Denzel Washington, Tony Scott and Brian Helgeland Press ConferenceDenzel, you said you didn’t want to play a cop or an FBI agent, you just wanted to play an ordinary guy. Where do you go to study someone who is an ordinary guy?
Denzel Washington: "The deli. Not New Delhi, the deli. Just ate a lot. Ate a lot and just kept getting smaller and smaller sweater to wear and spilled over on myself. I was concerned a little bit with Inside Man where I was a cop and hostage negotiator. And I just liked the idea that when they hand him a gun, he had never held one before and that he was an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation. And with this cloud over his head, he didn’t come to work knowing he was going to get an opportunity to redeem himself. He didn’t even know if he was going to redeem himself, but it was something he felt he needed to do. As he got into it, deeper and deeper, he went for it and he brought home the milk."
You carry around a yellow plastic bag in the movie. What's in the bag?
Denzel Washington: "My sweater with the coffee stains. My coffee-stained sweater. I brought my lunch in that bag and I took home my sweater. One of the reasons I like working with Tony is because, like myself, he’s a research fanatic. I know going in that he’s going to have a lot of stuff for me to look at and go to. So, he’s got, 'See MTA Command Center,' so that was one of the first things that I did months before we started shooting. I went out to the command center, which is huge, which was ten times bigger than our set or something."
Tony Scott: "It’s the size of a football field."
Denzel Washington: "It’s huge."
Tony Scott: "It’s unbelievable. It’s like NASA. It’s the last thing you’d expect, especially if you look at the old one, because the old one is just sort of a grubby office with this subway thing on the wall. But in the real world, I get to educate and entertain myself by going and touching the real world and touching real people. And that’s my way into movies. So, I love that and I bring that…"
Denzel Washington: "And we share that. It’s the same thing for me; I like being with the real folks. Once I got there and we made the introductions, then I kept going back and you sit and talk with people. Our technical advisor was a guy who started at the bottom and worked his way up, so you talk to him about, 'How do you get to be in the position I’m in.' And he said, 'Well, you start as a track maintenance, you might become a flag man, you work your way up to local dispatcher. You might be a conductor. You work your way all the way up the ladder.' I don’t think the character went to college. I think he got a job at 17 or 18, as track maintenance and worked his way up."
Did you ever have John Travolta’s voice in your ear? Was it like animation where the two of you came in and did your stuff separately?
Denzel Washington: "No, no. We were always there for each other, always off camera."
How did that work? Can you explain?
Denzel Washington: "I wouldn’t be on camera and I’d talk. He wouldn’t be on camera and he’d talk. We were off camera, it’s the same thing as being off camera. You’re off camera. You’re not on camera. And, to be serious - if I can - you actually do develop a relationship. For the first six, seven or eight weeks, we didn’t shoot any scenes together on camera, but we were developing a relationship off camera, through the microphone, through the speaker."
Tony Scott: "That made it great for the characters, because John developed that relation through [that]. For me, it’s really a tough movie to do, because two-thirds of the movie is two guys on the phone. So I saw that as being a challenge because I said, 'How do we keep this anxiety and momentum going?' But it comes with the actors and the writing. It’s a daunting challenge because it’s like two-thirds of the movie is two guys on the phone with each other, and the boys stay separate. John’s on one side of the studio and they shook hands once and..."
Denzel Washington: "I’d see him at lunch. [Laughing] They wrote that in that we never saw each other. I saw him every day."
What does John bring to this film?
Tony Scott: "You know, John has a big heart. He’s got a big heart. He’s dangerous, he’s sweet and he [sparkles] as a bad guy in this role. It’s sort of a contradiction in terms of what we expect from the bad guy. So I think John, he’s funny, he’s smart and has this big heart, so he plays against what you’d normally expect from the bad guys."
To follow up on doing your roles in the studio, were both of you there for the entire scenes talking on the phone to each other?
Denzel Washington: "Yeah."
Was it like a radio play in a way?
Denzel Washington: "Yeah, I guess you could say that. Yeah. And you had the luxury, or he had the luxury first of practicing, because for three weeks I was on camera first. We shot all the command center stuff first so from day one, I’m on camera. There’s no like, 'Can I change it tomorrow?' We were moving on. But he had the chance to work on his part, to develop it."
What was it like when the two of you finally clicked?
Denzel Washington: "Again, it didn’t just happen once we got on screen together, you know? We have five senses and the other four were heightened. Yes, we didn’t see each other, but it’s like an old courtship over the phone, a long distance relationship and you get to know a person. You talk. We would sing songs. We would even tell each other jokes and singing, doing Broadway tunes and all kinds of stuff. 'Good morning Mr. Travolta.' 'Good morning, Mr. Washington.' That was the nature of the relationship."