How Nicolas Winding Refn Lost Out On Denzel Washington's The Equalizer

After winning international attention and acclaim with the challenging Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn was a fascinating new prospect to Hollywood producers. In 2012, he was being considered for the helm of Sony's The Equalizer, which already had A-lister Denzel Washington attached. By the time The Equalizer began shooting, Refn was a footnote in its preproduction, and Training Day director Antoine Fuqua had won the gig. So what happened?

While visiting the set of The Equalizer, I had the chance to sit down with the film's producer Todd Black. Excited about his gritty spin-off of the 1980s crime series, Black offered plenty of details on the production as well why Refn was dropped as a contender for its director's chair.

In early 2013, The Equalizer helm went from Nicolas Winding Refn to Rise of the Planet of the Apes' director Rupert Wyatt, to Antoine Fuqua, all within a matter of months.

Asked about the road to finding the right director for the project, Todd Black told us:

"There were a lot of directors that wanted to do it. We did talk to Nic; Nic wanted to make a very different movie than we wanted to make. I like Drive. We all like Drive. We thought it was pretty cool. We were concerned that (with Refn at the helm) there wasn't going to be the heart to this man and the soul, because Robert McCall has a lot of heart and soul...Throughout the movie, he's a very emotional man. He's emotional. He's spiritual and he's emotional. We were worried after spending time with Nic that Nic didn't see that. Or maybe he saw it but he didn't want to make that more of a centerpiece than we did. So we moved off Nic."

Fair enough. Emotionally vulnerable protagonists aren't something Nicolas Winding Refn has shown much interest in. But what about Rupert Wyatt? Despite all its CGI and sci-fi, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is flush with emotion, at least from its ape characters. Black explained:

"Rupert read it and Rupert wanted to do it, but he wanted to make a different movie than we wanted to make. We very nicely parted ways, and we really like Rupert and we're looking to do another movie with Rupert, I think he's a really talented guy and Denzel loved him also. We'll do something else with Rupert for sure, and I'd like it to be with Denzel, he just wasn't quite right for this."

Looking at the timeline, Antoine Fuqua was in talks just ahead of Olympus Has Fallen's big debut. But that hit flick isn't what secured him the helm. Black offered:

"Denzel actually was the one to say, 'Have you guys talked to Antoine? I had a great experience with him on Training Day.' We hadn't seen Olympus has Fallen or any of it yet, so Antoine…read the script and loved the script. And obviously he loves Denzel. And it had been many years that they had worked together. He came in and sat with us quietly. And everything that he said was what we wanted. He felt the most right, and Denzel obviously felt very comfortable with him. I mean, he won the Academy Award with him. That came together very organically and very naturally. The studio was super happy and that was that."

So The Equalizer reteams Training Day's star and director. See how this reunion worked out when The Equalizer opens September 26th.

Kristy Puchko

Staff writer at CinemaBlend.