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The Manchurian Candidate - Denzel Washington Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

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. 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. 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 Candidate.

Q. No regrets?
A.
I’m pleased with what I’ve done.

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 her.
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. The Manchurian Candidate features brainwashing – has anything strange ever happened to you?
A.
Oh, you mean me in life? When I was a young child I thought I saw an angel. I woke up one night and it kinda looked like my sister, and that sounds funny but I saw wings, and I walked over to the door and opened the door so some light could come into the room and it sort of faded away.
It’s a true story. And I asked my mother about it and she said, 'well it’s probably your Guardian Angel', and I was like ‘yeah, right Ma!’
But I’ve always felt protected, it’s as real as you are in front of me now, that’s the god’s honest truth.

Q. Has your Guardian Angel helped you make good career choices?
A.
Yes, absolutely and in fact some of the most difficult scenes I’ve done in films and some that people remember, like in Glory, being whipped, I didn’t prepare. I didn’t need to do anything but pray.
I said a prayer, I went out onto the set, I said I didn’t know what I needed to do in this particular scene, I just would pray and think about all the slaves that came before me, and it came to me as I walked out on the set that I’m in charge, that my character was in charge.
That he had been through this before, that it was nothing new for him, and that it had nothing to do with the person that was even whipping me, since the character that Matthew played, or if you ever see the film again, all I do is look at him ‘is this what you want to do to me?’
I actually spit at him, and I say ‘do it, bring it’ and I took the thing off and then he hit me and I went ‘Oh shoot, ouch!’
But it’s the truth, sometimes it’s just fate, it’s not science, I don’t try to figure it out. Even what I said about roles coming my way, some people may think that’s crazy, but that’s the way it’s worked alright for me.

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