Tony Scott has created a series of landmark action films, including The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Déjà vu, Man on Fire, Enemy of the State and Days of Thunder.
In Unstoppable, Scott’s fifth outing with Denzel Washington, the actor plays a veteran train engineer named Frank Barnes, who is paired for the day with a new, young political hire, Will Colson (Chris Pine). When a runaway train goes out of control, it’s up to Frank and Will to stop it before it reaches a heavily populated area, causing a total disaster.
What was the most challenging, to shoot the movie or to edit it? I ask this because you use so many cameras covering each shot and you have endless footage.
Shooting it. In a way, even if we didn’t do what I would call major stunts in terms of looking at movies today, it was a very dangerous movie to shoot.
My goal was to not be inhibited by shooting on a train at 50/60 miles an hour. To take the craft that I used on the stage, whether it’s a circle track at 60 miles an hour, plus three cameras, then you’ve got to watch at the same time you don’t get in the way of the performance of the guys.
But I think shooting in real life situations helps actors. It helps them because they are competing with the noise and the wind and out of that comes mistakes and things that shift and change in terms of tone.
This was the most challenging and brilliant adventure I’ve ever encountered because I had to tell a character story inside something going very, very fast. It’s always about the performances – how I look at these two characters in a way I haven’t done before and be honest to who they are.
The real challenge with Unstoppable was capturing the character evolutions of Frank and Will, who are undertaking this monumental journey trying to stop this runaway train. But first, they must come to terms with one another and resolve their differences.
It looked like Denzel and Chris were really doing their own stunts, were they?
Denzel’s got a fear of heights, so we had him up at 25 feet on a 50 mile hour train. It wasn’t an easy task to get him up there, so we mixed and matched stunt guys and the real guys.
Chris is down there in between the two trains and the grain storm, which was actually Sugar Puffs, because they are hard-coated so they travel better and they hurt more! And that was mixed with potato flakes. Really what we wanted was a snow storm, and I thought, ‘Nay, I can’t do a snow storm this time of year,’ so we came up with this idea of a grain car, so we recreated a grain storm with Sugar Puffs and potatoes.
Was that the hardest scene?
No, the hardest scene for me is always the scene when I’m dealing with performances to tell you the honest truth, when I’m actually looking at the guys and hoping that I’m covering them the right way and handling it the right way especially on a train going at that speed, that all of a sudden the logistics are not taking over from the performances.
This was about two guys resolving their differences through the course of this journey, which is great. So you’ve got the guys having to come to terms with who they are and their differences, so it’s a great vehicle for me in terms of the drama of putting together these two different worlds.
You and Denzel have worked together five times. Do you have a shorthand on the set?
There’s never been complacency. Both of us are always reaching for something new. We never want to repeat ourselves. That’s my goal. Every movie I do and every day I go to work, my goal’s the same, how do I look at the world and these characters in a different way, and Denzel does the same. He reaches back inside himself and finds a different aspect of his personality. After doing five movies with him, I see that every character is different—from Crimson Tide to Man on Fire to Unstoppable.
In every movie Denzel and I have done together, he’s always tapped into a different aspect of his personality. Within each of us, and at a given point in our lives, are different personalities, and Denzel is brilliant in tapping into the personality right for a given project.
What do you hope the audience gets out of this movie?
I think this is a movie where you start out sitting in the back of your seat, and very soon you’re at the edge of your seat. Unstoppable has a momentum that never lets you go.