When Enigma met up with the sexy superstar Johnny Depp at London’s Berkeley Hotel, he told us how he prepared fWhen Enigma met up with the sexy superstar Johnny Depp at London’s Berkeley Hotel, he told us how he prepared for his first singing role and how his family keeps him grounded…
Married for 24 years with four children, Denzel is refreshingly different from today’s actors who collect wives like awards. Instead he says his family is, and will always be, “the most important thing” in his life. Famous for roles in big budget thrillers including Déjà Vu and The Manchurian Candidate, Denzel has already won two Oscars and was named People magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive in 1996’. But the 53-year-old actor isn’t interested in the celebrity side of his career, adding that he only goes to premieres of his own films and when close friends ask for his company. “Celebrity, or success as it relates to celebrity, will magnify the way you are,” he says. “And not in a good way.”
The tall, handsome actor recently played Harlem drug king Frank Lucas in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, but he has always been keen to show his multitasking skills – directing films like Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters, a move he describes as “terrifying”.
Born in New York to a Christian preacher and beauty salon owner, Denzel grew up living a middle class life. When his parents divorced when he was 14, the event acted as a catalyst for his rebellious stage. However, young Denzel managed to kick the drink and drug habits he picked up from boarding school before attending Fordham University to study Drama and Journalism. It was there that he found time to pursue his interest in acting. And it was his role in the controversial 1992 film Malcolm X that really put Denzel on the map, and the rest is movie idol history…
Why did you decide to do American Gangster? How is it different from other films about New York crime?
There are no black people in any of the other crime dramas I did. So for one, this is a Harlem story. This is about a guy who was a kingpin, but in a different way to normal crime films although the business and situation are the same. I guess to a degree it’s a genre. There are certain things that are similar in those kinds of films, but this one in particular is dealing with a guy from Harlem.
How do you feel about being described as having an “obsessive quality and internal darkness” by Man on Fire director Tony Scott?
Dark and obsessive? I don’t work with any of that. I’m neither. I’m me. I do a job, I interpret a role. I think we are all both those things at the same time and I don’t think, ‘Ooh, let me access the obsessive now.’ It’s not like I’ve got 12 different things I can do and I’ve got to work off one. There’s several of them going on now in this interview. I am sensitive, intuitive, there’s a dark obsessive side, and a carnivore. But it’s impossible to pin me down by only giving me two descriptions.
Were you hesitant about taking on another dark character in American Gangster?
I wasn’t hesitant at all. A good story is a good story. Before Training Day, I hadn’t really been offered that kind of role. After Training Day, that was all I was offered for the most part. But it just comes down to good material, great actors to work with and a great filmmaker. It wasn’t that com
When you started out in the acting business, where did you see yourself ending up?
I thought one day I might make $800 a week on Broadway, I didn’t look to Hollywood. We were New York actors and looked down our noses at it Hollywood. But clearly I have changed my mind now!
You’ve directed two films now, Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters – how did you find the transition from actor to director?
Directing is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, it’s terrifying! I had to go to a chiropractor because I was so tense! When you act, you’re working on your character and you’re in your own little world. You’re not collaborating but I do enjoy collaborating, I enjoy watching other people. I don’t need to be the star, maybe because I have been one, though I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself in that way.
There’s no point in being great in a terrible movie, and there’s no point in a director letting everyone know that this is his movie, otherwise you get a bunch of robots around you saying, ‘Yes sir. Where would you like this, sir?’ I want to jump into the water and have faith. And there’s a practical side to directing because sooner or later they’re going to stop calling, and I like the way it’s going for Clint Eastwood. Small group, nice people, good films. I see that for the next 20 years, God willing. In the end it’s a job, it’s not that big of a deal. I turned 50 and I started to learn how to live.
Do you think racism is still a major problem in today’s society?
There’s hatred and racism in the world everywhere you turn. It used to just be about black and white, but in this world we live in now, it’s brown, blue, yellow, green…pick your person. While I’m proud to be black, black is not all I am. Other people might want to put me in a box, that’s up to them, but I don’t put myself in a box. I play the parts I play because this is what I want to do, not because I think this is what people might need me to do.
How does your wife feel about watching you in sex scenes?
I would not imagine anyone’s wife being comfortable watching those kinds of scenes. She may not be entirely comfortable, but it would not affect any decision. She would ask to see the film before the public sees it, so she would not hear from other people things about me. But then again I haven’t done anything that heavy.
What about you – do you feel uncomfortable doing explicit scenes?
I am not uncomfortable generally, but I am uncomfortable with needless sex. In Man on Fire, there is a scene where there is gunshot around us. We are in a car and we start kissing. First they wanted us to be humping in the woods, and I was like, ‘What has this got to do with the story?’ There’s more sexual tension when you are wondering what is going to happen. Romance and sex are two different things. The greatest romance movies had no sex; they had an undercurrent which is sexier. Also there are 85 people in the room when you do those scenes – it’s very technical and not much fun!
What would you say the most important thing in your life is?
Acting for me is making a living. It’s not my life. My children and my family – that’s life. The miracle of life. I’ll get up every morning, God willing, for that.
Are protective of your 24-year-old son, 20-year-old daughter and 16-year-old twins?
Maybe it’s chauvinistic or sexist, but I don’t worry about my son, who is a football player. He’s out of the house, he can take care of himself. My oldest daughter is away at college but when she came home for the holidays, I couldn’t sleep. It was two in the morning, I was going down the corridor. ‘Was her car there, was she in her room?’ If she’s at college, I know she’s staying out late but I don’t think about it. When she came home, it seemed to pick up right where she left off. But yes, I would say that my parents were protective and controlling when they needed to be. And of course I’m a protective parent.
My mother was the one that was always there so I was always going to be more similar to my mother. My own children are probably closer to my wife. They have spent more time with her. She knows them better. That’s the way it is in most homes, I think.
Your father, who died 15 years ago, was a Christian preacher – how did he feel about your career?
He didn’t go to the movies at all. He was a devout Christian. I don’t know what he saw, we did not talk about it, although I remember visiting him and he introduced me to everyone in his local supermarket. He did not bring out my biography, he just said this is my son Denzel Washington Jr, and I was very embarrassed.
How have your spiritual beliefs affected your professional career?
I believe in God and I’m a Bible reading, spiritual man. I am humble because I understand where my life comes from, it’s a gift from God. I’ve been blessed with a certain ability. Without work it means nothing. The Bible says that. Go to work, that should be enough. It gives you the opportunity to speak to people and to listen and to help. I’m an ordinary person doing an extraordinary job.
You’ve been married for 24 years, were you a success with the ladies before getting married?
No, I was socially retarded! Going to an all boys school didn’t help. I was really slow. I had a girlfriend that ended up sleeping with one of my friends. The shock of that was partly because she was my first girl, and partly because he was my friend. I was 16 going away to school, so romance in my mind lly propose to your wife, Pauletta?
I can’t remember! I think she turned me down. I think I proposed on the phone – I know I ought to know. But I can tell you one thing, it was 24 years ago and we’reagnify the way you are. If you are a jerk everyone will know you are a jerk. If everybody tells you every day that you’re the greatest, you end up believing that. And if people surround themselves with those kinds of people they get in trouble.
You are friends with former South African President Nelson Mandela, have you seen him recently?
I don’t want to use the word ‘friend’ like we chat all the time, because we don’t. But he has been to my home and we had dinner for him. And he has called me on New Year’s Day a few times to wish me Happy New Year. Is that stuff I should be bragging about? I dedicated one of my movies to Nelly. We shot Cry Freedom in Zimbabwe, and they would not let us in, it was before apartheid was over. There were armed guards and I thought, ‘You guys are drawing more attention than me, I would have blended in.’ I never felt endangered. Nobody knew me then. I was just another black face in a black country.
What’s next for you?
I am ready for the romantic comedy. I just checked my messages, my agent called. He was saying, ‘I read this wonderful script, it’s new, it’s fresh, it’s romantic comedy.’ That would be fun. I would like to do a romantic comedy. I’ve never been offered romance. What is romance? Name a romantic comedy without Hugh Grant in it. That’s not a stretch for him.