Denzel’s gotta wear shades in this post- apocalyptic world

2010-02-19 14:16

ON a chilly and ­overcast spring morning in the New Mexico desert,

­Denzel Washington adjusts his outfit and light gear as he approaches a small

house that seems to have grown, like a solitary mushroom, in the middle of a

vast and empty ­landscape.

The tumbleweeds that are ­constantly blown around confirm the

authenticity of the setting and ­announce it is time to get started on the 40th

day of shooting the two-time Academy Award-winning actor’s new film before the

wind that ­appears to grow in intensity reaches an uncomfortable level.

We are on the set of The Book of Eli, a post-nuclear drama directed

by twins Albert and Allen Hughes, observing how the cast and crew prepare to

complete one of its most intense action scenes.

In it Eli (Washington), his ­companion Solara (Mila Kunis), and the

elderly couple that inhabit this lonesome house – played by Michael Gambon and

Frances de la Tour – are attacked by the ruthless gang led by Carnegie (Gary

Oldman) in pursuit of our protagonist and the ­mysterious book he keeps in his

backpack, that could hold the ­secrets to saving humankind.

“It’s the story of a man on a ­mission that has something everybody

wants,” says Allen Hughes.

In Washington’s words: “Eli is a survivor and a loner, and in a way

his personal and spiritual journey is to learn how to deal with people

again.

“He has received the mission to protect this book and is only a

five-day walk from taking it where it belongs when literally all hell breaks

loose!

“And that is a metaphor for life ­because when good things happen

you can be tested, as there is never a testimony without a test.”

Being attached to this project early on also as a producer,

Washington describes the work dynamic of the Hughes brothers: “I was very

impressed with their preparation from the moment I met them.

“Albert is sort of the visual guy, the shot maker, and knows

everything about all the technical things?– like the digital cameras we have

used – and Allen is more the actor’s director. So, together they just make a

great team and everything with them looks great and different, which I

like.

“I had never worked with two brothers before, but they definitely

know what they are doing and end up getting twice as much done!”

“The story is set in a post-nuclear world, 30 years into the

future,” ­explains Allen Hughes. “And in the scene we are shooting now – which

takes place in the third act – ­Carnegie arrives with his men and all his

apparatus to try to take the book from Eli.”

Part of that apparatus is the ­impressive Gatling gun – similar to

the ones seen in Westerns like Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales or Sam

Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch – that will pop out of the back of an armoured car to

try to wipe out the inhabitants of a house that has ­already had one of its

corners blown off during the assault by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade).

“The Book of Eli is not a Western,” clarifies Albert Hughes,

“although I have to admit that initially we thought of making it in Almeria,

Spain, where Sergio Leone had shot his spaghetti westerns; but at least there is

a bar in the film that looks like a saloon and more elements that are surely

influenced by those movies.”

When it comes to describing Washington’s commitment to the project,

Albert Hughes couldn’t be more eloquent: “I can’t even begin to explain how

prepared Denzel is. I have never seen anyone work this hard. He went through

every single draft of the script and even acted out all the parts.”

But the film also needed a solid villain, and Oldman was the

perfect man for the job.

“He has played a lot of villains,” the co-director recalls; “but it

almost seemed as if he had made a conscious decision to not do it in the last 10

years, which is why the new generations probably don’t remember those roles as

much as maybe his participation in the Harry Potter movies.

“I believe he has had some time to think about that and maybe was

hungry for the bad guy. Gary is a chameleon, and he surprises you because you

never know what you are going to get from him.

“The truth is that my brother and I like those kinds of actors that

give you something different every take. Also, what I love about Gary is that he

knows how to get into his character without being too serious about it, as he

also has a wicked sense of humour!”

“Gary is a great actor who knows perfectly well what he is doing,

and he is very meticulous and specific about his looks and accents,” adds

Washington.

And Oldman responds: “I think I was somewhat inspired by Daniel Day

Lewis’s performance in There Will Be Blood and by other silly things that I had

floating around for the voice of Carnegie. Denzel and I play two men with their

own particular faith and obsessions, and what I like about this film is that it

has a great story that is supported by very good characters.

“I had nearly worked with the Hughes twins before, but I am so

happy this project finally came around because I can’t remember the last time I

have enjoyed myself so much in a movie. And I can go home on the weekends. As

you get older you have a different set of principles and responsibilities, and I

can certainly think of worse ways to spend three months.”

Carnegie’s lieutenant and main partner in crime is Redridge,

embodied by Ray Stevenson with an impressive scar across the right side of his

face.

We meet him during the lunch break in a tent that is being swayed

by the wind and that harbours a chocolate cake to celebrate the Hughes twins’

birthday – which we are lucky to share with the rest of the production team

while the British actor fleshes out his role.

“Redridge will do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if it

means stabbing or shooting you in the back. He is Carnegie’s attack dog and

right-hand man. And he doesn’t speak much, but when he does everybody listens.

Violence is what he knows, and these are very violent times.

“The difference with his boss is that Carnegie’s heartbeat rises

when he gets angry, but Redridge’s probably drops even lower, being more of a

cold-blooded killer and kind of a relentless hunter.

“Part of the story is precisely this manhunt we go on to find Eli

after he leaves town. And it’s funny because my first scene with Denzel

Washington was a moment where I just ignore him and slam the door in his face,

and I felt bad about it – even though luckily he is a great professional with a

good sense of humour.

“I have to admit that being around Denzel and Gary makes me pinch

myself coming to work everyday. It’s like a master class with the pair of them

because they dance so subtly and give you so much, which brings your game up.

So, I just try not to mess up. And they both have these amazing stories!”

Two-thirds into what so far has been a pretty unproblematic shoot,

producer Daniel Valdes feels satisfied with the work accomplished and excited

about the prospects for the day.

“There is a lot of action in the movie, but this is one of our

biggest moments. Eli and Solara have been walking through the wasteland and

stumbled onto a farmhouse where an elderly couple has stayed alive in a unique

way.

“Let’s just say that when they go to the back yard they notice a

bunch of graves… Then they have tea with these people, but Carnegie and the rest

of his gang have found out they are at this house and a large shoot-out takes

place!”

True to his word, the exchange of firepower that is unleashed in

front of our eyes is quite impressive. And all the actors present that day

participate; even a fearless De la Tour – that seems almost graceful and

­comedic to a certain level with the ­AK-47 she fires without mercy at the

villains – and the beautiful Kunis.

“It’s a fun movie to do because there are a lot of things going

on,” says Kunis. “I run a lot and get to shoot my little automatic, and then

things blow up everywhere!

“Solara, my character, starts off a bit naive and stuck but soon

toughens up when she meets Eli, who shows her there are other people in this

world. They have a very strong bond and understanding. And I am so excited with

the fact that Jennifer is playing my mother, because she is absolutely

amazing.

“I also love Michael and Frances in the roles of George and Martha,

as they add some comedic relief to the film.”

Without doubt, The Book of Eli has offered the young actress the

possibility to dive into a new genre: “This movie is so different to everything

I have done so far, because I am more used to shooting comedies in places like

Hawaii; but the good thing about being in New Mexico is that with all the wind

and dust constantly around us, it doesn’t require much of our imagination to

help create the right scenario as we are kind of really in it!”

Recently, New Mexico has become an important destination for

Hollywood productions such as Terminator Salvation and now The Book of Eli, that

have found in its beautiful and unique landscape the perfect location for their

story.

“One of the reasons we came here was because it has this desolate

stark feeling that was just what we needed,” confesses Washington.

“And I definitely know what a tumbleweed and a windstorm are now.

New Mexico was the right place for this film, and the people here are really

nice to us. It has been a wonderful experience.”

  • The Book of Eli opens on circuit on February 26
 

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