting, because I really was sorta ‘yeah, whatever’
kind of attitude about it.
You know I’d been to the party enough times and was like
‘whatever they’re gonna do, they’re gonna do,’
it doesn’t matter – free suit, decent dinner and go
But the next day, I went to the gym - I box, I like to work out
- and the young actor there, Richard T Jones, was like, ‘man
aren’t you excited’ and I was like ‘whatever’,
and he was like 'maybe you feel that way, but not the rest of
He said, 'you know, when you didn’t win for Hurricane, he’s
a Black actor, we all just almost collapsed – if he’s
not gonna win, what chance do we have?'
And he said, when I won, he called all his friends and it made
us feel like we has a shot, and I was like ‘wow, ok’.
You never know how you’re going to affect people.
Maybe it doesn’t affect me that way but it’s not always
just about me.
Q. Man on Fire throws up an interesting statistic - that
Mexico ranks as the third kidnap capital….
A. What’s one and two?
Q. Does that suggest that the big Hollywood production
shooting in Mexico was surrounded by security?
A. Yeah, a lot of security. I was more worried about
one of my bodyguards, tripping and falling and shooting me –
after a while I started sneaking out without them. Armoured vehicles,
a lot of corruption, you got to keep your eyes on the cops, that’s
what you had to worry about down there.
Q. There’s a big thank you to Mexico City at the
end of the film – did they help you a lot?
A. I would imagine, I mean I wasn’t doing all that
type of work. We shot in some rough neighbourhoods and, as is
usually the case, the poorest people were the nicest.
I was amazed at how rich, there’s a lot of wealthy people
in Mexico City, I didn’t realise that. But any time you
have the super rich and the super poor side by side, you’re
gonna have trouble.
Q. Did you and Halle winning the Oscar change anything
A. I think that the bottom line is she and I won because
we both had good parts to play and, needless to say, Black or
White, good parts are hard to come by.
I don’t know the statistics of how many good parts have
come along, I haven’t seen that much from what I’m
hearing now, although, Jamie Foxx, everyone is saying is brilliant
as Ray Charles, so he has a good opportunity
- a good actor with a good opportunity has a shot, without the
opportunity it doesn’t matter how good you are, if you don’t
have a good juicy role to take a bite out of you won’t be
there on that night.
So, hopefully there are more opportunities – I’m trying
to create some by producing and developing more material…if,
of course, I don’t play Sammy Davis Jr myself…
I’ll try to find someone who can! Seriously, though, it’s
really about the roles – that’s the bottom line.