On Day 46 of 60 shooting on “The Equalizer,” the floor to the bad guys” hideout was littered with fake glass and broken fixtures. It”s all dark wood, crystal, gold and stained glass, a sort of cathedral. This is because Denzel Washington”s character Robert McCall had just laid waste to it, along with the villains in it.
It”s a little bit of a metaphor for McCall himself: it”s kinda proper, reserved, and elementally busted. The role called for a man with OCD — he has to line up objects on a table, open and close doors a set number of times, obsess over detail. His apartment is positively filled with clocks, because he has his eye on time, all of the time. He”s a former operative and something very very bad has happened to him.
The name “The Equalizer” came from the 1980s show of the same title, with the same character name. Producer Todd Black says the similarities stop around there, though the general conceit of The Equalizer, the man, is similar: a guy who brings justice to the voiceless and the helpless, and “gives the bad people a chance to rectify it at every turn,” Black said on set in Boston. “And when they don't take him up on his chance he violently, violently takes care of them in a way that they will never breathe again.”
In this case, it”s Chloe Grace Moretz who needs saving, as prostitute Teri. Robert and Teri meet because they”re nightowls, and bond because they”re damaged goods. Like goes with like.
“He's troubled, flawed and we don't finish the story. It's not like suddenly at the end he's fine,” Washington said of Robert McCall, then laughs. “I think he's looking to put his past behind him… He's trying real hard. There's a line I say, ‘I've done a lot of bad things in the past, things I'm not proud of.” In my back story, I promised my wife that I wouldn't go back to being that person, but you wouldn”t have a movie then, so he's drawn back in.”
There”s the character build-up, and then the action begins. Black confirmed that Nicolas Winding-Refn (“Drive”) and Rupert Wyatt (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) were the first in the running to direct the Richard Wenk-penned script. But that Antoine Fuqua landed on top at Washington”s suggestion. The two previously worked on “Training Day,” which obviously brought a little shorthand to the shoot.
As for Washington”s arrival on the project, Sony had previously passed on Russell Crowe for the lead. Black had “a lightbulb moment” with Wenk, and “we literally for eight months worked on a script with the writer and just tailor made it” for Washington. Black presented it to his friend, and only a couple of days later, Washington called him.
“And I said, ‘How are you?' And he goes, ‘I'm Robert McCall. How are you?”,” Black explained. “Denzel and I had been looking for a franchise.”
“You don't have a sequel without a good film, so there's no point in thinking about sequels. I'm just trying to be a part of making the best film that I can,” Washington said, separately.
So you weren't looking for a potential franchise?
“No, never have. I don”t know what that is.”
Washington was breezy and affable, right in the midst of a scene where he equalizes a henchman and steals a gun in a home improvement store, where his character is trying to hold down a job in his adoptive, quiet life. Who cares if he was sniffing out a franchise or not, really, when he takes on a character that puts him back in the kind of beloved role action audiences have grown to adore. McCall may be stoic, but Washington enjoys his place in what was shaping up to be a violent film, playing what he calls “the man who kills” in the script.
“The violence you witness is Denzel doing it and we”re taking some visual effects and doing some things and you see something happen it”s happening in front of you as opposed to cutting away and doing a bunch of tricks,” Fuqua describes from the sidelines. “It”s in front of you. So it”s hard not to make it a hard R [rating] if you see a guy get punched and teeth wind up in someone”s knuckles, you know what I mean?”
On McCall”s counter-force Teri: “My character and Chloe's sort of connect and then she's literally snatched away. So he doesn't come out of the gate just fighting. He's trying to lead a normal life, but it's not normal. He's not able to sleep,” Washington elaborates. “[Teri”s] really an innocent and she's being abused and misled. He just helps her to believe in herself and her ability.”
“It is a character piece,” Black said, after showing a slow-burning get-to-know you scene. “It is emotional. It is dramatic and the action is a part of it. It is not an action movie; it is a character movie with the phenomenal action and intense action.”
Then we move on to a quiet room with glass on the floor.