Critically acclaimed and professionally lauded, Denzel Washington has taken home two Oscars and a stack of praise for performances in films like Training Day, Malcolm X and Remember the Titans. In 2004 he worked with Tony Scott on Man on Fire, following up with Deja Vu last year. And with the release of American Gangster he marks his first association with the other Scott brother, Ridley, in a true-to-life tale as drug-dealer Frank Lucas, pursued in 1970’s America by Russell Crowe’s Detective Richie Roberts. The film, released in the UK on November 16th, is Certified Fresh, and Rotten Tomatoes caught up with Washington to find out more.
This is a really big film and it’s an interesting and twisted character that you play, what about him drew you to it?
Denzel Washington: Actually, it was as much about the two characters. That one man appears to be so straight and honest in his police work is so dishonest in his private life. Another man who seems to be so dishonest in his work life is so honest in his private life. And how these two guys came together and actually, to this day, are still friends. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to work with a great actor again and, actually, a great filmmaker. To be in my home town!
Frank Lucas is really a bad guy, but he has this integrity and honesty in his private life, as you say, how did you find that in yourself?
DW: As he said to me over and over, he said, “Denzel, it’s a dirty business and if you choose to be in it you’ve got to be dirty.” There are no nice heroin dealers, they don’t make it, and they end up on the sidewalk. You’re dealing with crooks all the time; it’s just a den of thieves. As he said to me many a time, he said, “I would tell you once.” I said, “What if they just slipped up?” He said, “I would tell you once.” That was his reputation. You just didn’t cross Frank Lucas; you didn’t get the opportunity to cross him.
What were your scenes with Russell Crowe like?
DW: We had one big scene together and it was just like good music, you know, it’s seamless. We started doing this whole business with this coffee cup. Maybe I slid it to him first, and he’d slide it back and start knocking it off the table. It was just a good chess match.
You worked with him years ago, what was it like getting to do that again?
DW: Well he’s a bit more famous now! He was very eager then and he still is; still intense. He’s a family man now; he has a beautiful wife and children. And just his life experience had grown, you know, he’s been through a lot. Professionally, you’re so in the work that none of that matters. You just get on with it.
He has a history with Ridley Scott, they’ve made several films together now and I would imagine they have something of a shorthand. Did you feel a bit left out when you were discussing scenes?
DW: No, not at all; It’s a collaboration. All of our names are up there and I didn’t feel that at all. But getting the opportunity to work with Ridley was great. Ridley’s intense and he’s obviously a brilliant director. He knows what he’s doing, he’s a great shot-maker and he knows what to do.