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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

October 29, 2006

In the action thriller Deja Vu, an ATF agent (Denzel Washington) is recruited by a highly classified government operation to solve the mystery behind an explosive terrorist attack using surveillance technology that can actually look four days into the past. During the course of his investigation, he realizes that the murder of a young woman (Paula Patton) might very well be the key to capturing the mastermind behind the bombing (Jim Caviezel).

Deja Vu is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott, who worked with Denzel Washington previously on both Crimson Tide and Man on Fire. Filmed largely in New Orleans, this compelling thriller blends elements of action, romance, and science fiction in an intriguing fashion, and it features some unique moments, including a groundbreaking car chase that takes place in two time frames simultaneously.

In this interview, Denzel Washington, who has a fantastic sense of humor and readily makes light of Hollywood trivialities, talks about working on the movie.

The Interview

MEDIA: So, the obvious question: ever had a moment of deja vu yourself?

DENZEL: You know what? I had an odd one today. I'm going to get the mail out of the mailbox, and I'm walking around, and I'm out in the street by my front gate, and I said, "I've got a feeling somebody's going to drive by." So I just stood out there, and a white truck comes by, and it stops, and it backs up, and it's Eddie Murphy. And I just had a feeling somebody was [coming]. I said, "I'll just stand here another second." And it wasn't ten seconds, and he drove by and gave me the whole scoop on Dreamgirls.

How did you first meet Paula, and what's your impression of her?

Tony Scott said, "I've got this girl. You don't know her. She hasn't done anything, but she's right for the part." I read with her...She's a wonderful person. Have you met her? [She has] a lot of energy! She's a lovely girl, she's a sweetheart, and, he was right, she has that quality that you want to care about her, or you want to take care of her.

As a veteran actor, is it refreshing to see an actor with Paula's enthusiasm hit the scene?

It is refreshing, and it is a reminder of what a privilege it is to be in this industry and to be able to do what you like and to be compensated in an amazing and ridiculous way for doing something you want to do. And in those days where you just don't feel like coming out of the trailer, and then you meet this young person...It's all fresh and new, and it reminds you. It takes you back. It's like, "Hey, be thankful for what you got."

And what's your impression of your other co-star, Jim Caviezel, and his performance as the antagonist?

He's intense. He's obviously very good, and I was kind of surprised, like, "Whoa! Okay, he's investing in the dark side." He was willing to go the whole way. He's a very spiritual man and a very intense individual, and very good. And it's that same intensity that can be applied to the [character's motivation].

What did you think of all the high-tech wizardry the story incorporates?

Tony and Jerry had to somewhat convince me that this could work. And the original screenplay...I was like, "Hmmm...I don't know, fellas." Tony was saying, "We want to steep this in facts about surveillance and what it's capable of and pushing that envelope." And a lot of what we're doing and what you see, they are capable of. I don't know about the multi-angles and all of that, but we do have the technology, as you all know...Google Earth, you can look at somebody's house. We do have the technology where you can look through somebody's house. They use it in Iraq as we speak, where you see a heat signature. Where it's going now is that by gathering your genetic information--DNA and all of that type of information--they can then identify you, as opposed to me, [and] can look at your house from 18 miles above, see your signature, know what your makeup is, know that that's you in the bathroom doing whatever.

You've worked with both Tony Scott and his brother, Ridley Scott...

Third time with Tony, third time with Jerry as well. And needless to say, we've had tremendous success. I like working with Tony. I hope to do more movies with him. I must be the first person in the business to work with Tony Scott and Ridley Scott in the same year. Obviously, Tony and Jerry know what they're doing, and when they call me up and say, "Hey we've got this idea and this is what we want to do," then I listen.

How would you compare the two sibling directors?

I don't know. Tony likes to draw. He's an artist, so he draws a lot of storyboards and all that kind of stuff. Maybe Ridley does too, but I don't see them. It feels like he's more [about] seeing what happens on the moment and adjusting. I know Tony more because I've done three films with him. As it will all turn out, we'll see. Obviously, Ridley knows what he's doing. He's made some good pictures. It's good working with him.

When you're shooting action-heavy films, do you have to work on the physical aspects of your character more than the dramatic aspects?

Well, it depends. I mean, you gotta do that sometimes. Like The Hurricane was not an action picture, but I had to obviously be in shape. So it just depends upon the part. Sometimes you don't want to do that. In the case of Inside Man, I liked the fact that he was a little beat up, and he's got this younger girl, and he's trying to hang on to her, and he's a little overweight...And it was a cheap excuse to not have to work out.

So what kind of training does a former "People's Sexiest Man Alive" have to do to portray an ATF agent?

Sexy training. That could be like a gym. "Sexy Gyms" or something like that, right? Uhhh...Not eat in New Orleans, that's one thing. Ah, man, there's no such thing as health food! They do have a good Whole Foods there, though. But I remember going to one place and I said, "Can you make me a clean piece of fish?" He said, "Oh, we're going to wash the fish for you." As they say, just live better--just watching what you eat and going to the gym.

What did you do to learn about the technical aspects of your character's profession?

Tony, like myself, likes research. He always tracks down real guys who do [the job we are portraying]. We did it with Man on Fire, we did it with Crimson Tide, and we did it with Deja Vu. And [our consultant] was an ATF guy who was instrumental in figuring out the Oklahoma City bombing. We used his methods and applied it directly to this film. They found small pieces of plastic in the destruction of the Federal building. They identified it, tracked it, found out it came from barrels, found out where they were made, found out where they were purchased, and worked their way back. I mean, they already had [Timothy] McVeigh at that time, but they were able to connect him to those things. We took that directly and applied it to our story. When [our consultant] would get very tired working twenty, thirty, hours at a time...He said, "If you brush your teeth, it's like getting an hour's sleep." I put that in the movie.

Do you consider yourself a very serious person?

[jokes] There's a clown in there. There's a clown in me that's waiting to get out!...People have said to me, "Why don't you do more comedies? You're real funny. People don't see that side of you." I think it's eking out in films more and more, especially in Inside Man. I improvised a lot, and there were some funny lines that came out that weren't written.

When you're working on a film, do you feel a certain sense of pressure?

I don't know if I've ever felt pressure. [pauses] I felt pressure when I played Malcolm X.

Because of expectations?

Pressure because of death threats. [laughs] Yeah, pressure from real pressure! Cry Freedom as well. Pressure from people saying they wanted to kill you. I guess there's some pressure [from] the amount of money you're spending on a film. But there's relief when you look at a film. [laughs] Monday, I sat down with my guys and we watched Deja Vu, and I was like, "Whoa, that's a good picture!" I enjoyed it.

Is there a certain part of your career that you look back and reflect upon?

I don't look back...Maybe when I'm older. People say, "What's your favorite film?" I say, "My next one." I'm not interested in sitting around.

You directed 2002's Antwone Fisher starring Derek Luke, and will be helming the upcoming film The Great Debaters. What do you like about directing?

I like the collaboration. I like seeing people do well. I'm loving seeing where Derek Luke is right now, and having something to do with that. I like seeing people do well. So, God willing, I plan to direct the rest of my days.

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