Tony Scott: Why did he love working with Denzel Washington?

August 20, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Tony Scott and Denzel Washington on the set of 2004's "Man on Fire."
Tony Scott and Denzel Washington on the set of 2004's "Man on… (20th Century Fox )

Many directors have go-to actors: Tim Burton has Johnny Depp, and David O. Russell has Mark Wahlberg.

In a three-decade career in Hollywood, Tony Scott had his own first choice: Denzel Washington.

The action auteur, who died in an apparent suicide Sunday at the age of 68, worked with the Oscar-winner no fewer than five times, or nearly one-third of the movies he directed (“Crimson Tide,” Man on Fire,” “Déjà Vu,” “The Taking of Pelham 123” and “Unstoppable”).  During a four-year period in the 2000s, Scott and Washington collaborated on three films.

With his penchant for mainstream action hits, Scott had his choice of A-listers. What was it about Washington that made him keep coming back?

In a 2010 interview with The Times, Scott explained the attraction.

“More than any other actor, he always surprises me,” Scott said. “He always manages to pull out a different aspect of Denzel.”

He continued: “On ‘Pelham,’ he was the guy next door out of his depth. And then you look at ‘Man on Fire,’ and he was this capable but complicated CIA agent. He’s able to never repeat himself.”

Though the kind of thrillers and action movies the pair collaborated on are not usually seen as acting showcases, Scott described the pair undertaking a rigorous preparation process.

“We always do our homework,” he said. “We find people in the real world [who are like the character] and make sure we’re on the same page, with each other and with them.”

The collaborations would often bear fruit and become popular releases. “Crimson Tide,” for instance, grossed $136 million domestically in 2012 dollars.

Washington, who has not yet issued a comment on Scott’s death, returned the favor when asked about Scott. He said he never would have made ”Unstoppable” had the director not talked him into it.

Scott did describe moments of insecurity even when working with his chosen star. “Sometimes after shooting a scene I think, ‘What the… we’ve missed,” he said. “But if we talk it through before and I let him do his thing, I know everything will be OK.”


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