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Antoine Fuqua Once Pitched Michael Mann a ‘Miami Vice’ Movie ‘Through the Story of Pablo Escobar’

The Equalizer 3” is here, once again directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington. This time around Washington’s Robert McCall finds himself in beautiful Italy, where he runs afoul of the local mafia and has to kill them all in increasingly creative ways. It’s supposed to be the last in the franchise that was based off of the 1980s TV series, but this could be the best of the bunch, with Washington in top form.

TheWrap spoke to director Fuqua about his fifth (!) collaboration with Washington, bringing things home with “Equalizer 3,” his experience working on Disney’s “King Arthur” and the version of the “Miami Vice” he briefly developed with Michael Mann.

Action franchises are built in different ways — sometimes the stunts come first and the story is modeled around that, sometimes locations inform story. How do you build “Equalizer” movies?
It starts with: What is the movie about? The first one was about finding a purpose to help people, and the second one was more about making peace with his past. And then this one is finding a place that you feel like you belong. And it starts with that, and then I build from that point.

When did you hit on Italy and Denzel going up against the actual mafia?
We talked about it, me and [writer] Richard Wenk. I think on the second one we were discussing it and I said, “It’d be great to take Denzel international.” He’s such an international star, and to put him in a different setting and that sort of thing. We started talking about Italy there every summer because he’s there every summer. Denzel’s always in Italy, and I was just like, let’s take him to a place that he already feel at home on the Amalfi Coast on the Mediterranean, and that’s how that developed.

This is supposedly the final movie, but you could easily do 10 more. Are you definitely done with the franchise?
Well I would never say never. It really depends on Denzel. If he wanted to, I would.

Can you talk about working with cinematographer Robert Richardson, who you worked with on “Emancipation” and now “The Equalizer 3?
Oh, I love Bob. That’s my brother, man. He’s this little wizard with the gray hair. Bob has such passion for cinema, for movies. He’s such a creative person. We were both crazy enough to go into the swamps together and do these things. Bob’s right on the edge, and he’s one of my heroes. I grew up watching Oliver Stone films and things like that, so working with Bob Richardson was definitely a dream come true for me.

Did you two reference any movies specifically on this one?
Well, what we normally do is Bob starts sending me pictures that he’ll take out wherever he is at, images. I’ll send him images. I normally put together a visual book, and we start to define the look based on that. Never another film. And then when we film, literally on the set, after every day, Bob goes into a trailer and then I’ll come in there, we start doing color correction and designing it right there.

You’ve worked nonstop over the past few years, even during the pandemic with Netflix’s “The Guilty.” What have the last few years taught you as a filmmaker?
You grow. I grow quite a bit through each film because it’s immediate. Whatever I learned from one, I take to the next. So it’s easier to remember your mistakes or some good things about yourself that you may have done better. Back to back helps you do that, it’s like a fighter. The more fights you have, the more you’re aware of your abilities and you get a little better each time. So that’s how I see it. I enjoy it so much. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I stopped.

Can you talk about Denzel’s commitment for one of these movies?
We normally, on every movie we have a boxing ring built for us. We both box, so we train like that, just boxing, but not for a specific thing unless it’s something we need to choreograph, which we did with the stunt guys. But as far as physical training goes, we both love boxing.

Did he really go up those steps?
700 steps.

There’s no other way to get there. When I got there, I said, “How do we get the equipment?” No, we use donkeys. I didn’t see one donkey. And me and Bob had to go through it with scouts on the weekends and stuff. Bob said to me, “You owe me a hip,” because he just had a hip replacement.

How has your relationship with Denzel evolved over five films?
It’s weird. When we first met on “Training Day,” we sat and spent hours together discussing just life, really, not even the film. And then when we got into the movie, there was a rhythm and a relationship. We had mutual respect along the way, and it was a matter of trust because at that point, Denzel Washington was trusting me to direct him in this movie, and that freed me quite a bit to be me as a filmmaker. I didn’t have to worry about the questions of this shot or how I wanted to do it. He was just there with me. It has been the same ever since. It’s like we just get right back to it.

It’s actually even better because I know him well, and so there’s certain things that I don’t have to even say or he doesn’t have to say to me. I get less stares. He knows he’ll just look at me, he goes like, “Fuqua.” I come over and talk. Say, “I got it.” He goes, “All right.”

There are some insane kills in this movie, including Denzel firing a gun through a guy’s head to kill another guy. How do you come up with the ways he dispatches bad guys?
A lot of the information comes from buddies I have that are Navy Seals and in different parts of the government. What we forget is that there’s no rules in a fight. So if you could stick a gun in somebody’s eye and fire it, you would to save your life. Everything in there can be done. The corkscrew and all that can be done. That’s where it comes from. There’s no rules in the fight.

This one is pretty brutal.
I normally go for it. I mean I don’t think people go see my films for me to not, and again, they’re bad guys. So you really want them to get what they deserve. I don’t hold back much.

That makes me think about your “King Arthur” movie, which ultimately got a PG-13 rating.
Well that movie was written as an R, and then at the time, Disney had such success with “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Before I got to do any of my battle scenes, I got a mandate that it had to be PG, which shifts my brain completely because I don’t do that. I couldn’t design it in any way that was satisfying to me. it really made a giant shift in that movie for me.

And not in a good way apparently.
Not in a good way.

You have a producer credit on “Bullet Train” from last year. Were you supposed to direct?
Yeah. I developed it.

How was your version different?
It was definitely grittier. Yeah. It was much more realistic. More grounded.

Were you happy with how it turned out?
Yeah, I think he did a great job. The movies, it was fun. It’s probably better. David [Leitch] did it anyways. It’s more fun. I don’t know if it would’ve been as much fun.

“The Equalizer” is obviously based on a TV show. Are there any other TV shows you’d want to adapt?
I wanted to do “Miami Vice.” I talked to Michael Mann. We sat and talked about that before he did that. At one point he goes, “You should direct it.” I said, “No, Michael, that’s yours. That’s your baby.”

What was your take?
At that time, I was trying to do the Pablo Escobar story. I was going to bring a lot of those elements from the ’80s and ’90 into “Miami Vice,” but in a more real, grounded way. I mean Michael’s great. I love Michael Mann, he’s a friend. But I was going to do it in a different way through the story of Pablo.

Was yours period or contemporary?
It would have been period.

“The Equalizer 3” is in theaters now.

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