24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Book of Eli

'Book of Eli' star Denzel Washington, at an action-movie crossroads

January 14, 2010 |  7:00 am


Denzel Washington, whose "The Book of Eli" opens this weekend to what will likely be strong box office, has worked with Tony Scott on four previous movies and recently wrapped their fifth, a train thriller titled "Unstoppable" with newly minted Captain Kirk Chris Pine.

The title "Unstoppable" carries particular irony because the project was delayed several times by what insiders have said were diverse factors such as budget-related studio reluctance and star hesitation.

So how unwilling was Washington? In a conversation about the religious and other aspects of "Eli" -- he notes, incidentally, that Warner Bros. wanted Bible references toned down to the point that "it sometimes got ridiculous in how you were trying to hide it"; see the full fruits of that interview here -- the actor tells 24 Frames that he pretty much didn't want to make "Unstoppable."

"To be honest with you, I didn't want to do the movie," Washington said. "The studio [Fox] didn't care. I said, 'I don't want to do it' and they said 'Good, get out.' I said, 'Fine.' But then Tony said, 'I don't want to do it unless he [Denzel] does it.' The way it was told to me, he said, 'If he's out, I'm out.'"

That prompted Scott to make the hard sell to Washington. "Tony just wouldn't let it go," Washington continued. "I said, 'Come on.' He said, 'I need you, I need you.'" I said [going to a whimpering-little-boy voice], 'I don't want to be on top of a train.'"

So what made Washington finally relent? "Because I love him. What am I going to do?" he said, adding, "That was one for him. He owes me one now."

Scott's recollection of events pretty much dovetails with Washington's -- though he's not shy about putting a fine point on it: "I kept beating on his door and saying ... do it." (Washington, as he was later hanging on to a train hurtling along at something like 50 mph, recalled quipping to Pine, "You know we're all just pawns, right? It's all about the trains.")

Washington's future holds a few other possibilities. He's soon headed to Broadway for an August Wilson revival, is toying with the idea of moving forward on a World War II drama called "Brothers In Arms" and is even contemplating a return to the political roles for which he became famous earlier in his career. A South African producer has recently sent him a script about a person he describes as a "prominent" South African politician ... who may or may not be currently personified on screen by Morgan Freeman. Whatever Denzel takes on -- for now, at least -- he seems to be hopping off the action train.

-- Steven Zeitchik


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