It’s pretty remarkable that, up until now, Antoine Fuqua hasn’t directed a sequel. The director behind Training Day and Shooter and 2016’s The Magnificent Seven has had his chances – there is a sequel to his 2013 “White House in Peril” hit, Olympus Has Fallen, but he didn’t direct it – but it’s not until now, with the chance to do another Equalizer movie with Denzel Washington, has Fuqua finally pulled the trigger.
I’ll admit up front, I am fascinated with Fuqua’s movies. I look forward to his films with the same passion usually reserved for the Christopher Nolans and Paul Thomas Andersons of the world. On the surface, he makes action movies – but there’s always something deeper and profound lurking underneath the always heavier-than-expected violence.
And now even more so as his professional relationship with Denzel Washington – now four movies in; three of those in the last four years – has reached a point where the two are on that special actor-director, almost non-verbal wavelength. Fuqua says at this point Washington will know what to do before the two even discuss it. And Fuqua knew it from the start, back on Training Day, when Washington came up with his now famous “King Kong” line out of the blue.
Which brings us to this first sequel, Equalizer 2. When the first film came out in 2014, it almost seemed ridiculous that there would be a movie based on an ‘80s television series that was best known as a punchline by Rob Reiner’s character in The Wolf Of Wall Street. It turns out The Equalizer was a surprise hit. Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall has given up his job at Home Mart (after you kill a dozen or so people inside the store with power tools, I guess that’s to be expected) is now a Lyft driver, which puts him in front of more people who may need his help. After an old friend in the CIA is murdered, McCall vows to hunt down the killers and get his revenge. And if you remember from the first movie, you do not want to be on Robert McCall’s shit list.
Antoine Fuqua: How are you today?
Honestly, I think I have a fever.
Hey, now that’s the way to answer!
I don’t think most people want an honest answer to that question.
Well, when I ask it, I am curious. I want to know.
How is this your first sequel? Why this one?
I really wasn’t thinking about it as a sequel. I was just thinking about it as just a continuation of a story with Robert McCall. I think “sequel” is more of a business word used for marketing and other things.
“The Equalizer franchise.”
Yeah, you know what I mean? For me, it’s just a movie on its own: a continuation of Robert McCall’s story.
I guess he can’t work at Home Mart anymore after what he did in the first movie.
But him being a Lyft driver is fascinating.
Well, living on the edge of society, someone who is trying to communicate with society and also be able to help people, that’s a great job to have. Because you’ve been in the back of cars; I’ve been in the back of cars – people have conversations and you forget the driver is there, it’s almost like they are invisible. So people say things and don’t expect it to go anywhere else. So, as a driver, you can be invisible, yet present.
Is the Equalizer wealthy? Does he also need Lyft to make money or is it just to meet people who might need help?
I don’t think he’s hurting for money. He’s a guy where money doesn’t really matter to him. It’s not something he’d be flashy with. He uses it to help other people and lives a pretty simple life.
I could watch a whole movie of him driving this car around.
Yeah, I loved it. It has a little bit of humor to it. It’s also therapy for him as well. He gets to hear about a young woman talking about getting accepted into a school, or a guy going into the military. We had a few more we had to edit out for time.
Was Lyft at all concerned about what kind of violence might happen in one of their cars in this movie?
No, they were pretty cool, man. Our producer worked with them behind the scenes, and I think they read the script. But there wasn’t anything in there… [laughs] well, actually that’s not true, there’s some pretty tough stuff in there in the car. But they were cool with it. They just wanted to see Denzel, I think, with “Lyft” next to his name as the driver.
Do you and Denzel communicate nonverbally at this point?
Yeah, it’s weird. It’s funny you say that because there are times we’ve done a scene and I’m thinking something and he’ll already do it. Or there will be moments he’ll be doing something and I’ll bring the camera around and capture it. And he knew it, he’ll say, “I knew you’d want that.” So it’s that kind of relationship.
There’s a scene where Denzel confronts Ashton Sanders’ character before he does something stupid. And Denzel has one of his big Denzel movie moments and it’s a really emotional scene. Do you watch that and think, yep, there he is?
Oh yeah. Because it’s building up to that. And we are friends and we know each other so I know it’s important to him. Kids are important to him. Saving these young people and giving them direction is important to him. And in a situation like that, I knew he’d make a choice that would be powerful because you have to communicate to them that you love them, but you have to communicate to them that you have to physically pull them out of the situation. It’s tough love. And I know he’s got that inside him, that passion to help kids. So I just have to get the environment and situation right and I knew he was going to give me something special.
Can he do that anytime he wants? Or even for him is it still, “Oh, he took that to another level.”
Well, he’s a great actor. But nothing is like that for him. He’s not calculated at all. I think he surprises himself. That’s who he is. I mean, that scene in Training Day, “King Kong ain’t got nothing on me,” that came out of him out of nowhere. I’ll never forget, he goes, “Woo! I don’t know where that came from.” He’s just in the moment, man.
Did you cast Ashton Sanders based on what he did in Moonlight?
It was more than that. He had met Denzel on the red carpet at the SAG Awards. And he said, “I want to work with you one day,” to Denzel. And Denzel said, “Okay, I’ll see you on set,” and walked away. I think Ashton then was supposed to be in Roman J. Israel Esq., but he got hurt. So when this came up I was looking for a young actor like that and Denzel mentioned him. So I auditioned him, a casual audition, and I fell in love with him. But I needed to talk to him and see him first, because I didn’t know him. I like to know who I’m working with.
I feel like you didn’t try to top yourself with the power tool deaths from the first movie.
That’s accurate. But it’s also about what the environment is. He uses whatever’s present. It wasn’t like I was trying to avoid not using this or using that. When you’re in a war, there are no rules. So he can beat someone up with a remote control from a TV.
There’s a scene when he’s in a room with sewing machines and I was already starting to cringe…
[Laughs] Oh, ha, so he’s going to take the guy and put his head under the sewing machine!
Well, that didn’t happen.
Well, some of that I was doing intentionally because I’d lead you there, take you there, then do something else.
So Robert McCall can’t always protect his friends, but he always seems in charge. As a viewer we know he’s going to win the fight. He never gets close to losing.
Why do you frame it that way?
Because that’s the attitude. The whole thing of zooming in on his eye and slowing down his heart, I made it visual because we are in the motion picture business, but it’s from knowing friends of mine who are Navy SEALs and the study of what happens. Those particular types of individuals, their heartbeats go down because they’ve been trained that way. Their pupils dilate. The room becomes more intense. And that’s the study of it. That’s the science of it. They’re trained to become comfortable in battle. It’s like firemen, they are trained to be as comfortable as you can going into a fire when most of us go the other way. So the idea is to show you that the world slows down and calms down because he becomes laser-focused. So it’s hard to lose when you became that laser-focused and you’re that alert, specific to the details to what the threat is in the room.
This is the last thing. Please make five more Equalizer movies.
[Laughs] From your lips to the head of something.
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