Over the past 15 years, Denzel Washington and Tony Scott have formed an impressive, adrenaline-pumping creative partnership, collaborating on thrillers like “Crimson Tide” and “Man on Fire.” With Scott in the director’s chair and Washington variously scrambling around a nuclear submarine and exacting bloody revenge on a Mexican gang, their films have been exercises in amped-up tension, whip-fast editing and straight-up badassery.
Their latest project, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” (out Friday), is different only in one respect: Denzel spends most of the film sitting in a chair.
“Overweight, shirt too tight, spilling coffee on myself, and tripping and falling,” Washington explained to MTV News of his character, a subway dispatcher named Walter Garber, who’s thrust into the role of hostage negotiator when Bernard Ryder (John Travolta) hijacks a New York subway filled with civilians.
But it was just that combination of commonplace character and life-or-death situation that attracted Washington to the role. “I like the fact that he’s just a regular Joe,” he said. “There’s nothing special about him. He’s not heroic. He’s got a fake diamond earring — Zircon. He’s an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.”
Part of Garber’s ordinariness is a substantial paunch protruding beneath his brown sweater vest. Did Denzel pack on the pounds for the role? “Yes,” he said with a smile. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But it’s gone now!”
Of course, Denzel was also eager to reunite with Scott — for the first time since 2006’s time travel mindbender, “Déjà Vu.” “It’s like a good marriage,” Washington said of their partnership. “We work well together. We trust each other. He knows how to put ’em together. He knows how to make hits. And he called me!”
The reason Scott called was because he believed Denzel was the perfect fit for a film in which the protagonist remains largely sedentary behind a desk, trying to talk Travolta’s character out of committing mass murder. “[Denzel is] one of the few actors who does nothing and communicates everything,” Scott explained. “He can sit still and have the confidence, because he’s done his homework to let it breathe, let it sit, and he gives everything.”
But acting talent can only do so much in a film, and it was Scott’s main task to keep the suspense ramped up over the course of one hour and 45 minutes. “This movie was a challenge, because it’s about two guys on the phone for 90 percent of the movie,” he said.
Clearly, though, both actor and director were pleased with the results, because they’ll be reteaming for a fifth film, “Unstoppable,” another thriller set on another train in peril.
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.”
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