HN Entertainment’s Nicholas Whitcomb spoke with screenwriter Richard Wenk earlier in the week and previous topics we’ve posted from our exclusive interview with Richard included some stuff that was cut from his original Expendables 2 script along with some new information about what he is planning with his new Universal Soldier movie, a re-imagining of the franchise that he hopes begins filming later this year.
Nick is a big fan of The Equalizer franchise and with Richard being the screenwriter on both films asked him a bunch of in-depth questions about the films, working with Antoine Fuqua, and how he approached the character.
HN: Moving along to The Equalizer franchise, which are films that I personally love, can you talk about the early discussions you had with Antoine [Fuqua] about the direction for those films?
WENK: “Well, let’s see, I’d have to go back to the idea that, The Equalizer title was presented to me years before by another studio, and I passed on it because I felt it was really just a great TV show, and that they should keep it as a TV show. Then several years later, Jason Blumenthal and Todd Black reached out and said they had acquired the rights, and before I could pass, they said that they also had spoken to Denzel Washington about playing the role, and that intrigued me.”
“So, the initial discussions were about what the movie would be, and after numerous discussions and different iterations, I concluded that it would be an origin story of a guy finding his purpose. We would ground it, and we would throw out the TV show and keep just the title, and we’d create this character. So, I wrote the script, with Todd and Jason, they presented it to Denzel when I was finished, he came aboard with one caveat: “I’ll make the movie but it’s not a development deal we’re making the script.” At that point they went and looked for a director, and it was Denzel’s suggestion that they all speak to Antoine, and Antoine and I hit it off right away. We saw the same movie, he brought his unique genius to it, in terms of visual stylings, and elevated the cinematic quality of what was there.”
“So, I think the nice thing that happened, it doesn’t happen a lot, everybody ends up making the same movie. The script was pretty much not changed from the one I turned in, Denzel’s a very big first draft guy, Antoine got to color it through his visual genius, and we all kinda fell in love with that character and his journey. It seemed natural that it could continue, it didn’t have to, but it could if people really responded, and they did. So we made another one, and probably will make another one.”
HN: In the first film there were a couple really neat moments that happen off-screen, one of them is McCall getting Jenny’s ring back, and the other is him taking the guards down at Pushkin’s manor. Were those scenes ever expanded upon, did you actually film anything that filled in the gaps, or were those always planned to happen off-screen?
WENK: “No. Those were actually scripted that way. You kinda went backwards in that movie. You started with the biggest action block, which was the slow build to the Russian office, and you saw all his skills. Then you dial it down a notch when he took on the corrupt police officers, and then at that point your imagination was better than anything you could write. So, the very general idea of picking up a sledgehammer and just imagining what he did with it, was far better than anything you could write, and it did not feel episodic. It didn’t feel like “Oh here comes another action thing.” The movie was over by the time you went to Pushkin’s, so I don’t need to see him do very much, I just need to see him tie up loose ends. Which he does very skillfully and surgically, that’s the one thing I liked about the character, he plays chess five moves ahead of everybody else. I think we were actioned-out at that point, and we know what he can do.”
HN: Besides that, was there anything that you had scripted, that had to get cut from either of the films?
WENK: “Nothing in the first one. Everything that’s in the movie was in the script. In the second one, there were budgetary issues so several scenes that we all loved, we just couldn’t afford them, in terms of McCall’s journey home so to speak. So there were a couple nice big action things that we liked, but they were just too expensive. So we found smaller ways to tell the story. Everybody agreed we should put the money into the hurricane at the end, so there were several things that just had to be re-imagined on a smaller scale.”
HN: Another thing that I’ve really liked about both of the films is that they do sort of hint at McCall’s past in the service, and the death of his wife, playing a very integral part of the person that he became. Will what happened to her ever actually be expanded upon, should another film happen?
WENK: “I think so, I mean it’s always part of the story. The romantic part of the story is that you could imagine, really the most important thing which is the loss that he suffered, the meaning it has to him is far more important than the details, but I do know the details. It was always in my mind a trilogy of a man who found his purpose, his peace, and his place. There’s another chapter to tell, if the movie gods are willing, and yes [her story] will be told. Part of the appeal is that he is a man who keeps things close to his vest, and you’re left to fill in the blanks. Having sat through many test screenings, one of the joys the audience has is not being told these things, and most of these movies overexplain these things. One of the choices we all agreed to make was that we would piecemeal it out, organically, and you could fill in the blanks by his behaviors, his thoughts, his characters, his actions and things like that.”
HN: One of the most powerful scenes I thought was in the second film, the scene between McCall and Miles, when he goes to kind of rescue him from gang path that he was going down. How much of that was on the page and how much was Denzel?
WENK: “It’s on the page, the scene is there, the scene is written. I would say half that scene is Denzel Washington, taking the guts of it and making it his own. When he repeated the line from the first movie “What do you see when you look at me?” was not in the scene, but the beginning of the scene and the end of the scene are as written. The middle of that scene about what it’s like being an African-American young man in this world, a lot of it came right out of his heart. So it’s all mixed in there, and those I think are the best movie moments in any movie, when it all sort of comes from everybody, and it comes from his heart. It was a very important scene to Denzel, and I had the privilege to watch him do it in rehearsal and in performance, and it was very magical because it just took on a life of its own. There weren’t many takes, I mean that was it right there. There was a lot of emotion that Denzel brought to it, that began with words but became sort of magical realism, strictly through Denzel.”
HN: With the Equalizer films, both of them have more or less taken place in the United States, has there been any discussion with Antoine about having McCall outside of the U.S. to have more of an international themed film?
WENK: “That is something Antoine has brought up several times, and we’ve talked about it, it seems a natural place. He’s made it back home, he’s made peace with his personal past. Where he goes next, we’ve had those What If discussions, and many of them have led us to Europe, Italy, places like that to find him expanding, so to speak. It remains to be seen. A lot has to do with what naturally occurs in that process of creating the final chapter.”
HN: Besides the Equalizer films, there’s another popular action franchise that people seem to enjoy, and that’s John Wick. They both have a very unique style to them, and there’s been a little bit of a chatter online about fans wishing that they could crossover. Is that something that you’d personally like to see happen, Keanu Reeves and Denzel taking down bag guys?
WENK: “That could be fun. You have an analog guy in a digital world. John Wick’s a little more digital, a little cooler, a little more heightened than the Equalizer world, and to mix them together might be fun. They’re both men of great skills, one uses a gun like you and I use a fork and knife, and the other doesn’t use a gun. [Laughs]. That was one of my favorite parts of the first Equalizer, he never touches a gun. I mean he took a gun from somebody, but he doesn’t use it as a weapon. There’s certainly some What If’s if anyone decided to marry those two things.”