Venice: Denzel Washington, Director Antoine Fuqua Talk Getting Into Character, Politics in 'Magnificent Seven'
Fuqua said the relationship between characters Billy and Goodnight addresses veteran PTSD and racism in a post-Civil War America.
After opening Toronto, Antoine Fuqua’s new film The Magnificent Seven headed to Venice to close the festivities. Based on Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Seven Samurai, and a reimagined version of the 1960 classic western, Fuqua assembled a team of heroic fighters to save a poor village against a greedy industrialist (Peter Sarsgaard) who is out to mow down everything in his way in order to claim land and gold.
Two of the magnificent, Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, and Fuqua made the trek to the Lido to promote the film after its North American debut.
While Pratt admitted to becoming a lover of Westerns at age 31, Washington said it was something entirely new for him. “My father was a minister in a church. We weren’t allowed to go to the movies. We saw King of Kings, Ten Commandments. That was about it,” said Washington. “So I didn’t grow up watching westerns. We had a television show growing up, Bonanza. I got to see that, but I never went to the movies.”
Washington explained that although being in a Western was never really a dream of his, it was a role he quickly latched onto, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “To get to wear the black hat, the black clothes, on a black horse, a black man — all that is like being a kid again. It’s really fun, and they actually paid us.”
Pratt gave an incredulous look insinuating he was left off the payroll. “You mean in food, right?” he joked.
Washington further explained the intense spirituality he brings to every role he approaches. “I try to start each day on my knees in prayer. I ask for forgiveness for all that I’ve done wrong. For me, this is more than just making movies. It is a platform,” he said about what went into portraying his character.
“I always said to Antoine, what a person is supposed to get from a film depends on what they bring to a film,” he continued. “So I’m not trying to tell someone how to think or how to feel or what to believe, but I know what I think; I know what I feel; I know what I believe. So I’m always looking for that. I try to look for that in the character, and I try to bring my own spirit to it.”
Director Fuqua also discussed why he wanted to remake the film today. “I think Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai still resonates today, which is the story of tyranny and terrorism, whatever you want to call it. It’s the same thing, people taking advantage of other people,” he told THR. “So we needed strong people to come and serve, which is what samurai means, to serve. I think that makes it contemporary because that idea should never go away.”
He denied, however, that the film, despite being about a community that joins together to overcome evil, had any political meaning. “It’s entertainment. You can make it political if you want to,” said Fuqua. “As Denzel always says, people always bring who they are into the movies. So if somebody’s interpretation is political, it’s ok. But we make the film to entertain the audience.”
The director did, however, address one political relationship in the film, the relationship of characters Goodnight Robicheaux, played by Ethan Hawke, and Billy Rocks, played by Byung-hun Lee, which looked into the post-Civil War climate of America concerning everything from PTSD drug abuse to outsider racism.
“The relationship between Billy and Goodnight are two characters who really needed each other,” explained Fuqua. “Goodnight obviously is dealing with PTSD. Billy, obviously being Asian, had to navigate his way through the West and so they helped each other. Billy would give Goodnight opium. We never said that, but that’s what they were smoking, in order to help him with his issues. They were sort of like Butch Cassidy and Sundance.”
The Magnificent Seven opens Sept. 23.