Q&A with Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Safe House


This is probably one of the more interesting Q&As I have taken part in because of how varied the topics are. Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds talk about everything from sociopaths to post-Apartheid South Africa to getting water-boarded. It’s pretty cool stuff. There’s also some cool information about the movie in there (including how they made it look like Reynolds is a bad-ass stunt driver without using a green screen), with no information of any significance that could really be considered a spoiler.

That being said, it is absolutely worth a read. In the next couple of days, we will be putting up transcriptions of two (two!) different Q&As from Safe House director Daniel Espinosa. He’s an awesome guy, so definitely keep your eyes peeled for those. In the meantime, this will have to tide you over.

Were you surprised by what goes on with the US government?

Denzel: Why? What goes on? … Years ago, prior to 9/11, I was in a movie called The Siege, and I did a lot of research with the FBI and the CIA, and I was amazed at that time how little information they shared with each other. after that I’m not surprised by anything.

Ryan: I think it’s not what we know that’s terrifying. It’s what we don’t know. It’s something that’s really pervasive with everything in life really, but yeah I’m sure a book or two could be written about what really goes on.

What do you do to keep your body so tuned up?

Denzel: we worked with, what’s his name, Olivier?

Ryan: Olivier Schneider.

Denzel: Yeah, these French guys who you would always want to be with you. The most unassuming guys, and we really had the luxury of time, a good two or three months where we were over there. In fact, there’s a fight I have where I crash through the roof or something, fighting this guy, and then the fight we do at the end, we had two or three or four months before we got to do those fights, so that’s how I did mine. I mean, you saw him [Ryan] crashing through windows, and I mean his fights were nasty.

Ryan: These guys are really great at making things look ugly, that knife fight in a phonebooth kind of feeling. That’s kind of what you want. We had a couple of rounds, and I had to wear an adult diaper.

Did you ever get hurt on the set? Also, did you do any research with actual CIA operatives.

Denzel: We had a CIA operative on the set all the time, and Ryan gave me a black eye. Yeah. There’s a scene where I reach over and try to choke him and I have handcuffs on, and we were flying around in the car, and he wasn’t actually driving the car. It was being controlled by someone else, so it just happens I was reaching forward and he was flying back, and POW.

Ryan: And that was my early retirement. That first look you gave me after it happened, I think…

Denzel: it was a real look.

Ryan: Yeah. It was weird to feel my face on fire.

Denzel: It was strange. I’ve never had a black eye in my life. Well, I can’t say that anymore.

Ryan: I’m glad I was your first. If it was going to be anybody, it was going to be an apologetic Canadian.

Denzel, in the production notes, you said that rather than heavily consulting a lot of CIA operatives, you actually felt it was better to research sociopaths, and I was wondering, what did you learn from your research that helped you portray this character with no clear motivation, because it’s kind of a mystery why he did what he did, in terms of selling things…

Denzel: There’s a book called The Sociopath Next Door, and I thought most sociopaths were violent. In fact, they aren’t, but almost all sociopaths want to win, no matter what. Some sociopaths use pity: “Oh, woe is me, I just can’t do it like you,” and then you go, “Oh no, you’re alright!” and I already got you. Now I’ve got you in a weak position and feeling sorry for me.

I read about one sociopath who was actually a psychologist, and she was so sick, that there was this other psychologist that she hated, and she had a nicer car than the other one, so she would purposely park her car next to the other one’s car, to make her feel bad every day. That kind of sick. She was working with this other psychologist’s patients, and all the work that this woman had done would be destroyed when she [the sociopath] brought the person into her room. They just want to win.

There was one sociopath who would steal things from the post office and then come back the next day because he just loved the chaos it created, and he wanted to see how everybody was trying to figure out when he knew he was the guy. I guess it’s a feeling of power, so I just took that. In my journal as I was writing, going through the script, going through the shooting, I had to find a way to win every situation no matter what. Like the scene at the soccer stadium. He’s willing to even act like a scared little girl to get away, and then he turns around and kills a couple of people. But he will do anything to win. Anything.

Ryan, What’s the most important thing you learned as you’ve been doing that’s helped you produce R.I.P.D.?

Ryan: Well I think it’s just sticking with something. You know, it’s a movie I have been with for years and believed in, and just to be standing on the set was an incredible feeling. We actually wrapped yesterday at four in the morning, so I’m a little slurry right now because of that. You just stick with being passionate about something, and that’s really half the battle. Showing other people why it is you believe in something.

Denzel, you take on two of my phobias in this movie, claustrophobia and being underwater, the water-boarding scene and getting into the trunk of that car. What do you remember about shooting those scenes. Were you scared at all? Were there safety things in case it got too close.

Denzel: No, I’m not claustrophobic, and I don’t want to give it away… but the car wasn’t moving. It didn’t really bother me. The waterboarding was close to real, and I really wanted to get into it, see what it felt like. It doesn’t feel good. You’ll give up the answers.

Ryan: That was the most disturbing thing I think I’ve ever seen. Watching him be waterboarded.

Denzel: Yeah, it was trippy. I wanted to see what it would really feel like, and I did.

Did you come close to losing consciousness or breath or?

Denzel: I got caught up, because once you get with an in-breath, and the water keeps coming, you’re in trouble. Then you try to hold your breath, but the water’s still coming and filling up your mouth. You know, you’ll give up the answers.

And Ryan, did you really drive the car at all?

Ryan: Oh yeah, lots of it. Some of the crazier stuff… what’s weird about the driving the car stuff is that when I’m driving the car it’s much less terrifying for me than when we have a pilot guy who is on top of the car in some of those scenes and he has the car on two wheels, and Daniel [Espinosa], our director, who is sitting in the wheel well beside me, is giggling like a little schoolgirl while the car is on two wheels, and is shouting, “Faster, faster, faster.”

He can’t see anything, and I find out later that Daniel’s never driven a car before. You know, he doesn’t drive, so being in that position was crazy because I would head headlong for a brick wall, and I would hit the break, and the guy up top would hit the gas, so it was a very strange feeling. I have never been in a situation like that. I have never seen a rig like that. It’s a professional driver up top, and he just knows the weight of the car. At least that’s what you want to believe while he’s doing it. That stuff was pretty intense.

I was just wondering, years ago you did Cry Freedom, and I was wondering what kind of perspective you had on the way things have evolved in the post-apartheid era in South Africa, since you shot this movie in South Africa.

Denzel: When we shot Cry Freedom, I wasn’t allowed in South Africa. They told me I could come, but I wasn’t going to leave. There were death threats at that time, so we shot in Zimbabwe. In 1995, I had the privilege and the honor to meet Desmond Tutu and nelson Mandella in the same day. I had breakfast with Desmond Tutu and lunch with Nelson Mandella in the same day.

There’s been tremendous amount of change over the generations. You know, you’ve got 20 year olds that have only heard about it. I saw this show on television, and they were talking about South Africa now, and you had kids with Valley accents, because they are exposed to so much more. At the same time, I still saw a lot of the psychological damage.

I met a woman there, a very, very fair-skinned woman, who was interestingly enough studying psychology, and she lived over by the coast. Her mother was black, and her father was Jewish, and her mother had to act like she was the maid even though she was married in order to live in that neighborhood. They kept this charade up for 20 years, where she was the maid. Imagine the psychological damage that puts onto her and her daughter, seeing her mother have to act like a maid everyday, but once she got into the house she was her mother. There will be psychological scars for years to come.

But Cape Town is like Santa Monica on steroids. It’s one of the most beautiful towns you’ve ever seen, but if you go ten miles inland where the townships are, they’re still there. It was also interesting talking to an elderly man who built a nice house in a township, and it’s like, “Why are you living out here in the township? Why not move toward the beach?” and says, “No, I don’t trust these people. They might change their mind.” But he was also more comfortable there. He was used to being there. That’s where he grew up. I was surprised in Langa [where parts of the film take place], you think it’s all slums, but there are some three or four bedroom homes on an acre of land. It’s just that was the area that people were allowed to live.

Ryan: Langa is one of the oldest townships.

Denzel: Huge. Millions of people.

Ryan: Teeming with joy though. They’re incredibly happen given their horrendous circumstances. If you’re from the US and you go over, you won’t believe what you’re seeing.

Denzel: And Langa’s so big. It’s not like you can call 9-1-1 and the police show up, so they police themselves. We were driving back from the set to the base camp, and women were shouting, and these men were walking around this one guy, and he was walking in a circle with his hands like he was praying, and this guy had a big stick and was whipping him.

So I ask my driver, “Jack, what are you doing?” He said, “They’re putting him in his place.” And I said, “Woah, what do you think he did?” and he said, “Something related to those women. Maybe he slept with a young girl or something.” I said, “Why doesn’t he run?” and he says, “They’ll kill him. He tries to run, and they’ll stone him.” So that still exists… but you can get DirecTV. You get Everybody Loves Raymond. It was the weirdest thing, seeing the Kardashians in Langa.

Denzel, do you have more fun playing the bad guy, and does it stretch you at all as an actor?

Denzel: The next picture I’m in, will come out at the end of this year beginning of next year is called Flight, and I play a alcoholic, drug-addicted pilot, and I crash a plane, but save a lot of lives. It’s the most intense film I’ve done, probably in 20 years. I guess it’s cliché to say that the bad guy has more fun cause you can say anything, get away with anything, sometimes the good guy is sort of trapped, because “Oh you can’t say that.” And even when you’re playing a real person, you’re sort of stuck within those confines.. So… yeah, it is more fun.

Ryan, what was it that attracted you to this script, and how was the experience working with a director on his first big American movie?

Ryan: That’s one of the reasons I really wanted to work on the film. Obviously I wanted the chance to work with who I think is the greatest actor working in Hollywood today, Denzel, and that was a huge impetus, but I just love the idea of this guy slowly being disillusioned by everything he believes in. It’s the slow disintegration of God and Country for him, and that’s what means everything to this guy. Watching that be peeled away slowly, measure by measure by Tobin Frost [Denzel’s character], just kind of feeling that, these days it’s about what we don’t know that’s more terrifying. I liked investigating that kind of world. And Daniel Espinosa, to answer that part of the question, is just a truly gifted filmmaker, so insightful, and a guy who acts like a bit of a thug, but he’s read every book you can imagine and seen every movie you can imagine, and he’s learned from the best, and that’s applied every day to what he does. It’s really a craft for him. Daniel’s the kind of guy you want to buy stock in.

Denzel: Definitely.

Ryan, your character has kind of a “Be careful what you wish for, because you may get it” thing going on. Has that ever happened in your life, where you worked really hard for something, and then you’re smack in the middle of it, saying, “Oh… crap.”

Ryan: Yeah, lots. You want to start with this morning? Yeah, of course, but I’ve also learned what I think is the greatest lesson, and that’s “Who knows what’s good or bad?” Things come along that you really want, and they turn out to be the worst thing in the world, and some of the worst tragedies you could conceive of turn out to be the exact medicine you need at that moment. I’ve learned to have a bit of faith in my cynical ways these days, and it’s softened me in all the right ways.