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  • Feature: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

    Wed, 10 Jun 2009 07:40:35

    Feature: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 - Academy Award winner Denzel Washington discusses action underground, singing with John Travolta and becoming a "regular joe" for <I>The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3</I>

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    "I grew up in New York, so I was practically born on the subway," laughs Denzel Washington with a big smile.

    Denzel's lifelong familiarity with New York's underground definitely helped get him into the character of MTA dispatcher Walter Garber in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.

    He continues, "I rode the subway every day for many years. If you can do it on the subway, I've seen it [Laughs]—from robbery to parenting. It's another whole world down there. It was trippy being on the other end while we were filming. We were those guys out there on the tracks at four or five in the morning that I used to pass by."

    The long nights beneath the city paid off because The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is easily one of the year's best action dramas. Denzel goes up against Ryder—a hypnotic John Travolta—who has hijacked the titular train for a ransom of 10 million dollars. The movie showcases Denzel's classic intensity, but it also allows him to step back and play "regular," to a degree.

    "I had to go to the deli to become this ordinary guy [Laughs]. Not New Delhi either, The Deli," says Denzel. "I ate a lot and kept getting smaller and smaller sweaters to wear. I spilled coffee on myself. I liked the idea that when they hand Garber a gun he's never held one before. He was an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation with this cloud over his head. He didn't come to work knowing that he was going to get an opportunity to redeem himself. It was something he felt that he needed to do and as he got into it deeper and deeper, he went for it."

    Garber is just a regular guy with his own flaws placed in an extraordinary circumstance, and Denzel relished the opportunity to play that part. He's always up for the challenge of normalcy, and given his immense talent, the Academy Award winner nails it. "I'm an actor. You get a part; you become the part. I like the idea of Garber not knowing anything about how to solve this problem and having problems of his own. He's very good as a dispatcher, but he's taken out of his element."

    This marks the third time that Denzel has worked with Tony Scott, and it's also another re-imagining for the two, following up the incendiary Man on Fire. However, it's definitely not a re-make. Denzel goes on, "I think number one; it's not a re-make. It's a reinvention. It's the story of a hostage situation on a train in New York City. That's what this film and the Walter Matthau version have in common. I don't know why anyone would 're-make' a film. The literal translation of the word is to redo, or something like that. That's my two cents."

    Screenwriter Brian Helgeland goes a little deeper into the impetus behind using the Pelham name. "I write R-rated action dramas, and every year that goes by that's a smaller and smaller world that you have to work in. I wanted to use Pelham as a way to springboard into our own crime movie. The idea was to stay away from what the original was but have that same hostage situation at the core. The similarities end there."

    It works because the chemistry between Denzel and John practically boils over.

    Denzel shows, "John and I were always there for each other. I didn't know him that well when we started filming. We had five senses and the other four were heightened. It's like an old courtship over the phone, a long distance relationship, you get to know a person. We would sing songs, we were telling jokes. We were doing Broadway tunes [Laughs]. That was the nature of the relationship."

    What's cooler than that?

    —Rick Florino

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