antoine fuqua interview

If we’re lucky, Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington will make Equalizer movies until the end of days. In a sea of +100 million dollar franchises, Fuqua and Washington are making a series unlike any other in major theaters right now. No franchise star today is as hard-hitting, violent, and as well-spoken as Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), whose eloquent threats and promises of vengeance are as crowd-pleasing as his fighting skills.

But don’t call this Equalizer series a franchise or blockbuster to Fuqua, because he’s more interested in telling a good standalone story than making a sequel that’s really just a bit more of the same. Like Washington, Fuqua had opportunities to make prequels and sequels, for both Training Day and Olympus Has Fallen, but they never made sense to him. The world of Robert McCall, on the other hand, was rich enough for the filmmaker to continue to McCall’s journey.

Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with the always passionate Fuqua to discuss The Equalizer 2, working with Denzel Washington for the fourth time, Miami Vice, and even his fond memory of working with Prince.

For a sequel, the movie feels like a very natural and organic continuation.

Great. Yeah, good. That means the most to me, man. I keep hearing sequel, sequel, sequel, but you know, it’s like you make a movie you just want to make, the best movie you can make of each piece of material you have. So, I’m not really trying to top one of the others, just trying to make sure that this movie is just as satisfying as the other one, or more.

Did the reaction to the first movie influence you at all, knowing what worked for audiences?

Yeah, I was listening closely. You know, it’s funny because the action stuff you kind of get a sense that they’ll enjoy it if it’s justified. You gotta earn it, though. What I learned is that people are much more patient than sometimes we give them credit for in our business. They’re obviously much smarter than sometime we give them credit for, you don’t have to spell everything out to people. They like that. Also, people are more connected to small things, small emotions than we think. For an example, in the first one, the girl Jenny gets her ring back. Then he gets the hammer, and we cut away, you don’t see what he does but when she opens the drawer at the end, the ring’s in there. I remember the gasp, and people going like, “Oh, she got her ring. That was cool, right?” I thought, wow that worked. I didn’t think people would connect it like that, but they do.

Then, on this one, I’m not going to give anything away, but there’s moments in there where there was conversations, like, should we trim that down, cut that back, is he in the way of the movie? Now see, that’s the human quality that people connect to. It’s those small things that people respond to, he could just painting a wall that needs to be fixed, but people seem to care about justice is not just violence, it’s just correcting a wrong.

The first half of the movie has a very patient pace focusing more on Robert than plot. When someone as watchable as Denzel Washington is your star, does his presence give you more confidence to let scenes breathe longer? 

Yeah, because he’s got so much going on, you know what I mean? And as I said, people are smart. They can see if he’s in pain about his wife, or he’s missing her. As an actor, he’s just in the moment. If he’s in the feelings of missing his wife, I know as a director that I can put my camera on certain spots, and do certain things, and you’ll feel it. Because people know the truth. It’s just about finding the truth in every moment, so they know. Some people can’t do that because they’re not in the truth, and the audiences are smart. They’re not buying that, man. You can feel it when you watch it with the audience when they’re there or not.

When Robert smiles and mocks the villains in the suburbs, my audience got a huge laugh from that. Did you want to use more of Denzel Washington’s comedic chops this time? 

No, it wasn’t intentional, he just does it. Like I said, sometimes he’s just in the moment. You’re in the moment. You don’t know whether the audience will find it funny or not, you just do what you do, and that’s what he does. But I remember when he did it I had to hold my laugh back. I’m sitting there trying not to laugh, you know? That’s like, you never know what the audience is going to do. But the funny thing I’ve learned is that if you do it, and you and I are in the room and we are doing something, and both crack up laughing about something, the audience is probably going to do the same thing, because they’re more alike than different. Sometimes people talk themselves out of something like, “Oh, we can’t do that.” Why not? We just had fun doing it. So you have to sort of trust yourself.

I really liked the idea of Robert working as a Lyft driver because it just makes sense. He likes people and being around people, and you see that. Was it easy getting the OK from Lyft? 

Yeah. I mean, it was more the producers, Todd Black, and those guys, and Sony. It was a business thing. Also, they came to the set, and we met them. But no, they were cool, man. They were happy we were doing it, you know? I mean, there’s some violence happening in their car, in the Lyft car. They were cool.

I think it’s a great image for Lyft, this part-time driver, part-time vigilante. 

[Laughs] Right? A side hustle, right? No, it’s hilarious, man. We had fun doing it.

That fight scene in the car is so concise, clear, and fast.

I was just trying to put you there as much as I could. I was just sort of, me and Oliver were working on that with our stunt guys. I was just saying, let’s just get as close as we can to the real action. So we got some real stunt guys, this guy Clay is an amazing driver, and we just put the cars in a position, and we covered it. But it was one of those scenes where I just wanted you to really be in the car. You know, if you were a passenger you really want to feel like you’re there in that car, experiencing that move, and him turning the car, and spinning, and all that stuff. What would that be like? So for me, just as a director, I was like, all right if I was in the back of that car, or a passenger in that car, what would that feel like? That’s what we were trying to capture.

How did you and [DP] Oliver Wood want to visualize Robert’s point-of-view in the sequel? How did you want to change things up?

Oliver, we talked a lot about just the difference between this one and the first one. The first one was a little slicker because we were introducing you to him, and it was a little more distant from McCall, he wasn’t as personable. You know, he wasn’t cracking jokes as much, he wasn’t driving the car where he was around different type of people. He was just working at that place. I said this one’s going to be a little grittier, a little dirtier, and a little more brutal. So the fighting could be a little nastier, as far as brutality.

The other one was clever stuff in that warehouse with the drill, and different stuff. Then the noose we made out of barbwire. And that was fun. It was like, how about we have some fun? [Laughs] It was sick. This one was personal. It was like okay, how did you get really personal? You’ve got to get up close and personal, and you got to do things that are pretty vicious. We shot it like that too. If you notice as we go closer towards the metaphor of him going home, the storm and all that stuff, it gets more gray. It gets darker, and just sort of the color starts to bleed out of the thunderstorm.

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