Star Denzel Washington and director Daniel Espinosa sat down at the UK press conference for an in-depth discussion of their new movie, spy/conspiracy thriller 'Safe House'. We've got the whole transcript that reveals fascinating insights such as Denzel's reading habits ('The Sociopath Next Door' is top of the heap), how he insists on performing his own stunts and the director's take on waterboarding et al.
Once you've had a read, we suggest you check out the excellent trailer for 'Safe House' right here at Cinemas Online.
Guests are introduced by Anwar Brett, moderator
Watching the film it seemed to me so contemporary with the Wiki Leaks angle and some of the elements of water boarding. Was that in the screenplay that you saw initially or was that added through the further research that you all did?
Espinosa – No that was in the script, it was part of the whole vibe. When I read it, it had a real base in our reality. We had different experts that had actually worked in Safe Houses and been operatives. To be able to base this movie on some kind of reality, something that’s close to our society and our world right now.
Denzel, does this make it a very controversial film back home because it’s not clear who the good guys and the bad guys are as we move through the film and as we only gain a clearer perspective at the end?
Denzel – when you say back home?
In the United States because there is relevance due to the CIA and perhaps guys who do the right things for the wrong reasons. All of which muddies the waters of who is good and who isn’t.
Denzel – Well I mean, who knows? What is it over here MI5, MI6? Who knows what they do, you know? We don’t know what they do. We know that we want to be protected, we claim to be fair and not torture people but I think that on 9/11 in New York everyone was tortured. All they want to do is get to the bottom of whoever it was.
Further away from that you want your country to play fair. It would not be possible for Obama to say ‘oh by the way next Tuesday we’re gonna shoot Bin Laden’. They’re gonna do it the way they’re gonna do it and you know, it’s a dirty business.
And these guys work in a world of secrecy, was it quite straight forward finding out some of the stuff that you obviously found out and get people to talk to you? - I believe you had a consultant on set?
Espinosa – Yeah, I mean what moved me was the practical expertise. When making a movie I always like to have an expert because I want to direct my movie, I have my vision but with Falcon what I could see is that when shooting certain scenes he was emotionally moved sometimes. When we started talking, we talked about the effect that this had on his personal life and how it affects you as a human being.
These people who get in to this line of business, I mean they go out of practical reasons at the beginning but what they are forced to do for their country or for what they believe in which is sometimes highly unethical, unethical acts. And how does this affect you as a human being? And that’s nothing political that’s something that’s human. How do we live with compromises of our own ethics? That’s somehow, for me, the core of the movie.
Denzel you had a particular book that you relied on?
Denzel – The Sociopath Next Door
Sounds fun, can you tell us a little more?
Denzel - I just took it from the opposite angle. I just think that Tobin Frost was a sociopath. When I initially thought of a sociopath, I thought of violence. I didn’t realise that around eighty, eighty-five per cent of sociopaths are non-violent. But they are manipulative, they’ll lie, they’ll use charm, wit, pity .You know ‘I’m not as good as you’, and as soon as you start saying it, now I’m starting to manipulate you.
I took the opposite sort of attack, than what Daniel was just saying. I think that Tobin Frost had a skill set that the CIA appreciated. They didn’t know to what degree, they didn’t necessarily know he was a sociopath. I think his blood pressure goes down when there is murder and mayhem. I think he was interested in winning. Every day I wrote in my scrap book, journal, ‘how am I going to win today?’ and ‘what am I going to win’. So when these guys are talking about Water Boarding, I talk about ‘you don’t even have the right towels’ you know, ‘how stupid are you?’. You know sometimes I use charm, in the scene in the soccer stadium I started screaming like a little girl ‘oh he’s trying to kill me, he’s trying to kill me’, as soon as I get away, then I kill.
I think he was such a sociopath and such a manipulator (and it’s a movie) that he chose not to even kill the young kid; he would rather play with him. And it’s a movie.
Espinoza – Denzel said I feel like shooting him, I was like ‘I don’t think that’s such a great idea’.
Denzel – I got as close as I could get, Daniel held me back because I was probably overacting, sticking the gun in different places on him, controlling, manipulating.
To Mr Washington, I know you have been to South Africa before but as executive producer how much say did you have in getting the film shot in Cape Town?
Denzel – None. Daniel, I think it was originally Beanos Aires?
Espinosa – Rio
Denzel – We had talked about the fact that we didn’t want this to be too similar to ‘Man on Fire’ but Daniel went to South Africa and he liked South Africa and that was it. I think it was the right choice and also just practically, aside from the look and all that, from my character’s perspective it was easier for me to blend-in, in a black country than in a brown country.
We’re not used to seeing Denzel in that kind of role, Daniel how did you decide on casting? Denzel what was it like for you working with Daniel for the first time? And also…
Denzel – Get them all in!
You said that Brendan Gleeson gave a stellar performance in The Guard, do you think he was robbed of a Golden Globe nomination?
Denzel – I’ll start with mine, and then we can move on to you.
Denzel – it was a tough scene because it was the first day of shooting, in fact we went back and visited some of my side of the scene any way. But it was tough because we were just working out who we were and we had to jump right into it. I think it was the first day of shooting…
Espinosa – No no no he’s talking about Brendan Gleeson.
Denzel- Oh, who am I talking about?
Espinosa – Liam Cunningham
Denzel – Oh! But I didn’t do any scenes with Gleeson.
Denzel – I do remember doing this one scene where I get shot and I actually picked up his gun and I’m pointing it at him.
Espinosa – I actually always see Brendan Gleeson in front of me for this character, I’ve always loved him. I loved him from Harry Potter to Green Zone, you know? Maybe he was robbed, maybe. He is a great actor, I have a deep respect for the English acting tradition, they are always very well prepared, they have a deep sensational soul into what they do and they come with a vision of the character.
Action movies nowadays are often very big, very loud and you certainly have a major action element here. You had a lot more quieter, internalised moments in the film. I was wondering which you found the most challenging and fun to do?
Denzel – I didn’t think this was an action movie, but I’ve been hearing that, it didn’t read like one. I don’t even know what an action movie is; I don’t know what that means. I think it’s a testament to Daniel’s vision, I think it’s intense, I think it plays and I only just saw the finished version about a week or so ago, but it plays more intense than it reads. It’s piece by piece when I look back on it; it was the way that Daniel put it together.
What we talked about right from the start was how funky and dirty and raw he wanted these fights. I saw that fight, I mean I saw a piece of it, between Ryan and Joel at the end and I was like ‘damn’ they were going at it, there was glass and whatever they could use. They were banging on the ground. So it became an action movie, it made it uncomfortable due to how real it was. I mean they were cutting each other up.
Espinosa – I don’t think you can direct a movie like an action movie. I don’t think you can do that. I think you can make a movie. When it comes to the fight, I never saw the fighting I saw the struggling. I think that’s how you should perceive something, if you’re trying not to do a set piece but a scene, I think that all scenes in the movie can move the character and if you perceive it as an action movie maybe that’s a testament to the intensity, then I’m happy.
We tried to get the right people round it, we had a fight coordinator. We had very intense, struggling fight scenes. I tried to gather round the kind of people who were striving to do a movie not an action piece.
In this movie you chose to do your own stunts and as a result you got yourself a black eye. Why do you choose to do your own stunts? And has it put you off from doing your own stunts in further movies?
Denzel – I mean it has to be us; otherwise we’d be too far removed.
The vehicles that they used, we were riding on top. So Ryan wasn’t driving the car and we weren’t in control of the way the car was moving. In this particular scene I’m handcuffed and I’m supposed to jump up and put the handcuffs over Ryan’s neck to choke him and bring him towards me. So the guys are up there are driving and we’re not in control , were going fast and swerving around ; so it just so happens that at that moment I got whipped forward and he got whipped back and our heads collided, and well, the back of his head is harder than the front of my face.
Cos it happened twice, just so happened that the second time round my face closed up.
Nothing to do with the movie, this one is just for my lady listeners. How do you maintain the balance between your family life and your career? And do you still date your wife?
Denzel – She’s out shopping now…She is!
My work is just my work. I take my work seriously but I don’t take myself too seriously. I read a book years ago called ‘Cagney by Cagney’ written by James Cagney and he talked about going to the studio working his twelve hour day and taking off his costume, getting in his car and going home.
The most of my work is done before we start shooting, preparation work. So my normal day I write a lot, I write journals and all that. So my day starts when I get started on the writing, I start writing sometimes from the night before. Going back to The Sociopath Next Door, I start writing ‘how do I win today?’, ‘Is this a scene where I am going to use charm?’, ‘Am I going to use fear, intimidation, am I gonna use wit?.’ Then we do the scene, we play the scene. Then I take my clothes off and I get in the car and I go home and I eat a meal and I relax, watch a little television or something. Then I work for an hour and a half on tomorrows work, and then I go to bed. I don’t lose sleep over it; I’ve been doing it too long.
I work best when I’m alone, although I did Training Day at home and that worked out alright.
Do you still date your wife?
Denzel – What do you mean date? Date? She’s my wife.
Do you take her out?
Denzel – We’re going to dinner tonight? I wouldn’t call it a date. After 21 years it’s not a date, it’s an opportunity.
You’re an actor as well as a producer on this film. What was it that made you want to become so involved?
Denzel – I can’t do it any other way. When I saw Snabba Cash I was fascinated by the young film maker. When I met Daniel we sat and talked about his life and what his father did and where he lived. I was in, as far as Daniel was concerned, I wasn’t in as far as the script was concerned. I didn’t think it was good enough.
So I had been in the habit of developing or helping to develop material for a long time, I’ve been doing it for twenty or more years now. So my agent said ‘hey, you’re doing all this work, why don’t you take some credit for it?’ ‘We’re gonna get you a producer credit’. I don’t think I got any money for it, maybe a couple of extra dollars. I enjoyed helping to develop material, it’s a way of getting me into the part and I’m just a logic monster, I need things to make sense. ‘Why is he doing that?’ It doesn’t make sense, you know?
And we’ll all sit in a room day after day and we’ll work with two or three different writers over the length of three, four, five months. It took us a long time. It’s a way of me to figure out my character.
Firstly to Denzel, my favourite line in the film is when you’re described as ‘the black Dorian Grey’ and I wondered if you could share the secret of your youthful good looks.
To both of you, how do you feel your careers have developed as you’ve got older? And how do your career choices differ now to maybe when you were younger?
Denzel – You’re getting an old man now.
Espinosa – I’m 34.
Denzel – I’ve got shoes older than you. I do!
Espinosa - I don’t know how my career moves have changed with age, I’m not old enough to answer that question.
Denzel – Me neither.
I went through a stage where I was sick of acting. I was really tired, I was bored and I didn’t really want to do it anymore. Then I tried directing a movie and I was like ‘shoot’. It made me appreciate acting more.
When I turned fifty I looked in the mirror and I realised hey this isn’t the dress rehearsal. This is life and I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna have and even if I have fifty more years I probably won’t remember the last twenty or thirty of them anyway. The last three or four years, especially after being on Broadway with the great Viola Davis, it reminded me of how I started, which was in the theatre. I work more thoroughly in the theatre and I made a commitment, I committed myself to being more thorough as an actor. I want to do good work, and I want to do good work with people that I want to do good work with.
That’s why what came to me first wasn’t the screen play, I wasn’t that impressed with the screen play. If it wasn’t for Daniel I probably wouldn’t have done this movie because it didn’t interest me that much, I didn’t think it was that good. But I did like Daniel and I like the way his films work, so when you get a chance to work with people you like and people that are talented, that’s rare. I didn’t know how many movies I’m gonna get the chance to make and I don’t want to look back and go ‘man I just kind of floated or I just did that one for the money’. I want to be able to say I worked as hard as I could and I did the best work that I would do.
SAFE HOUSE (trailer HERE) IS AT UK CINEMAS FEBRUARY 24
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