Another tough role for Denzel

2009-09-26 00:00

In UNE BARKER spoke to him about the film.

Q: Did you know John Travolta before making this film?

A: I didn’t know him, but I’d met him before. We’d say, “Hey, how are you doing?” at a few different events, but this was the first time we got to work together and even then,we didn’t spend much time together in the beginning.

We actually filmed separately the first three or four weeks and so much of it is us talking back and forth on the microphone. So the first three weeks they were shooting the stuff in the command centre and I was on camera and John was in the dressing room talking over the microphone, and then John was on camera and I was in the dressing room.

But over the mike, we’d exchange, “Good morning, John, how are you today?” and sing songs and tell jokes. It was an interesting relationship and interesting the way it developed the way it did in the film.

Q: What is it like shooting a movie in a subway?

A: It was trippy. You had to take a full eight-hour safety course so that was a real introduction. You had to walk from one station to the next and stand between trains and have two trains pass you. So by the time I got finished with that day and got to the first day of shooting, I felt like I’d been down there a while.

It was interesting seeing the people’s faces if there was another train that we had to let go by while we were working at four in the morning and we might stop shooting just for a moment until they went by. You’d see the faces in the train window and them going “What the heck?”, but you get used to it down there.

Q: What kind of research did you do?

A: I spent time with a retired dispatcher who worked there for 60 years and another train dispatcher, Joseph Jackson, from the Rail Control Centre who also began his career, like my character, driving a subway train. I like to do research. You get a sense of what the job is, what’s important to them.

Q: What did you learn that was most helpful?

A: The third rail is very dangerous. They show you pictures of what happens to people — they fry and it’s not nice — but what happens is you relax after a few weeks or months, so I made sure not to …

Q: Did you put on weight for the role?

A: Yes, I had been heading that way and so I went with it and kept going. I put on more weight, … I embraced it and really liked that aspect of this character that made him human and normal and struggling with the same things we all struggle with.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect?

A: All that running. I had just had knee surgery and it was heavily wrapped and the last thing the doctor said was: “Now don’t do any running!” While I did spend a lot of time behind a desk in this movie, when you see me run — chasing the taxi and on the bridge — it was challenging because the ego is involved and you’re thinking: “I can’t be out here huffing and puffing and looking bad” even though I’m overweight and had surgery. So I’m thinking: “Wait, I have to have some sense of style and grace about this!”

Q: How have you managed to stay married and raise such great kids?

A: I think most people are like me, but it’s just not interesting for the press to write about. My life is really kind of regular and private and normal …  between films I just get on with my normal life. I liked that my character had a regular marriage too with a woman who supported and loved him.

About the film

THE Taking of Pelham 123, which is directed by Tony Scott, was shot on location in New York City’s subway and marks the fourth collaboration between Denzel Washington and Scott after Crimson Tide, Déjà vu and Man on Fire.

Based on the novel by John Godey that became a 1974 film starring Ro­bert Shaw and Walter Matthau, the new drama is a retelling more than a remaking of the original story, with significant changes made in the characters and the story.

Washington is one of an elite group of actors who has won an Academy Award in both the best supporting actor (Glory) and best actor (Training Day) categories and his credits include The Hurricane, Remember the Titans, Out of Time, Man on Fire, The Manchurian Candidate and American Gangster.

The married father of four has also directed two films — Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters.

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