Denzel Washington ('The Manchurian Candidate')
'Would You Vote For This Man?!'
Tall, strikingly handsome leading man of films and television in the 1980s and 1990s, Denzel Washington was born in 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York. He was the middle child of the 3 children of a Pentecostal minister father and a beautician mother. After graduating from high school, Denzel enrolled at Fordham University intent on a career in journalism. However, he caught the acting bug while appearing in student drama productions and upon graduation he moved to San Francisco and enrolled at the American Conservatory Theater.
He left A.C.T. after only 1 year to seek work as an actor. With his acting versatility and powerful sexual presence, he had no difficulty finding work in numerous television productions. He made his first big screen appearance in 'Carbon Copy' (1981) with George Segal. Through the 1980s he worked in both movies and television and was chosen for the plum role of Dr. Chandler in NBC's hit medical series "St. Elsewhere" (1982), a role that he would play for 6 years. In 1989 he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Tripp, the runaway slave in Ed Swick's powerful historical masterpiece 'Glory' (1989).
Through the 1990s Denzel co-starred in such big budget productions as 'The Pelican Brief' (1993); 'Philadelphia' (1993); 'Crimson Tide' (1995); 'The Preacher's Wife' (1996); and 'Courage Under Fire' (1996) - a role for which he was paid $10 million. He lives quietly in Los Angeles with his wife Pauletta and their 4 children. Cerebral and meticulous in his film work, he made his debut as a director in 2002 with 'Antwone Fisher' in 2002).
His latest movie, 'The Manchurian Candidate' is not only a superb thriller, utilizing the current political landscape for its own Hollywood thrills and chills, but it really doesn't embarrass the original 1962 Frank Sinatra/John Frankenheimer creation either!
How is it working with Jonathan Demme again, especially since this is your first time in the lead role? "I'm still sharing it. I think my role's actually smaller in this film than 'Philadelphia'. I don't know, because I didn't do a page count.What's it like working with Jonathan? He was great," he laughs. 'Actually, the material came to me first, and I sat down with the producer Scott Rudin. He had a short list of directors he was interested in, and I had a shorter list. I had one, and since Jonathan's name was first on [Scott's] list, that took care of that. I have looked forward to the opportunity to work with Jonathan again ever since 'Philadelphia'.
This is your second remake in a row after 'Man on Fire'. Do you feel that classic movies should be remade? "Well, good material should be interpreted. I don't know where along the line they decided that films are so precious that they shouldn't be reinterpreted. Plays are reinterpreted all the time, and it's not a big deal to me. "Othello" has been done nine million times; that doesn't mean that I shouldn't do it again. Olivier did it and James Earl Jones and Paul Robson, and why not if it's a good story?"
Did you keep your distance from the original movie while preparing for the role? "I didn't keep my distance, but I had never seen it. I read the script and I loved it, and my agent told me it was a remake. I knew that I wanted to be in the film, so that's when I decided not to see the original, because I didn't want to be restricted. I didn't want to come up with an idea and say "Oh no, they did that in the original one". I wanted to be free to come up with whatever I came up with. I'm not against seeing it now, but that was the only reason I didn't see it."
Did you see this more as a science fiction film or as a psychological thriller? "I never thought of it as science fiction. The one set we used that was real bizarre was sort of science fiction with all the tubes and things. That was supposed to be a dream, so you could do anything in that scene. That was a bit science fiction."
What about the whole mind control aspect of the plot? "Mind control and brainwashing is not big science fiction stuff. It's your television set. It's information. People are running out and voting for Gephardt because the paper said he'd be the Vice Presidential candidate. That's mind control and it's subtle. There was that big Cup O'Noodles sign in the movie. I thought we paid to have it put up there, but it just happened to be there. Now Times Square, that is mind control! I'm telling you. I wanted a Nestles Crunch around 11 o'clock last night without even knowing why, because I saw the sign on the Hershey's Store."
How scary is it doing movies that come so close to reality like this or even something like 'The Siege'? "I went down to Ground Zero three nights after 9/11. That Friday night, I decided to go at 2 or 3 in the morning because I didn't want any hoopla. I just drove down there and got out of the car and tried to get somebody to notice me. I met a Marine and he took me right on down to Ground Zero and the night shift boss took me all around. I must have heard thirty or forty times, "This ain't 'The Siege', huh, Denzel?"
What's the power of a movie like 'The Manchurian Candidate' or 'The Siege'? "Part entertainment and part cautionary tale. To think about the Nestle's sign when you walk by it and understand what information can do to you. I haven't seen his latest film yet, but I watched 'Bowling for Columbine' one night, and I've felt this for years. That idiot box teaches you to be afraid. It will paralyze you, so you don't go anywhere and so you'll just stay there and keep watching it. Unless you gotta run out and buy something it tells you to."
Finally, is there anything you use as a guide to get to the truth behind the advertising? "Knowledge, first of all. Just knowing that it ain't the gospel. The "Abslider" may help you get in shape, but you ain't going to do three of them and then you're in great shape," he laughs heartily once again. "You gotta know that going in. I'm not saying I distrust everything and everybody. The point is to be smart about it. Do your homework. Don't just accept information."
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