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Denzel Washington Talks About ‘The Book of Eli’

 

Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington in ‘The Book of Eli.’

© Warner Bros Pictures

Jan 12, 2010 – Two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington (Glory, Training Day) not only bears the burden of being in nearly every scene in the post-apocalyptic action thriller, The Book of Eli, he also carried a load behind the scenes. Washington helped out in a producer capacity, getting the project in shape to be filmed. “Well, I don’t know how it got to me being the producer, but I knew that there was a lot of work to be done on the script and I knew that I needed to help do it,” explained Washington about why he chose to tackle producing. “So I just felt that in this particular story… I can’t tell you why because I really don’t remember. I can’t say, ‘Oh, it was one thing.’ But I just felt like I needed to be a little more hands on on this one.”

Washington plays a determined man who, by sheer willpower and tenacity, goes on a nearly 30 year journey to deliver a special book to its ultimate home. Washington really wanted to play Eli, but the script needed some work before it was just right. “We did a lot of work, a lot of sessions with Allen [Hughes] and myself and my son and the writer. I walked through a lot, page by page, we did a lot of rewrites. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with my own personal experiences,” offered Washington at the LA press day for the Warner Bros Pictures drama. “I couldn’t give you one off the top of my head but coming off of directing – and I know how to work as a director – I really want to flesh out and flush out the characters.”

Washington added, “I play all the parts. One day in one of the sessions, I just came up with the idea of Gary [Oldman’s] character saying, ‘Pray for me.’ I mean it, that wasn’t in the original script but it just made sense to me, that this guy at that moment when it seems like he’s got everything and he’s the most evil or whatever you want to call him, he says, ‘Pray for me.’ Does that make him more twisted? It just felt right that, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, between you and me, put in a word. I know I’m no good, but, you know…'”

And speaking of Gary Oldman, Washington has high praise for his onscreen nemesis. “I love working with Gary. Gary’s one of the best. We had a lot of fun. Sometimes we would do the whole scene as very British sort of, ‘Well, sir. I’ll need that book from you now.’ ‘Are you going to shoot me today?’ That kind of stuff, but obviously he’s one of the best of his generation, of our generation, so it was a real joy when he signed on. I was really excited about that.”

 

Getting Physical

Washington’s Eli is basically a lethal weapon on two legs, taking on all comers and always coming out the winner. “Jeff Imada, who is a disciple of Danny Inosanto, who was a contemporary of Bruce Lee trained me and I worked with Danny a bit. I don’t know, four, five, six months out we started stretching and moving and doing stuff with our eyes closed and just getting into the whole vibe. Stretching is, you don’t know, you’re too young, but when you get older, stretching is good. Stretching is real [important]. I don’t do it enough, but it helps a lot. Yeah, it’s good stuff,” laughed Washington.

He may not be keeping up with his training since finishing filming, but at least Washington made sure that whatever you see in the movie is actually him. “Kicking butt, I was just like, ‘Make sure they know it’s me. There’s no stuntman, make sure.’ [The director] said, ‘Well, we’re going to silhouette.’ I go, ‘Silhouette? As hard as I’m working, you’re not even going to show me after all that? Well, make sure, get close or something. It’s me, make sure they know it’s me.’ It is me. That’s me. That’s me. What I learned from these masters like Danny Inosanto is he lets that energy come towards him and he goes through it. He’s like 70-some odd years old and so fluid and just a great fighter that I said, ‘I didn’t want to be karate man.’ I didn’t want to finish like, ‘Ha!’ I didn’t want to do any of that, but just moving through people,” explained Washington.

 

The Appeal of The Book of Eli

Washington says that in a lot of ways Eli is similar to characters he’s played before. “[…]Most of the characters I play, a lot of them, there’s been some kind of evolution, spiritual evolution. You look at Malcolm X who went from hatred to a whole complete different doctrine, or Hurricane Carter. Even something as dark as Training Day, the first thing I wrote on my script was, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ In the original version of Training Day, they had him dying in the smallest way, like you heard about it on TV. I said, ‘No, I can’t. In order for me to justify living in the worst way, I have to die in the worst way.’ There was still in my mind a lesson to be learned there, or an evolution.”

“In the case of Man on Fire, same thing,” offered Washington. “A very dark man meets this young angel who awakens him and he gives his life for her. So I guess there’s a somewhat similar theme here in that he has this mission, and this mission has turned him into this violent killing machine. And there’s no coincidence that at the moment when he’s about to chop whoever with this hatchet, this axe, this young girl says, ‘Stop.'”

“Why was he sent through this town right before he makes it to where he’s supposed to go? He could have gone around; it would’ve been a whole different story. But in his spiritual evolution, this was a part of the process. He had to go down through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Washington didn’t take a look at other post-apocalyptic films in order to prepare for the role. “I usually take that approach, not to look at them, so whatever I come up with, at least in my mind I came up with it on my own. I didn’t want to start looking at other films and go, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ I don’t want to be hemmed in by the possibility of doing exactly what somebody else did, so maybe I have. I don’t know because I didn’t look.”

But there is a hint of High Plains Drifter in The Book of Eli. “There is the Western vibe of this. The writer definitely said that,” revealed Washington. “In fact, earlier on it was like the saloon. We sort of de-Westernized it a bit, but it is the basic loner comes to town story, walks into the saloon and kicks some butt.”

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January 15, 2010 - Posted by | 1

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