Arts Express: Denzel Washington Talks 2 Guns

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After taking off into a more serious realm last year in Flight, so to speak, Denzel Washington opted for a not exactly buddy bromance with Mark Walhberg, in the alternately comedic and con game antics heist thriller, 2 Guns. Denzel met to talk about his devilishly hide and seek turn in the Baltasar Kormakur directed movie, and what it all may or may not have to do with upside down method acting, bulls, the local barber, chicken, mailmen, Lamaze classes, and not being funny on purpose.

Hey, Denzel

DENZEL WASHINGTON: Hi!

How do you keep in such great shape?

DW: A vegetarian diet. Yeah. All of the above, you know? Although I had a piece of chicken last night! I cheated!

denz
Washington in February 2000, at the Berlinale film.

So you don’t eat meat?

DW: Nope…

Okay, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you.

DW: Uh oh!

What was it like mixing it up with Mark Wahlberg in 2 Guns, do you see that as a new and different direction for you, and what’s with all the macho stuff going on?

DW: You musta been working on that question all night! That’s a long one. Well, I’ve been looking to kinda stick my toe in the water. Especially coming off of Flight.

You know, I was looking to do something that had more fun. So when I read this script and I heard that Mark was involved, I was like oh, okay. I could be safe.

Because I knew Mark was not just funny. But he has a warmth and a heart about him that I’ve loved. Since I watched Ted the other night!

That’s a sick movie! Oh, man. That fight scene. And Mark gets spanked, and everything! So all of that. And I was like, okay.

So I wanted to. But I wasn’t ready to get spanked yet! Well, not right out of the gate! But he really allowed me, he helped free me up.

You know, let’s go for it. Don’t worry about being too silly. Or being too, whatever. Yeah.

What about the social issues or messages in the movie?

DW: Ha! You got something like that on your mind?

How about the scene where you’re hung upside down by the drug lord on that ranch, with a huge bull about to aim for your crotch?

DW: The bull enjoyed that scene! It was a big bull!

Were you close to freaking out?

DW: Nah, it was safe.

So what got you excited about being part of 2 Guns?

DW: We coulda been mailmen, whatever it was. It was the opportunity to work with Mark. And without being cliche, we’re buddies. It’s a buddy movie.

So the chance to do that. And to have fun. I mean, I didn’t do months of drug enforcement research, to put it that way! I did watch a DEA Detroit series. But that was my…in depth research!

What about handling those guns, and shooting guns?

DW: I plead the Fifth!

I don’t mean in real life, I mean in the movie.

DW: That too!

How about the first time you held a gun?

DW: When was the first time? I don’t even remember. Glory? I dunno.

What was most challenging about making this movie?

DW: That bull scene. Because it was funky in there! It was like an auction room, where they sell cows or something.

And it was hot. And we were upside down! And Edward James Olmos, he started forgetting his lines, intentionally!

And pissing on his hands. He’s a method actor! So, he did it for real! Nah, nah.

Now about those strong messages…

DW: Ha! Like what!

Well, about the US drug policy. And the immigration policy.

DW: Oh, okay.

Like when you save the undocumented worker crossing the border, from drowning.

DW: Oh yeah. I didn’t think about that. No, no. But my wife and I, we went and saw Fruitvale Station last night. Oh, man. This ain’t that!

No, that had some messages. I was like, wow. And I did tear up. You know, at an interesting point too.

And let me give a shameless plug too. My son is a young filmmaker. And I called him up when I heard about the film. Because Malcolm and the director were at the same college.

And it’s interesting too – and this has nothing to do with our movie. But talking to my oldest daughter – let me get political now! – that and the Zimmerman trial.

She said, well Daddy. You gotta understand something. And this is the first time we’ve dealt with these issues in her lifetime. She’s too young for Rodney King.

She studied history and civil rights. But she said, for my generation, this is one of the first events where I think about that. And that’s got nothing to do with 2 Guns! But anyway.

I loved you in this film. But…

DW: Uh oh!

How much of the crazy stuff going on was your idea, and not in the script?

DW: Oh, we went for it. Stuffing the gun in the guy’s crotch! And people have said to me, for a long time they’ve said man, you’re funny. And I said well, I’m quick.

But being funny like on purpose, take after take, I don’t know. That’s why for me, by improvising, something could come out that might be good. And it’s film, so they can cut it, if it ain’t good! Yeah.

The chemistry between you and Mark is so delicious…

DW: Delicious? Cool!

Well, what did you do to bond?

DW: We went to Lamaze class together! We’re neighbors. And Mark is a good guy, you know? Everybody I talked to, when they heard I was gonna work with him, said that.

And he’s a good guy, he’s a regular guy. Like me! So it was easy, you know? Like, let’s go. Let’s hit it.

How is he a regular guy?

DW: I don’t know. What’s an irregular guy! Un-regular guy, whatever. He’s just good people, you know?

Just a good dude. You know, he hasn’t lost his way. He’s not trippin’. So, yeah…

Were you turned on by this story as originally coming from a comic book?

DW: I didn’t really know about the graphic novel. I just read the script, and laughed. You know? And gave it to my people that I trust. Like my kids! My barber…

Huh?

DW: It’s true. I always give my barber the script. And I’ll go, what do you think? Aw, that’s funny. You’ve never done that, D. And I’m like, okay!

Has he ever been your barber on a movie?

DW: Uh, yeah. Yeah. We won’t say on what!

Now, out of your fifty movies…

DW: I haven’t done fifty movies! Where have you been, on IMDB? Are you counting the Special Thanks! And it’s not fifty, it’s like forty-one, I think.

I don’t know, you count! But they add those special things. And I don’t know how you get that on IMDB.

I don’t even know who those folks are. Yeah. And they put me down in a film for Special Thanks. Well…You’re welcome!

Okay. Out of the forty-one…

DW: In fact on one of them there, they even have me, the first one they have me in, is Death Wish. I wasn’t even an actor then!

They have me as like ‘alley thug!’ In 1974, I actually was an alley thug! I wasn’t an actor. So you go call IMDB up! Anyway, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Okay, do you prefer playing intense, hardcore characters?

DW: No, I just think that’s the formulas. It’s not a conscious choice. Uh, that seems to be the movies they make! So no, it definitely didn’t have anything to do with that. You know?

I mean, even with this film, the DEA part of it to me, not to say it was the least of it. But I wasn’t interested in, you know, wearing the uniform. Yeah.

So would you rather make people laugh, or have them see you in a drama?

DW: I think I have less experience with comedy. So I won’t say it’s harder. That’s why I wanted to go out there with somebody who I know will know that territory better than I do.

And again, it’s film. So it frees you up to try it. Like Mark, some of the stuff he was doing, I was like, okay. If he can do that, I can! I can just go for it, you know?

And that isn’t easy. You know, if there’s a pressure, that I’m supposed to be funny. But he should have told me that before we started, and I might not have done it!

Your performance was great, I felt like I was just hanging out with the real you.

DW: Yeah, I wear gold teeth all the time!

And I thought those were your real teeth! But I just feel like, you were that guy. So which of your characters has felt most to you, like the real you?

DW: You can’t help but not do that, you know? Uh, what was the question! The coffee is wearing off!

Which of your characters has felt most like you?

DW: Training Day! Yeah, that’s who I really am. The real Denzel!

How about for real? And how do you stay looking so good?

DW: It’s a privilege to be able to do what I do. So I’m just trying to bring one hundred percent of myself to each and every part.

Actually, when I did a play a couple of years back, Fences, it just kinda woke me up. And it was like okay, I gotta get back to the basics.

In every way, you know? And through the script and in myself, all those things. So I made a commitment to just work harder, you know? And eat good!

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.