The Book of Eli - Denzel Washington
Eli (Denzel Washington) © Alcon Entertainment

Denzel Washington has been honored with five Academy Award nominations, winning the Oscar twice: in 1989 for his performance in Glory and again in 2001 for Training Day.

In The Book of Eli, the actor portrays a man, in a post-apocalyptic world attempting to make his way across America in an attempt to keep the last remaining copy of the Bible out of the wrong hands. But one man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the head of a makeshift town of thieves and gunmen, is committed to getting possession of the book, as he believes it means power.

How controversial do you expect this will be when people realize this whole movie’s about what could happen if the Bible gets into certain hands?

The Book of Eli - Denzel Washington
Eli (Denzel Washington) © Alcon Entertainment

Why’s that controversial?

Some people might say, ‘Why are you saying that religion has that much power?’

If they say that, it’s okay.

When you read the script, didn’t you expect there would be some controversy?

That’s a word you’ve used three times now, I’ve never used that word actually. I think there’s nothing wrong with debate, conversation or argument. Good. Imagine that, an idea, a thought, a point-of-view.

Can you talk about the Japanese sword training you did for this movie?

The Book of Eli - Denzel Washington
Eli (Denzel Washington) in the centre © Alcon Entertainment

Jeff Imada, who is a disciple of Danny Inosanto, who is a contemporary of Bruce Lee, trained me and I worked with Danny a bit. Five or six months out, we started stretching and moving and doing stuff. Stretching, you don’t know about it, you’re too young, but when you get older stretching is good. I don’t do it enough, but it helped a lot.

And you still practice?

No, of course not, as I rub my knee! (he laughs) There’s a part of me that definitely wants to continue, but then there’s the actor part that says, ‘Okay, I’ve got to put that down, I’m not that guy now, I’ve got to play another guy.’ I think I’ve been in a hotel 10 months this year, so I’m just glad to be here in Los Angeles for a week.

How much fun were the fights scenes to do, and how much fun was it to watch yourself on screen kicking butt?

I was just like, ‘Make sure they know it’s me, no stuntman.’ They said, “I want do use a silhouette.’ ‘Silhouette? You’re not even going to show me after all that? Get closer or something. Make sure they know it’s me.’ It is me.

What I learned from theses master like Danny Inosanto, he lets that energy come towards him and he goes through it. He’s seventy some years old and so fluid, and a great fighter. I said I didn’t want to be karate man; I didn’t want to finish (in a pose). I didn’t want to do any of that, but just moving through people.

Gary Oldman’s wonderful in this and I know you had the thought of him playing the role of Carnegie. Can you talk about working with him?

The Book of Eli - Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Ray Stevenson
Eli (Denzel Washington), Carnegie (Gary Oldman) and Redridge (Ray Stevenson) in the background © Alcon Entertainment

I love working with Gary, he’s one of the best. We had a lot of fun, sometimes we would do the whole scene as British gentlemen, ‘Well sir, I need that book from you now.’ (he laughs) But obviously he’s one of the best of our generation, so it was a real joy when he signed on. I was really excited about that.

Did you look at other post-apocalyptic survival movies and were there things you wanted to do differently?

No. I usually take the approach not to look at them, so whatever I come up with at least in my mind I came up with it on my own. I don’t want to start looking at other films and go, ‘I can’t do that,’ I don’t want to be hemmed in by the possibility of doing exactly what somebody else did. Maybe I have, I don’t know.

Are you a fan of Clint Eastwood’s movies as the stranger who comes into town?

Yeah, what was the one where he got whipped, High Plains Drifter? There’s a western vibe to this, back early on there was a saloon and we de-westernized it. But it was the basic loner coming to town story, walks into the saloon and kicks some butt.

What did it smell like on set, with everyone in these old dirty clothes?

The Book of Eli - Denzel Washington
Eli (Denzel Washington) © Alcon Entertainment

(he roars with laughter) There was a lot of wind blowing out there. It was a trippy thing that happened and it was actually used in the movie.

When I stick that sword into the first guy whose arm I cut off, I stuck the sword into him real easy, almost like a sacrifice, and the wind started blowing and the sand blew right over us and kept going right threw the tunnel and it was like death or something. And I stuck with it, and it just blew through and it stopped and we cut. And I said, ‘I think we’re on the right track here.’

Do you care what people take away from your movies or do you just put them out there and think whatever they get they get from this?

I always say it depends upon what they bring to it. It’s not for me to say, that’s the way I look at it. I don’t overanalyze it; I want them to get this, because it shouldn’t be as narrow as just the way I think.

I know what my character wants from scene to scene, but if I start thinking in result terms, that I want you to get this from it, then I might start showing you something so that I’ll get the result I want and maybe I’m not right.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.