Unstoppable: Interview with actor Denzel Washington

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Denzel Washington stars in "Unstoppable," about a runaway train carrying a cargo of toxic chemicals. The film, directed by Tony Scott and also starring Chris Pine, is being released by Twentieth Century Fox on November 12.

Working with Tony Scott for a fifth time


“I trust Tony, who’s a great filmmaker and I enjoy working with him,” says Washington.  “We have a good shorthand now; I know what he’s after and he knows how I like to work, and we leave each other alone to do the work.  Tony’s very enthusiastic and his team loves working for him, so with him, it’s easy.”


Exploring differences


Washington found much to explore in the huge gulf – encompassing age, economics, experience and attitude – between his character, Frank, and Chris Pine’s Will. “This is also a story about an age gap,” Washington asserts, “how many businesses today are caught in an economic downturn, and running the old guys out to bring in younger, cheaper labor to take the place of more experienced personnel.  Basically Frank is teaching the new guy how to do his job so that he can take his place,” explains Washington.  “Needless to say, Frank’s not too happy about that.”


Frank doesn’t have anything against Will personally,” says Washington, “it’s just that he, and guys like him, are the reason that older railroaders are being fired.  It doesn’t help that Will’s brother and uncles are all big shots in the business.  As Frank describes it, Will’s just a member of the Lucky Sperm Club.


“Frank doesn’t even acknowledge the new guys,” he continues.  “He doesn’t see them, they don’t exist.  But as it happens, on this particular day, Frank is assigned a new kid to be his conductor.  As the engineer, Frank’s just the driver, but he feels like the 1206 is his train.”


“Frank and Will must come together in these adverse, intense circumstances,” says Washington.  “They discover more about themselves because they have to decide: are they going to do something about this or not?  Frank knows he has to try and help, but Will isn’t sure at first, so he’s got to man up.”


The character of the train


“The 777 is the real star of the movie,” says Washington with characteristic nonchalance.  “It’s the shark in ‘Jaws.’  It’s the monster in the room that’s going to destroy people, towns — anything and everything in its path.  Chris Pine and I are just side men.  It’s all about the train, that’s why it’s called UNSTOPPABLE.” 


Crazy stunts


“I must be insane,” Washington laughs, trying to explain why on earth he agreed to run across the top of a moving train for one of the film’s many action set pieces.  “The train is going down the track at 50 miles an hour, I’m running across the top, a helicopter is hovering ten feet above me, I’m hanging off the side; it’s crazy!  I was very happy when my stuntman left town because I knew Tony wouldn’t be asking me to do his job anymore,” he jokes.


Scott first asked Washington to run across a low platform train car made to look like the top of the train.  Slowly but surely Washington became comfortable with the movement and before he knew what was happening, Scott switched the stakebed for an actual train car rigged with a harness and pulley system. “Tony is very slick; he didn’t say anything,” recalls Washington.  “They warmed me up and before I knew it, I ended up on top of the train.  Trains are a lot taller than you’d imagine.  And those helicopter pilots [Alan Purwin and Fred North] were slaloming between trees and train cars, up and down and all around.  As Chris Pine says, ‘those are some urine-provoking moments,’” he laughs.