Interview: 'Training Day' Producer Will Beall On How The TV Series Is Like 'Star Wars' And 'The Warriors'

CBS did not present a Television Critics Association panel for their upcoming series Training Day, based on the 2001 movie, but the cast and creators attended their evening party. Screenwriter Will Beall adapted the movie for television under producers Antoine Fuqua and Jerry Bruckheimer. I actually ran into Beall just as he was about to leave the party, in line at a waffle truck parked for dessert.

Beall said this was the first formal interview he had given on Training Day, which now has veteran Det. Frank Rourke (Bill Paxton) take rookie Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell) under his wing. The movie had Denzel Washington as a corrupt cop training a rookie played by Ethan Hawke. Beall is also working on the feature film scripts for Aquaman, The Legend of Conan, and Robin Hood, and we discussed them all during our conversation. Training Day could be on CBS this fall or midseason. Note: this interview contains spoilers for the movie Training Day

Is Training Day on television a chance to explore all the things a corrupt cop and his rookie can get into, more than just one day?

The movie is its own thing. To try to remake the movie to me would've been crazy. Antoine, when I talked about doing a TV version of it, we had always said that it was important that the thing have its own idea. To me, the most interesting part of the movie, my favorite scene in the movie, after they kill Scott Glenn, Roger. Ethan Hawke's whole fucking world turns upside down. They're in the car and Denzel, Alonzo, has this amazing speech to him, this heartfelt speech where he says, "I've been in that seat. I know it's terrible to see how things really get done out here, but I'm telling you stick with me. This is the way it needs to happen. This is how things get done. Trust me, you stick with me..."

It's almost like a version of the only thing that was good in any of the Star Wars prequels is when Palpatine says to him, "You wanted to live a life of conscience, of significance." It's his version of talking about the subtleties of the Force, right? Then after that, the movie takes a radical turn where he takes Ethan Hawke to the gang guy's house and you realize, oh shit, he's just a bad guy. He's going to kill him. That moment where you don't completely know where Denzel is at. Wait, is he a good guy? What he's saying makes sense to me but I've just seen him kill this guy. That was the most fascinating, intense dramatic part of the movie. So I wanted us to be able to do a series that lived in that space.

Are 13 or 22 episodes a chance to explore those questions further, like do the ends justify the means?

My guy, if you asked him do the ends justify the means, he wouldn't understand the question. He'd be like, "There's just the ends. You either get it done or you don't." Which is part of what makes him a fascinating character.

Is Training Day in 2016 very different than it was in 2001 with all of the current events dealing with cops?

You're the first guy that I've talked to about this. The real real is that Training Day every week is the kind of action movie that I grew up on that they don't make anymore. So you're going to get, in the way that action movies of the '80s and early '90s were sort of modern westerns, that's what this is. You'll see when they show you the pilot and three or four episodes, you'll see that the show is up on the balls of its feet a little bit. It's just a little bit heightened from where the movie was.

It's almost like there is Colors, which is a classic and fairly authentic depiction of gangs in Los Angeles, especially for the time. I was a cop before this for like ten years in L.A. and worked most of the time in South Central. I did not realize. I saw Colors when I was in high school. It wasn't until I came on the job that I realized, oh shit, Colors, not only does it hold up but Colors is a truthful movie, as goofy as that sounds.

There's Colors, this authentic depiction of gangs, and then there's The Warriors where the fucking Baseball Furies and there's a roller skating gang of all that stuff. Training Day the series is in there somewhere. That part of it is what's most exciting to me about that. So it exists in some ways in its own world. It's outside of time a little bit in the way that The Warriors was. We're not that explicit but you'll see that it is definitely a heightened L.A.

Aquaman Comic-Con

Was it significant that you flipped the trainer and trainee so that it's an African-American rookie and a white mentor?

That was another thing that Antoine and I cooked up and I don't want to take credit for it because I can't honestly remember which one of us thought of it. Probably him. The idea is Alonzo's dead. There's nobody else who's Denzel. Denzel is Denzel. Not many people know this but there was a sequel to True Grit that was a made-for-TV movie starring Warren Oates as Rooster Cogburn. Mattie Ross is played by a different actress too and it doesn't work, not because Warren Oates isn't awesome. He's one of the greatest character actors ever, but because you can't put another guy in John Wayne's shoes, at least not then. By the time Jeff Bridges gets there it's a different thing but this is just a few years later.

You couldn't stick another actor playing Alonzo or a character like Alonzo because it wouldn't be fair to anybody. It's not fair to that actor. It's not fair to the audience. He's such an iconic character, it just wouldn't work. What we decided to do was sort of the original Training Day before Training Day is The Searchers. John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards and there are two movies, John Wayne's best movies in my opinion, one of them he starts out as a hero and ends up the heavy which is Red River. If you haven't seen that movie, watch it tomorrow. Watch it this weekend. It's amazing, totally holds up.

And The Searchers, he's Ahab. He's completely batshit and also completely badass and effective at what he does. He's about as terrifying and sometimes way more terrifying than the Indian Scar that they're trying to find. What we are making really is this postmodern western. We're making The Searchers in a way. So there is an element of Bill's character that is Ethan Edwards and Rooster Cogburn. It made it more interesting to me in this modern post-Ferguson context to have a white cop that's maybe untrustworthy and the young black cop as the ingenue was more interesting to me.

The movie gave Alonzo a comeuppance which was cathartic for the audience. To keep the series going, do you have to delay that?

It's interesting. That's a great question and I'm not just saying that. I don't know if you know this, but this is another thing that Antoine and I talked about. In [John] Milius's original script for Apocalypse Now, Willard goes up the river to assassinate Kurtz, but when he gets there, Kurtz convinces him to stay and fight alongside him. That was sort of a jumping off point. What if Alonzo had been able to convince Ethan Hawke that he was [right]? In that version, I think he sets Ethan Hawke up from the beginning.

By the way, Frank Rourke is not nearly as far gone as Alonzo is. But he does color outside the lines for sure, in the way that Dirty Harry did, in a way that you and I can sort of understand. He's not putting his gun to his head and saying, "Smoke PCP or I'll kill you." The way you sustain it, I think, and what has been fun for us is that the question of whether the show is going to be a story of Kyle's seduction or is it the story of Frank's redemption? That's where we live and they're pulling each other. So he isn't evil enough yet to justify, you don't want him to get a comeuppance necessarily. And yet, he kind of does in every episode because Kyle, Justin's character is there to make sure that he doesn't completely fall into this abyss and become an Alonzo.

The Wrap reported that your Aquaman villain is Black Manta.

I can't talk to you about Aquaman.

Not even something vague like writing a script where the action is underwater, is there less dialogue because people won't be talking?

How do I answer that? I can tell you that not all of the action takes place underwater. Some of the most fun action in the movie actually takes place on dry land."

Is your work on Aquaman done?

Nope, I am still working on it with James [Wan] and Geoff [Johns].

Is it in flux depending on what happens with Justice League? They're still shooting.

No, no, they know what's happening. Everybody knows what's happening so it's not that. It's working out what's going to make the best movie.

Have you finished Robin Hood and Legend of Conan?

Yes, I have. Legend of Conan, Chris [Morgan] and I are continuing to hone. I think that's going to be a great movie actually.

Does it allow you to imagine from where Conan was sitting on the throne at the end of that first movie?

It opens there. It opens with this [hand on the chin]. It's where you have to. It's the sequel that we were promised and never got. I'm 11 when my father took me to see Conan the Barbarian which you should never take an 11-year-old kid to. It was a life changing thing. It's an unbelievable movie. It comes back to Milius, right? There's nobody better and it's a real movie. It's a truthful movie. Chris and I from the very beginning said there's no reason to do it unless it's a worthy sequel to Milius's Conan and I think we've got that. I really do.

Is Robin Hood in development hell now?

I don't know about hell but we got a script that I think is really cool and has real potential. I don't know what the appetite in the marketplace for a Robin Hood movie is. All that shit's above my pay grade.