Why Denzel's film career is on fire

by KATIE HAMPSON, Mail online

Last updated at 14:03 09 September 2004

Denzel Washington has carved a career out of playing the screen's most likeable and soulful heroes.

Many would argue he could carry a movie with just his personality.

So it wasn't surprising to find out he's one hell of a nice guy in person.

The actor arrived at London's Dorchester Hotel in a jovial mood to talk to the press about his latest movie - the turbulent drama Man on Fire.

At first glance, his affable charm and good humour could have been nothing more than another great performance. But instinct told me otherwise.

He spoke with ease and reassurance, his smile giving warmth to the plentiful stories he told about working with his co-stars, the young Dakota Fanning and veteran actor Christopher Walken.

"Chris is a great actor and it was such an honour just to play with Chris," Denzel said.

"I was really impressed with Dakota, not only her acting skills but she shows a maturity and she is very humble - I think her parents have done a

wonderful job with her."

In contrast to the praise he heaped on the young actress at the interview, his character and the little girl didn't make an easy fit in the first half of the film.

Protective of his co-star

In Man on Fire, he plays down-on-his luck former army officer John Creasy, who is the type of character who oozes nobility and Denzel plays best.

Creasy is burned-out from a former job in the army and takes a job in crime-ridden Mexico City as the bodyguard of a wealthy couple's only daughter, played by Dakota Fanning.

Eventually, the young girl breaks through his tough exterior and he discovers, to his surprise, a paternal nature - an ability to feel love for the first time in a long time.

While the film explores his role as a protector, the 49-year-old actor admits he felt an overwhelming urge to protect the young actress even when the cameras stopped rolling.

"She's very humble and as normal as a 10-year-old movie star can be, but I pray that she gets a chance to just hang out with kids and be a kid.

"She's grown up with adults on the set and I was very protective of her and people swearing around her or not realising she's there. I don't know what it is but she's very bright. She's a star - and a little person."

When asked who was more daunting to work with - Dakota Fanning or Oscar winning veteran actress Meryl Streep, his answer raised laughter.

"Dakota," he joked. "I'm convinced she's 40 years old."

He also revealed that she kept him on his toes during filming.

Softer side

The Hollywood star's admiration for his co-stars hinted to a softer and more affectionate side of his personality.

Working so closely with a 10-year-old seemed to inspire fond memories from his younger years.

He admitted he thought he saw an angel when he was a youngster. He said - and so seriously that the lines on his forehead creased - that it has helped guide him. Then he chuckled, saying he knows people must think it's 'crazy'.

"It looked like my sister but then I saw wings. It was as real as you are in front of me now.

"I walked over to the door and opened it to let some light came in the room. Then it faded away.

He said his mother explained it was probably his guardian angel.

"Ever since then, I have always felt protected," he said.

Perhaps it explains the success of his meteoric career, making him the only black actor to have won two Oscars - one for Training Day and one as best supporting actor in Glory.

Angel or no angel, he has managed to remain one of the most bankable box-office stars in the world with more than 40 films under his belt. The handsome actor has also scooped the title of sexiest man in Hollywood, which couldn't hurt.

His latest movie offer is to star in a romantic comedy opposite fellow Oscar winner Halle Berry.

But where most actors would jump at the chance to work with the beautiful actress, Denzel appeared decidedly unfazed. In fact, the script has been sitting rolled up, untouched, in his bag.

Behind the lens

He's far more interested in stepping behind the camera lens and has two films in the pipeline - one about the life of Sammy Davis Jr and the other is a coming-of-age love story.

"I'm at a place in my life now where I'm just as, if not more, interested in knowing what goes on behind the camera," he confided.

He plans to direct a film set in eastern Texas at a college with 500 black students.

"In 1935 they were the best debating team in the country - they beat everybody - so it's like the little train that could," he explained.

"There was a 15-year-old freshman, a very smart young man who became an integral part in the civil rights movement in America and who was one

of the debaters.

"In our story he's also in love with

a 19-year-old sophmore/junior but of course, she doesn't know it and she falls in love with the bad guy," he revealed.

But despite his career success, does he have any regrets? Are there any films he's passed up that he wishes he hadn't?

"Seven," he laughs.

"I turned that down and it was the role Brad Pitt did. I was like, oh man. There was another one that was a hit this summer, iRobot. But I

thought it was iRobot or The Manchurian Candidate and I chose The Manchurian Candidate."

He's done some classics and a only a handful of films we'd rather forget.

"But I'm pleased with what I've done," he said with a reassuring smile.

Having seen his stirring performance in Man on Fire, I think his fans will be too.

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