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article imageDenzel Washington, the Hughes Bros speak from 'The Book Of Eli' Special

By Earl Dittman     Jun 15, 2010 in Entertainment
Two-time Oscar-winner Denzel Washington joins Allen & Albert, the filmmaking team of the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society), to talk about the making of their latest feature film, 'The Book Of Eli' (now on Blu-ray/DVD), their post-apocalyptic western.
When Denzel Washington, the winner of two acting Academy Awards (Best Supporting for 1989's Glory and Best Actor for '01's Training Day) was approached with the offer to make a movie with the producing, writing and directing twin-sibling team of Allen and Albert Hughes (best known for their groundbreaking cinematic classics Menace II Society and Dead Presidents), it was an offer he just couldn't pass up. “I've been a fan of their work for a long time,” the 55-year-old actor confesses. “And, after reading the script for Eli, I knew it was a project I'd be crazy not to do. Not only was it a chance with work with two great filmmakers, but it offered me the ability to do an important, well-written motion picture.”
In The Book Of Eli, Washington, a homegrown New Yorker, portrays the film's title character, a solitary man who walks across the wasteland that was once America.-- 30 years after the final war. Empty cities, seared earth, no law enforcement-- Eli is surrounded by the marks of catastrophic destruction, where the roads now belong to gangs. A peace-seeking warrior, Eli will cut his attackers down, if challenged, to guard a hope he has carried and protected for thirty years -- his hope for the future. Only one other man understands the power Eli holds. When Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the self-appointed tyrant of a makeshift town of thieves, seeks to make Eli’s power his own, Eli must keep moving to fulfill his destiny and bring help to a ravaged humanity. Some will kill to have it. He will do anything to protect it...and mankind's destiny.
Allen & Albert Hughes direct  The Book Of Eli
Allen & Albert Hughes direct 'The Book Of Eli'
Warner Bros
“Denzel is perfect in the role,” Allen Hughes says. “From the moment you see him in the film, you believe he is Eli, and you know he will do anything it takes to protect the future.” But Eli is a warrior not by choice but necessity. It's not his life he guards so fiercely but his hope for the future; a hope he has carried and protected for thirty years and is determined to realize. Driven by this commitment and guided by his belief in something greater than himself, Eli does what he must to survive – and continue.
Last summer, the Hughes Brothers previewed scenes from The Book Of Eli (which also stars Mila Kunis and Michael Gambon) for an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd at the ever-growing Comic-Con sci-fi/comic book convention in San Diego. Afterwards, Denzel and the Hughes Brothers huddled backstage with several members of the entertainment press corp to casually chat about the film's origins, if Australia is really banning bottled water, why the studio wasn't too keen on tagging the movie a western – even if it was post-apocalyptic – and Washington's possible plans to direct a third motion picture.
Denzel Washington with Allen & Albert Hughes on the set of   The Book Of Eli
Denzel Washington with Allen & Albert Hughes on the set of 'The Book Of Eli'
Warner Bros
Denzel, how would describe your character in this post-apocalyptic western?
DENZEL: “You know, this is really a good question for Allen and Albert – for real – because everybody keeps saying 'Post-apocalyptic western.' So you, the filmmakers, what do you have to say about it?”
ALBERT: ”I think it was almost like somebody said it once and it caught on. Studios are scared of westerns so they’re like, 'Don’t say that.' But at the same times, some of the influences of the Eli character come from The Man With No Name, some of those movies, stylistically, are what we researched but I wouldn’t call it a western. It takes place in the west but this story could very easily take place in the east coast.”
It is post-apocalyptic, right?
DENZEL: “Yeah, now that’s another thing. (laughs) What about the post-apocalyptic part of it because everybody keeps saying that? I’ll answer your question, too, but I want to get it from the horses' mouths. They made the movie. We’re just like a couple of slaves they picked up. That’s it, we did what we’re told. I’m serious, though, because I’ve been asked that question 50 times today. And they say, 'Well, there are so many post-apocalyptic movies coming out.' I’m like, 'Well, I don't know if that’s what we are.' So are we?”
ALLEN: “I don’t like the word because it’s such a genre word. We’ve got a great story here that’s not about the post-Apocalypse. It is thirty years in the future after an event, but if you don’t have a good story and characters, it doesn’t matter what genre it is.”
ALBERT: “There’s forty million cop movies that come out every year. There’s genres if you want to place genres on a movie but I think the post-apocalyptic part is a third or fourth character in the story. It’s more of a character than anything. It could very easily have been an island with just 100 people.”
Denzel Washington in  The Book Of Eli
Denzel Washington in 'The Book Of Eli'
Warner Bros
Okay, Denzel, tell us about the story.
DENZEL: “So, speaking of characters... (laughs) There is this book and there is a mission that my character is on and it’s to take this book across the country. Gary’s (Oldman) character is a man who also wants to use this book to influence and control the world. So these two men collide.”
What was the inspiration for the story?
ALBERT: “That last movie we did was about Jack the Ripper (From Hell), so we researched those movies which had come before, and try to get rid of the clichés and make new things that work. Then we go to comic book material, which is kind of ironic for this one because it wasn’t based on a comic book. We use a lot of those artists to help us with the look of the movie. One thing is I guess trying to set it aside officially from the other movies that are out there and find colors that work and hit your eye pretty quickly to say, 'Okay, that doesn’t look like, say, The Road or Mad Max. Mad Max or The Road had that color.' It’s as simple as that sometimes. Then the tip of the hat to the western, I think, we’re greatly influenced by Sergio Leone and the simplicity of his filmmaking but also the startling imagery.”
ALLEN: “Also, I remember, Denzel was involved in this way. We had a stack of books that were from professors who studied in the ‘80s about what would happen if there was a nuclear event. There’s like three definitive books on this. The environment, on humanity, on the animal kingdom and studied what the clouds, based on their research, to see what the reality was and if it wasn’t nuclear, if it was one of those 2012 things.”
ALBERT: “Biological”
ALLEN: “If it was a super volcano. They all, basically, say the same thing would happen thirty years after. The atmosphere will look a certain way. There’d be a certain color to the sky. There’d be a certain kind of decomposition of the landscape so we could put that, coupled with what Albert’s talking about.”
Denzel Washington & Mila Kunis in  The Book Of Eli
Denzel Washington & Mila Kunis in 'The Book Of Eli'
Warner Bros
In the film. is there a lot of the survivors scavenging for supplies?
DENZEL: “What do I say? What’s the line in the film? 'People kill now for things they used to throw away', or something like that.”
ALLEN: “Denzel's character, Eli says, 'We kill people for what we used to throw away.' Which was a beautiful line.”
So, is there a big dramatic scene where you kill for something we take for granted?
DENZEL: “Well, there’s a few meat sandwiches. I’ll leave it at that. There are some meat sandwiches that are eaten in the film.”
You devour them?
“I didn’t say I did. I just said there were meat sandwiches.”
Isn't the cost of fresh water outrageous in a world where everything is contaminated?
DENZEL: “How long we been paying for water now? Has it been twenty years? So, that's nothing new. (laughs) We have been paying a lot of money for water already."
Did you know that they’re banning it in Australia?
DENZEL: “They’re banning bottled water?”
The actual plastic bottles.
DENZEL: “Ah, the plastic. Is that because it’s not biodegradable?”
Yeah, it's because of what they do to the environment.
DENZEL: “Well, it just never goes away. It just floats around.”
Denzel Washington in  The Book Of Eli
Denzel Washington in 'The Book Of Eli'
Warner Bros
Allen and Albert, were you ever worried about having the film released around the same time as other end-of-mankind movies like I Am Legend, and more so, The Road, which is also about a post-apocalyptic future?
ALBERT: “I personally avoided even reading or looking at The Road, but I think that’s a more serious kind of dramatic movie from what I had heard. It’s very depressing, so I think it’s different and I’ve seen some stuff lately. It’s just a very different movie.”
ALLEN: “I think the bottom line is that’s why the western comes up, because when you take advantage of more primitive times, true character starts to show through. When you put people in that element, you start to see the conflict is there a lot more. It’s a hotbed for drama. Our piece is very dramatic. I mean, there’s action but we start with character and then the conflict. It’s survival.”
How did the film stretch your actors’ abilities, Denzel?
DENZEL: “For me, just the physical work was tough. I mean, I’ve done other physical films, but that’s the adventure, to be able to step into other people’s shoes. In this case, I had the opportunity to work with some really brilliant martial artists -- Jeff Imada and Danny Inosanto, who was a contemporary of Bruce Lee. So just to be able to, for six or eight months, to work out with them and to learn from them made it an incredible experience for me. But, I was certainly dead tired at the end of each day.” (laughs)
How do you stay in great shape to do these kind roles? Do you work-out or just eat health foods? Do you have a regimen?
DENZEL: “All you do is to make sure not to eat the wrong things and don’t get caught up in all the health food. There's no such thing as health food. Basically, it’s just as they say, ‘Just a little butter.’ So, just use a little butter, watch what you eat and go to the gym.”
Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters both won tons of critical praise. Do you think you will direct another film?
DENZEL: I’m gonna try. I’m gonna try.”
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Warner Bros
You seem to have such an enthusiasm for directing. Why, what gives?
DENZEL: “Believe it or not, directing has given me this new energy about the business. In fact, it’s given me this new energy about the business and my abilities. I really feel this new enthusiasm, because I think I now know how to maneuver my way through the bull to make the movies I want. I want to surprise audiences with every role I do. And, I want to keep them guessing, because that will keep me on my toes.”
The Book Of Eli Combo Pack Bonus Features: Blu-ray and Standard Edition:versions of the film; Digital Copy of the film on Disc; Additional scenes; “Lost Tales: Chapter 1 (Carnegie’s Story)”feature and “Starting Over,” “Soundtrack” and “Eli’s Journey” featurettes. BD ONLY: Maximum Movie Mode – 40 minutes of PIP commentary with Denzel Washington and the Hughes Brothers and 10 Focus Points
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Warner Bros
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WDSHE
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Fox/MGM
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Fox
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CBS/Paramount
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Sony
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CBS/Paramount
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Disney
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MGM/Fox
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Universal
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Universal
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