Antoine Fuqua talks about making his first sequel, The Equalizer 2
In his 34-year, 46-movie career, Denzel Washington had never made a sequel. Neither had his frequent collaborator, and the man who directed him to his Best Actor Oscar for 2001’s Training Day, Antoine Fuqua.
Both men break their streaks with this month’s The Equalizer 2, the follow-up to their hit 2014 revenge thriller that was inspired by the 1980s TV show "The Equalizer", in which a retired government intelligence agent uses his finely honed, lethal skills to mete out justice — or equalize the playing field — for citizens who are unable to defend themselves.
So why is this the first film to draw two such formidable filmmakers back for a second helping?
“I think we’re in a place in time in the world where there’s so much injustice that people enjoy escapism in a movie, to see someone delivering justice, someone helping others,” says Fuqua on the line from L.A. where he’s on his way to the studio to work on a rough mix of the film. “It seems like everything has become a ‘me, me, me’ generation, that someone who’s doing something for other people seems to resonate.”
The first film starred Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, a fastidious, emotionally reserved former agent who’s trying to live a normal life while working at a big-box home store when a brush with a young prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) being abused by her Russian mafia pimp implores him to, in his own methodical way, set things right.
By the second film, McCall has settled into a life of freelance do-goodery while working as a Lyft driver. “That allows him to be in a position to be around people but also be invisible at times, people think drivers are invisible,” explains Fuqua.
The story starts in Turkey, where McCall is trying to locate a kidnapped girl, but soon moves on to the States and turns into a very personal revenge tale for McCall when he learns his friend and former agency handler Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) has been killed.
“His journey takes him back home to where he lived with his wife, which is a difficult journey,” says Fuqua.
“It’s much more emotional, this one.”
Like all of Fuqua’s films, it’s also violent. Very, very violent.
Almost every movie the 52-year-old Pittsburgh native has made has centred on cops and gangs (Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest), organized crime (The Replacement Killers), military (Tears of the Sun, Shooter), or intelligence operatives (Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer). Even his period pieces feature epic sword fights (King Arthur) and old-timey gun battles (The Magnificent Seven).
Why is that?
“Uh, that’s a good question,” Fuqua says, as if he’s been thinking about it as well. “A lot of it is that they’re people who are in my life. There are a lot of military guys around me, Navy SEALs, real close personal friends of mine I spend a lot of time with. There’s police officers that I’m friends with and attorney generals and I see all the different sides of it.”
Gang members, too, says the man who studied electrical engineering at West Virginia University on an athletic scholarship (he played basketball) before deciding to become a filmmaker.
“I’m always trying to find the pressure points of those things. As an officer you can take an oath but then there’s a lot of pressures, and how do you deal with that pressure?”
Unfortunately, violence touched his Equalizer 2 film set in a way that had nothing to do with plot points. It didn’t get a lot of press, but while filming in the Boston suburb of Quincy two people working for the production — a man and a woman — were shot.
“We had two security guards that were just watching the set in a project building in Boston and unfortunately there was a drive-by shooting,” confirms Fuqua. “It had nothing to do with us, but they got caught in the crossfires of this violence, you know, and it was ugly.”
Both survived and two 18-year-olds were eventually arrested and charged with assault with intent to murder, among other things.
It’s no accident that Fuqua was filming in the area.
“Sometimes I like to try to go to places like that to help the community, and also to show young kids, I did it in Training Day, I did it in Brooklyn’s Finest and had no incident, but you try to show kids something different,” says Fuqua, who has two kids of his own with his wife, actor Lela Rochon (Waiting to Exhale), and a third child from a previous relationship.
“They get to see movie stars like Denzel and other actors, they get to see film sets. Sometimes if they can see something different, or at least if we’re there, if our presence is there, maybe less things will happen for those days…. And people get to make money because you like to hire people from the neighbourhood. That’s important to me to do that,” he says, before adding, “then sometimes it doesn’t work because of the gang violence.” Fuqua insists that just because his movies are violent, doesn’t mean he approves of violence. “When justice is served it has to be earned, and if violence is part of that justice you have to make damn sure that it’s justified and that there’s no other way,” he says. “It’s not the first choice.”
Considering the films he’s made, you may be surprised to find out that one of Fuqua’s all-time favourite movies is the 1988 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Cinema Paradiso. The gentle Italian drama is told in flashbacks as a famous Italian movie director recalls his boyhood friendship with the projectionist in his small village in Sicily, a relationship that revolved around movies and inspired the boy to become a filmmaker.
But should we be surprised?
“I understand,” says Fuqua. “I’m hoping to make different types of films…. Sometimes in business you kind of become known for a certain thing and you do that for a while, and I enjoy it, but I have other things I want to do.
“I love movies like Cinema Paradiso, I love that. I mean I was that kid to a degree — a different world, but that’s what made me love movies. I used to go to the movies and that kept me off the streets.”
The Equalizer 2 Hits Theatres July 20th. Click here for tickets and showtimes!