October 5, 2000

Denzel Washington on 'Titans,' 'Hurricane' and Heche
By Bob Longino

Denzel Washington had a problem with being stuck in Atlanta for more than two months last fall.

"All that rich food," the Oscar-winning actor says with a laugh. "I sort of gained weight."  Mr. Washington spent most of the past few months of 1999 in metro Atlanta and northern Georgia filming Disney's PG-rated high school football flick "Remember the Titans." Locations included Covington, Clarkston High School's practice field, Druid Hills High in DeKalb County, Grady High in Atlanta and Berry College outside Rome, Ga. 

Mr. Washington plays Herman Boone, the real-life coach of Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School football team, which, during integration in the early 1970s, overcame racial strife to win the AAA state championship.  Mr. Boone teamed up with Bill Yoast (portrayed in "Titans" by Will Patton) to challenge their players not only to master football, but to learn more about each other's race. 

"It's a real audience-participation movie," Mr. Washington says in a recent phone call from New York, where he was promoting "Titans."

"But it's about more than just football. It's about kids and adults of different races learning to work with and respect each other." 

The actor also talks about meeting Mr. Boone, losing out on the Oscar many expected him to win this year for "The Hurricane" and working with Anne Heche in Toronto, where they're filming "John Q."

Q: Can you tell us a little about getting the "Titans" script and deciding to do the movie?

A: I wasn't ready to do another film about a real person. I had "The Hurricane." But it was Jerry Bruckheimer who brought it to me. I had worked with him on "Crimson Tide." He knows how to make movies that people like, so I said, "Let me give it a read." And I read it and thought: "Hmmmmm. Interesting story. Interesting character." What really nailed it for me was meeting Coach Boone.

Q: And how did that go?

A: It was great. He's a really engaging and interesting person. He was very tough and has his own opinion about things. He's a determined fellow. Of course, he's mellowed a bit since the '70s. His wife told me he's about a third as feisty as he used to be.

Q: What about your own coaching life? You've got four children.

A: I've coached it all. Football. Basketball. T-ball. My oldest son (John David) is 15, and I've coached him all along. He now coaches his younger brother in flag football.

Q: Is your older son a better athlete than you were at his age?

A: Only time will tell. He's getting there. He'll have to score six touchdowns in one game first. But he works at it a whole lot harder than I did. You know, lifting weights and things.

Q: You spent 15 months training to play boxer Rubin Carter in "The Hurricane." Do you still box?

A: Sure. It's a good workout. But I had to do rehabilitation on my shoulder after that training. I'm not sparring. That's where you're trying to give each other concussions. It gave me headaches.

Q: Anne Heche went through her breakup with Ellen DeGeneres just before coming to Toronto to work with you on "John Q." What is it like working with Miss Heche?

A: She's very good and quite professional. I had heard about all that stuff going on in her life. She didn't bring any of that to the set. She's a very fine actress, and I can tell you she's a very fine person.

Q: You know, many people thought you deserved to win for "The Hurricane" and were quite angry when you didn't. What did your wife, Pauletta, say after the best-actor award went to Kevin Spacey?

A: She was more surprised than I was. You know, I was around town then, and I got a sense a few weeks before about how things were going. I said, "They are not going to give it to me."

Q: You know, Norman Jewison (director of "Hurricane") is very passionate, and he blames the whole Miramax vs. DreamWorks feud. All those millions they spend to campaign in a Weinstein-Spielberg fistfight each year.

A: Each year, it looks like more and more money is being spent on campaigns. I don't want to say that's the reason why I didn't get one this year. But from now on, you're going to see more and more pressure to spend more money on Oscar campaigns. I'm just content with what my mama says: "Man gives the award. God gives the reward."