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Director Tony Scott Discusses "Deja Vu"

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Director Tony Scott Discusses

Director Tony Scott on the set of "Deja Vu."

© Touchstone Pictures

Director Tony Scott teams up with Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington for the third time with the dramatic thriller, Deja Vu. The duo previously worked together on Crimson Tide (1995) and Man on Fire (2004) and share the same type of preparation process when it comes to gearing up for a film. For Deja Vu, Scott found real ATF agents to talk with Washington about how his character would react to a domestic terrorist blowing up a ferry.

Reuniting with Denzel Washington: “I think as he gets older he gets better, like a good wine, and he likes wine,” said Scott. “He's committed so he never drinks the whole time he’s actually shooting. He never had so much as a glass of wine. He stops. He lost 40 pounds of weight to do this movie so that shows you his level of commitment. There's a certain gravity and seriousness to Denzel and also tremendous likeability.

He and I get on because we've done three movies together and he trusts me, and I trust him in terms of delivering the goods. That trust comes out of research, so we do a tremendous amount of research, always find role models for his character. We found a guy called Jerry Rubin for this. It’s easier for an actor because it's very hard talking to actors about how they should feel, how they should deliver the lines. Denzel [met] many cops, many FBI agents. All of a sudden here he had this guy, and he was stunned when the guy walked in the room. He was white, Irish Catholic, born five blocks away from where Denzel was born in Brooklyn. They hit it off like a house on fire, and he was stunned that this was the guy he was going to respond to. He was funny. Jerry Rubin, he was charming and funny but a real agent. He was a star on the ATF.”

Casting Against Type: “I didn't know what I was really looking for because it had [to do with] terrorists and you always tend to go archetypal, always tend to get too broad. I always do a lot of homework. My homework is research and I started to read all the McVeigh transcripts after he was caught and BTK and these other guys, and I honed in on McVeigh. I was looking for an actor and I had someone else in the back of my mind, another type of person in mind. Then [Jim Caviezel] came in and he sat with me for 2 minutes and I said, ‘Oh, this guy is [him].’ You see, JC is Oerstadt and Jesus.”

Is Jim Caviezel’s Character Based on Timothy McVeigh?: “No. I mean, I do my homework and I gave it to him and we pulled and pushed a little bit. I found a guy in the bayou, actually we were scouting locations and this guy was walking around with these blue satin shorts. We drew upon his location, drew up on his boat and he snuck off inside the house and came back out and he had a .45. But these satin shorts were just hanging down, the shorts just kept dropping down and dropping down. This .45 was pulling it down. He kept showing me the gun the whole time. And I go, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ He says, ‘How you doing? Get the f**k out of here.’ I eventually ingratiated myself. I got back and had a DVD of him. It turns out he breeds pit bulls for fighting, dogs that fight to kill, and he also brews crystal meth.

I gave his tape to JC. I gave it to him for 20 minutes and unfortunately JC became that character. He was still playing Timothy McVeigh, but in terms of the accent… So it took me a long time to talk him back off the ledge because dialects, especially New Orleans dialects and accents, are very difficult to do, and the general public now they're savvy. They see if an accent works or doesn't work. So I had to pull JC back, which was one of the hardest things I did in the movie because he gave so much time and blood in wanting to do it that way. But the danger is then the character was becoming a caricature.”

The Setting of the Film: New Orleans wasn’t the original venue for Déjà Vu. “No, [it was] Long Island. I didn’t feel ‘Long Island’, because I had a vision of the movie and a town for the movie, and I felt that the city should be a third character in the movie. I'd never been to New Orleans and I knew there was a ferry down there, did my homework. And so I spent an hour or two saying I want to do the movie here because it’s a city in a time warp. It's very romantic, it's very strange, and it felt a perfect backdrop.”

After Hurricane Katrina hit, Scott was determined to include the devastation in the film. “Immediately after it happened, I said, ‘Listen, the city’s going to recover. Let’s go back.’ I wanted to incorporate more post-Katrina into the story. We did - or I did - and then that got sort of shot down because it was detracting from the original story too much. We did incorporate Jim's character into the Ninth Ward. It's hard getting back there because people didn't want to go back there because of health insurance and all that stuff. But I had such a vision and such a fix on this city as this backdrop for this movie, so I didn’t want to let it go.”

Shooting Two Films Simultaneously: Scott had to basically film two movies at once because Déjà Vu features lengthy surveillance footage. “What was hard was that when we went into what I call the time lab or the main lab, when we run into the main lab, I had to construct that window so we shot what was 14 weeks. We shut down for two weeks while I constructed [it and] had all the actors sign off on the script because they have to perform like a third actor. That window’s like a third person in the room, so I had to build that window and they had to stay true to their words and perform with this actor. That’s tough because people, depending on what side of the bed they get out of, whether they’re hung over, depending if they’re in a good mood or bad mood saying, ‘F**k it, I want to change things.’ You couldn’t do it because [I went into lockdown].”

The “Jesus” Line: It happened without being planned. Scott recalls, “When Denzel does that car flip and ends up facing JC, as we call him, he went, ‘Jesus.’ And nobody spotted it until we had it in our first cut, our first preview and there was this great roar from the audience. I thought, ‘Oh, we f**ked up.’ With a science fiction movie, ‘Damn, we lost it.’ And then everybody pointed out the fact that he was Jesus in The Passion. But Denzel just said it totally unknown. ‘Jesus…he's dead ahead of me.’"

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