Clash of the Titans

American Gangster, Denzel Washington, ...
Image credit: David Lee

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You both passed on American Gangster initially. How come?
DENZEL WASHINGTON: I turned it down a couple-three times. I just couldn't see it. And then [Antoine] Fuqua came to me with it. And I said, ''Well, I'll do it with you, if you want to work on it.'' Then we went through that whole [collapse of the project]. I'd more or less forgotten about it, and then Ridley called. I'm like, ''Huh, Ridley? And Russell? Let me read it again.'' You know, you can't turn that down.
RUSSELL CROWE: I had already turned it down twice. When I read it, the Richie side of things wasn't really there. You didn't feel the weight of the legal case against Frank Lucas. But [producer] Brian [Grazer] was like, ''I've really got to make this movie. I can't let this thing go.'' So I decided to read it from Denzel's perspective. And I said to Brian, ''All right, you get Ridley engaged in this and I'll cover the other half so Denzel can do this. Because I want to see him play this role.''
WASHINGTON: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
CROWE: I'm paying you back, brother.
WASHINGTON: We're all squared. You're still one drop of saliva up on me. But other than that, we're even. [Laughs]

Frank Lucas wouldn't be many people's idea of a noble hero. What appealed to you about playing a murderous drug dealer?
WASHINGTON: I said to Frank, ''Look, you did a lot of bad things and you paid the price — that's the story I'm interested in.'' And he doesn't object to that. He said, ''It was a dirty game and I played the game well.'' Frank was no joke, though. He was a genius, but he didn't have a chance — life turned him that way. I don't think he even went to school, but this was a brilliant man. He just, you know...[trails off, then laughs grimly] He's no worse than some leaders of some countries I could name.
CROWE: It's an incredible cycle, his life.
WASHINGTON: And he's still paying. He's trapped in his body. He's just banged up, I don't know if it's osteoporosis or some kind of arthritis, but his hands are jammed, his knees are skewed.

Was it important to you that the audience see Frank pay a heavy price for his crimes? I know that on Training Day, you pushed to have your crooked-cop character, Alonzo, die a bloody death on screen after all the horrible things he'd done.
WASHINGTON: The way Training Day was originally written, you heard about it on the news. And I told Antoine [Fuqua], ''No, he's got to get blasted. In order to justify him living in the worst way, Alonzo has to die in the worst way.'' The studio was like, ''Oh, maybe he survives —'' I'm like, ''Get out of here! Don't start Training Day 2. We've got to kill that guy.''

NEXT PAGE: ''Scarface gets more credit than it's worth. Scarface didn't change people. People were already living that. Scarface was just a good movie.''

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