Antoine Fuqua is a filmmaker I have always admired and respected, not only for his skill behind the camera, but for the diversity of projects he undertakes. After cutting his teeth by directing a number of iconic music videos in the 1990s, including Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise," Prince's "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," and Toni Braxton's "Another Sad Love Song," Antoine Fuqua transitioned into features with The Replacement Killers and Bait before his breakout hit Training Day, where he directed Denzel Washington to a Best Actor Oscar.
From there, he took on a number of vastly different films such as the war drama Tears of the Sun, the medieval epic King Arthur, the grounded action-packed adaptation Shooter (which I still think is vastly underrated), the urban crime drama Brooklyn's Finest and last year's big-budget action-thriller Olympus Has Fallen.
The filmmaker reunites with Denzel Washington in The Equalizer, a loose remake of the 1980s TV series of the same name, which follows Robert McCall, a highly-trained former operative who leaves his past behind to live a quiet life in Boston. When he encounters a troubled young girl (Chloe Moretz), McCall springs back into action in a quest for his own unique (and violent) brand of justice.
I recently had the chance to speak with Antoine Fuqua over the phone about The Equalizer, which hits theaters on September 26, where he discussed reuniting with Denzel, the way he wanted to portray his intense action sequences, future projects such as The Magnificent Seven remake (also starring Denzel Washington) and much more. Take a look at what he had to say below.
I had a chance to see this last week, and I really enjoyed it. It was one of the rare press screenings where people were actually screaming and cheering for McCall. It was a great experience.
Antoine Fuqua: That's fun. That's what movies are all about, right?
Yeah, it's great, but I don't often see that type of reaction in press screenings too much.
Antoine Fuqua: That's great, man. I didn't hear about that.
Have you experienced that type of reaction at the festivals this has played at and other screenings?
Antoine Fuqua: Absolutely, yeah. The funny thing is, the first time I did my director's cut, I screened it for an audience, a test screening audience. They were talking to the screen and clapping, and the movie wasn't even done yet. The score was the highest score ever in Sony history, for a rated-R movie. I experienced that, and it was amazing. We went to the Toronto Film Festival, and they were responding that way. When I showed it just recently, I just came back from Spain, the San Sebastian Festival, and it was amazing. They went nuts, man, even in that language. It was fun.
The original TV show was a bit ahead of my time. I believe I was 8 when it debuted. For you, was it ever a show that you watched?
Antoine Fuqua: No, not really. It was more of a show my mother and grandmother watched. I was watching Miami Vice and stuff like that, shows that were a little slicker. Every once in awhile, I would stop and watch it, when I wasn't running in the streets, and I would see this really cool British dude with a Jaguar, helping people. I thought it was cool, but it wasn't something I ran home to see. I didn't watch the show much, but I appreciated what it was.
I read that you approached this movie as a throwback, and I completely saw that all the way through. It had a gritty, 1970s action movie kind of feel to it, which segues into my next point. I also enjoyed that McCall's background was largely kept a mystery. Was that mystery surrounding his past in (screenwriter) Richard (Wenk)'s original script, or was that something you both developed?
Antoine Fuqua: Well, Richard's script didn't give away a lot. There were some scenes in there, that I recall, that had some exposition that the producers, Denzel and Richard as well, thought we should edit out. Denzel is really good at that as well. In the editing bay, I was cutting a few more lines out. The character himself, when you have a guy like Denzel, there's a lot that's on his face, in his performance, that can inform you a lot. The fighting scenes are all about informing you of where he may have come from, so you can draw your own conclusions. I feel that a little bit is enough mystery to keep the audience interested.
I loved your approach to the fight scenes, especially now where there are so many shaky-cam and over-edited fight sequences. The bar/office fight was phenomenal, and I read that you had a friend who gave you the idea for the corkscrew. Can you elaborate a bit about how that came together?
Antoine Fuqua: Yeah, you know, Richard laughs about it too, because it's like my Indians attack the fort scene, you know. 'Amazing things happen,' that's what the script said, dot dot dot. So, as a director, I've got to figure that out. I was talking to a friend of mine, who has done special forces type of stuff, and I told Richard to come to my house, because my buddy is going to come over and show us a few things that might be interesting. We sat down in the theater room and laid everything out, and he started pulling things out of his bag. It's amazing what can be a weapon just in a bar, you know. There were things that he brought out that we didn't have room or time for, but yeah, that's how that came about. The same thing with the ending sequence as well. Guys who specialize in certain things, the way they think is just different than the way we think. They're thinking strategy and tactics.
I don't know if this was a specific influence of yours, but I kind of thought about Hard Boiled.
Antoine Fuqua: Oh, yeah.
You have these two great fights that bookend the film, with the bar/office fight and the end sequence. Were there any specific influences that helped inform you, when putting the action scenes together?
Antoine Fuqua: Not really, man. It was all really out of the narrative of the story. For me, I grew up watching Westerns and gangster movies and stuff like that. There's a Clint Eastwood movie, I believe it's The Good the Bad and the Ugly, right in the beginning... you made me just think of it, where Eli Wallach is in a bar and they set up the bad guys going in the bar, and you hear gunshots, he dives out the window, and the camera goes in and you see them all on the floor dead (Laughs). Those were my influences, you know. I think sometimes it comes out, as I'm designing the shots, I get images in my head like that, yeah.
I've been a huge Training Day fan since Day One, and I was thrilled to hear that you and Denzel were working together again. I loved his performance in this, but was there anything specific you noticed in either his craft or his approach to the character that may have changed in the 13 years between this and Training Day?
Antoine Fuqua: You know what? He's calmer. I mean, I'm calmer. I hope I'm a better filmmaker and a better person. He's always been intense, and he's always going to be what he is, an actor's actor, a director's actor, who does his job. I found him to be just very calm, but (Training Day's) Alonzo was a whole different character too. I just found him to be extremely calm, and some of that comes from trusting me, trusting each other. He knows me now, I know him, you know, that kind of thing.
Can you talk about assembling the cast around him? I really enjoyed Chloe (Moretz), Marton (Csokas) and David (Harbour).
Antoine Fuqua: Yeah, we just wanted to find strong actors who all brought something to the table. Marton is really intense, and he's a theater actor as well. Chloe Moretz is a young lady who I think is extremely talented. She brings a certain youth, but, at the same time, a maturity about it. You believe she could be going through that process in her life. As an actor, to sit down next to Denzel and do your job is tough, but she's challenging as well. He was really gentle with her. David Harbour, I love David, man. We have so much fun. He was so intense and he had so much fun. He gave it his all. Haley Bennett, actually, she almost got the lead, but I wanted her to be someone younger, like Chloe. The other role... there were two other prostitutes, as well as Chloe's character, so I combined them and gave that to Haley.
You mentioned earlier that this movie had the highest test screening scores ever for a Sony R-rated movie, and in February we reported that the studio was already developing a sequel. Are you coming back to direct? Is there anything you can say about the story you want to tell?
Antoine Fuqua: I haven't seen anything. I know we're talking about it, but this film has to perform well. It gets very real then. There's a lot of discussions about it, and excitement about the possibility of it. I would love to definitely do it, no question. If Sony wants to do it, I'm there.
I was also very excited that you're taking on a remake of The Magnificent Seven. You confirmed recently that Denzel is coming on board. Are you currently casting the other roles now? Is there anything you can say about the development?
Antoine Fuqua: Yeah, we're trying to find the other guys now, trying to find the other... six (Laughs). My biggest influence is Seven Samurai, that's what I really love. The Magnificent Seven I love as well, there are so many great actors in that movie. It's a different way in, but it's the same concept. It's not going to be something where people won't recognize it, for sure. There's certainly going to be the Yul Brynner type of role, the Steve McQueen, all those roles are there, and the town that needs help. It's a different way in on this one, and the writers did a great job working on it. I'm really excited about it.
So, The Magnificent Seven is definitely next for you then?
Antoine Fuqua: Yeah, that's where all of my attention is going. When I get back to L.A., I'll meet the casting team and start to get into it with the producers and everybody next week.
Is there anything you can say about Southpaw, which I believe is now in post-production, or Narco Sub? I know that's been in development for quite a long time
Antoine Fuqua: No, Narco Sub, it doesn't look like I'm going to do it. Southpaw, we're editing that now and I'm excited. Jake Gyllenhaal, I think he's on the rise, and he's intense. We completely changed him into a championship boxer. It's a heartfelt drama about him and his daughter. It's really powerful.
Do you know when we might see the first trailer for that?
What would you like to say to anyone who might be on the fence about checking out The Equalizer, about why they should give it a shot?
Antoine Fuqua: You're going to see a character they don't expect to see in an action-thriller. I think they're going to be highly entertained and surprised with the action that they see, and they'll hopefully start clapping and cheering and getting involved. I think it's a really sharp story that people should go see. There are some great actors and action, but more than that, it's a really good story, and there's more substance than people may think, when it comes to an action movie. Take your girlfriend... all the women are clapping and cheering like the guys are. That's what I would say. Go on, get your popcorn, get your Coke, and go have a great time.
That's my time. Thanks so much, Antoine. It was a real pleasure.
Antoine Fuqua: All right, thank you. It was my pleasure, Brian.