In 1985, a new TV series entitled The Equalizer premiered on CBS. It starred British actor Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, and was created by Richard Lindheim and my brother, Michael Sloan.
Almost 30 years later, the franchise was reinvigorated for the big screen by Denzel Washington in the title role.
On February 7, 2021, a reimagining of The Equalizer premieres on CBS, following the Super Bowl. It stars Queen Latifah (Chicago, Bessie) as Robyn McCall, a former CIA operative who helps people with nowhere else to turn.
Queen Latifah spoke with members of the TV Critics Association about taking on the iconic role and making it her own.
The Equalizer 101 ‘Pilot’ – Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, photo by Barbara Nitke

With this series, did you say, ‘I want action, I want responsibility, I want emotion?’ Now you get what you wish for, how are you handling the challenge?

I want therapy! (she laughs) These are tough, challenging days, but I feel like I’m starting to settle into this character. Hopefully, (the viewers) start to say, ‘Damn, Latifiah was badass.’ The ego in me wants them to say that!

Tell us a little about Robyn McCall

She is extremely skillful at what she does, at what she’s learned. She’s a leader. She knows how to delegate. She’s done with working for people who make the big decisions, she’s (had it) with greed, with the uber-powerful. (Robyn is) taking what she’s learned through the years and has mastered deftly, and using it for everyone.

(She is disturbed by) the people she couldn’t save. That’s what makes her lose sleep. And I think we’re in a time when that’s what make a lot of people lose sleep. The people you can’t save. (The ones) who can’t get a break. The people that have it rough, (who are) in line for food. That’s who she wants to fight for. That’s who she wants to equalize for.

Who in their mind could even fathom that the world would turn into what it has over the last year? But it seemed to be perfect timing for this show; for us to be able to tell these stories ripped from the headlines.

The Equalizer 101 ‘Pilot’ – Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall and Laya DeLeon Hayes as Delilah ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, photo by Michael Greenberg

Did you find it a help in putting this back in the zeitgeist, that Denzel Washington reinvented the franchise?

I love the fact that Denzel made this a relevant product again. I did watch the original series as a kid. But what Denzel did with the feature films has been incredible. If anything, he set the bar in a way, but also gave us a lot of room to go a completely different direction. I have the utmost respect for him. I’ve worked with him and he taught me a lot. He’s been a good support system throughout the years.

But we wanted to do something different. We knew we could tell this story in a (new) way. From Queen Latifah’s perspective, and a black woman’s perspective in America who is a parent.

We have a different set up for this story that we can tell week in and week out. She faces a (distinct) set of circumstances. Unlike Denzel’s version and the original version, (those) characters were much more stoic and guarded. Robyn’s character doesn’t have that luxury. She has a teenage daughter. She’s got to figure out how to turn off the soldier in her and turn on the mom.

It’s going to be interesting throughout the season watching her jump from action into shutting off that Equalizer person; turning into a mom and a woman who needs love and affection. She likes to laugh and maybe have a drink.

The Equalizer 101 ‘Pilot’ – Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, photo by Barbara Nitke

How has it been shooting during this unsettling time?

(The cast and crew) have been working really hard under difficult conditions. We’ve been shooting outside in cold, rainy and snowy weather, with COVID conditions, to keep everyone safe. And to find out that we were airing after the Super Bowl gave us a boost. It made us want to go even harder. I think it bonded us. When you’re working and everyone’s behind masks, because we’re being safe, our hearts connected more. There was a lightness that I think came over the set with our crew. It’s very important that we take care of each other’s emotional and mental conditioning. We’re very excited to do the show. This is big stuff. We’re not in the Super Bowl, but it was very exciting for us.

How do you see the series moving forward?

It’s fun to get the scripts because even though they’re consistent, the flavor of them are so different from one to the next. And that’s because they have diversity. They have diversity in that (writers’) room and diversity at CBS. And we’re excited to put the product out and continue to build on this wonderful audience that CBS already has. Hopefully, we’ll build a great show for you guys.

The Equalizer 101 ‘Pilot’ – Adam Goldberg as Harry Keshegian, Liza Lapira as Melody “Mel” Bayani, and Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, photo by Barbara Nitke

Badass Queen’s Soundbyte

Queen Latifah was asked about the fight choreography in the show. Click here to listen to her reply.

Judy Sloane

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