Interview By: Freddie LaFemina
Theatergoers will likely spend much of their viewing experience during Spike Lee‘s Inside Man scratching their heads. But the crucial question that they will be asking themselves as they exit the theater will surely be, ‘How does Denzel Washington pull off that signature swagger?’ “I get up in the morning and do swagger exercises,” Washington says jokingly.
Given the fact that Washington has portrayed cops quite often in his acting career, one wonders how he prepared for a now familiar role, this time as a detective who is faced with his first real opportunity to manage a crisis in progress after a gang of masked criminals take control of a bank. This is also yet another time that Washington finds himself playing the good guy. Does he think much about his own hand in cultivating a sort of ‘good guy niche?’ “I haven’t created that niche, I just play the parts, and maybe people say that, but it’s not any plan. I just play parts,” Washington says innocently.
If anything, Washington has found his greatest success playing a villain, the crooked though complicated detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day. That role landed him an Oscar. While many said that the role wasn’t his best, Washington acknowledges what often happens with awards â€“ “I do think that sometimes you’re awarded something over here when you should’ve won over there.” He adds, “I don’t think that’s new with me.”
Now the recipient of two Oscars, Washington is unfazed and quite unconcerned with Hollywood and awards. He doesn’t really get to the movies that often, and he didn’t watch the Academy Awards, though he insists he is “happy for the people who won.” Washington seems very much interested in focusing on the craft of acting
While he didn’t have much time for specific research â€“ “I was doing [Julius Caesar], and I had a whole five days off before rehearsal,” he says â€“ Washington was still able to spend a little bit of time with New York City detectives. Truth be told, “I did most of my research listening to my driver, who was from Brooklyn. It’s just a feeling and a vibe that living in California I just don’t get,” Washington says before adding, “I don’t know what I’m doin’ out there.”
As for physical preparations, Washington also took a less than strenuous path. “I was actually in better shape doing the play, and I sort of let it go.” Washington didn’t take up any sort of strict exercise regimen to prepare for the role, as he thought it didn’t call for a particularly muscular or sharply drawn physique. “I just felt like [his character, detective Keith Frazier] is sort of settled in his ways, and he’s had his routine, and he’s in over his head, so I didn’tâ€¦” I never wanted to look too neatâ€¦he [has] style, but he [doesn't] have money.”
Washington thought it appropriate to portray his character as confident yet lacking any actual clout. According to him, the powers that be in this film â€“ from the mayor to the bank chairman (Christopher Plummer) to the shady power broker (Jodie Foster) â€“ are “on this other level that
Washington actually brought much more to the role than just shaping a character from scripted lines. As he and his co-stars acknowledge, he often improvised lines, something he feels very comfortable doing when working with director Spike Lee. “I like working with Spike. It’s familiar territory. I like going to Brooklyn to DeKalb and rehearsingâ€¦It’s like coming home for me.” As Washington points out, he first started improvising lines with Lee while shooting Mo’ Better Blues. “That was the first time I can remember really [thinking], ‘Okay, we’ll just fool around or just set the set scenario and see what happens.” Washington’s improvising was somewhat difficult for his co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor to adapt to, though despite this fact, “We had a good time together.” Washington says of Ejiofor, “[He's] really an elegant and just a good man, and a great actor,” but “it was tougher for him becauseâ€¦I’m just riffing,” while Ejiofor, who is British, was “trying to learn how to speak [with an American accent]” at the same time. Though they only had a handful of scenes together, Washington says he really enjoyed working with Jodie Foster, and has nothing but glowing things to say about her. “I like her a lot. Obviously she’s a great actress. I was excited about the opportunity to work with her,” Washington says.
In a landscape that was both new and familiar, Washington seems to have thrived on the set of Inside Man, adding his own flourishes both on and off screen and picking up some tips from Lee along the way. Though working with Lee was very much a familiar experience, this time around Washington had the chance as a budding director in his own right to