When you’ve got heavy hitters like Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds in the same movie, you’ve got know what you’re getting yourself into.
Washington plays rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost. After staying off the radar for nearly a decade, Frost pops up in Cape Town and is brought to Matt Weston’s (Reynolds) safe house for debriefing. Having merely babysat the facility month after month, Weston’s a bit of a rookie, so having a high profile criminal like Frost in his safe house, is an unnerving experience. And that’s before the mercenaries ambush the location, killing everyone inside and making Weston, Frost’s only chance of survival.
In honor of Safe House’s February 10th release, Washington and Reynolds came to New York City for a press conference. The duo discussed the entire process from studying up for their roles to shooting their particularly gritty fight sequences as well as a disturbing and very real waterboarding scene. Read about that and much more in the interview below.
After doing this film, are you more weary of this country’s security or were you left with any doubts?
Denzel Washington: Weary of this country’s security?
Yeah, and what goes on in the government.
Washington: Why? What goes on in the government? [Laughs]
Ryan Reynolds: It’s a Disney movie, isn’t it?
Washington: Years ago, even prior to 9-11, I did a movie called The Siege. I did a lot of research with the FBI and the CIA and I was amazed at that time, I guess we might all know it now, how little information they shared with each other. So after that I’m not surprised by anything.
Reynolds: I always think it’s not what we know that’s terrifying, it’s what we don’t know. I mean, that’s sort of pervasive with everything in life really, but, yeah, I’m sure a book or two could be written about what really goes on.
Washington: We worked with, what was this guy’s name? Oliver!
Reynolds: Yeah, Oliver Schneider.
Washington: These French guys who you would always want to be with you. The most unassuming guys and we really had the luxury of time, a good two or three months while we were over there. In fact, there’s a fight I have where I crash through the roof or something and start fighting this guy, and even the fights [Ryan and I] do at the end, we had two or three or four months before we even got to do those fights. I know I did mine, I don’t know about you.
Washington: No, you saw [Ryan] crashing through windows! Your fights were nasty!
Reynolds: Yeah, these guys are really great at making it look real ugly, that knife fight in a phone booth kind of feel and that’s kind of what you want. [Denzel and I] had a couple of rounds that we went, which I practically had to wear an adult diaper before. I’ve seen Hurricane. [Laughs]
Did you work with any real CIA operatives and were there any injuries during filming?
Reynolds: We had a CIA operative on the set.
Washington: Yeah, all the time. And Ryan gave me a black eye.
Reynolds: I did.
Washington: There’s a scene where I reach over and try to choke him when I have the handcuffs on and we were flying around in the car, and he wasn’t actually driving the car, it was being controlled by someone else, so it just happens as I was reaching forward, he was flying back and POW!
Reynolds: And that was my early retirement. That first look you gave me after it happened, I just …
Washington: It was a real look!
Washington: There’s a book called The Sociopath Next Door and I thought most sociopaths were violent when in fact they aren’t. But almost all sociopaths want to win no matter what. Some sociopaths use pity. ‘Oh, woe is me. I just can’t do it like you.’ And then you go, ‘Oh, no no. You’re all right,’ and I already got you. Now I got you in a weak position and feeling sorry for me. I read about one sociopath who was actually a psychologist and she was so sick, there’s this other psychologist that she hated and she had a nicer car than the other woman, so she would purposely park her car next to the other woman’s car just to make her feel bad every day. She was working with this other psychiatrist’s patient and all the work that this woman had done, she destroyed. She brought the person in the room and just destroyed them. They just want to win. There was one sociopath who would steal things in the post office and then get there the next day because he just loved the chaos that it created. He wanted to see how everybody was trying to figure out what it was. I guess it’s a feeling of power.
In my journal as I was writing, going through the script, as we were shooting, I had to find a way to win every situation no matter what. There’s a scene we were talking about earlier at the football game, the soccer stadium, he’s willing to even act like a scared little girl to get away. A sociopath will do anything to win. Anything.
How you feel about being locked in the trunk of a car and going through the waterboarding? Were you scared at all?
Washington: No, I’m not claustrophobic and I don’t want to give it away, but the car wasn’t moving. [Laughs] And I knew how to get out! But no, it didn’t bother me. The waterboarding was close to real and I really wanted to get into it and see what it felt like. It doesn’t feel good. You’d give up the answers! [Laughs]
Reynolds: That was the most disturbing thing I think I’d ever seen, watching him be waterboarded.
Washington: Yeah, it was trippy. I wanted to see what it really feels like and I did. [Laughs]
Washington: Once you get caught with an in breath, the water keeps coming and then you’re in trouble. Then you try to hold your breath, but the water’s coming and they’re filling up your mouth. You’ll give up the answers.
Ryan did you ever get to drive the car?
Reynolds: Oh yeah, lots of it. What’s odd about the sequences driving the car is that when I’m driving the car it’s actually much less terrifying for me than when we have a pilot guy that’s on top of the car for some of those scenes and he’d have that car on two wheels and Daniel, our director, who’s sitting in the wheel well beside me giggling like a little schoolgirl while the car goes up on two wheels and just yelling, Faster! Faster!’ He can’t see anything and I find out later that Daniel’s never driven a car before in his life. Being in that position was crazy because we would head headlong for a brick wall and I would hit the break and the guy up top would hit the gas, so that was a very strange feeling. I’ve never been in a situation like that. I’ve never seen a rig like that for a car. And this is a professional driver up top and he just knows the weight of the car. At least that’s what you’d like to believe when he’s doing it.
Denzel, do you have more fun playing a bad guy?
Washington: The next picture I made, it’ll come out the end of the year or the beginning of next year was called Flight and I play an alcoholic, drug addicted pilot who crashes a plane, but saves a lot of lives. It was the most intense film I’ve done probably in 20 years. I guess it’s cliché to say that the bad guy has more fun because you can say anything, you can get away with anything. Sometimes when you’re the good guy, you’re sort of trapped or he can’t say that. And even when you’re playing a real person, like Steven Biko or someone, you’re sort of stuck within those confines. So, yeah, bad guys do have more fun! [Laughs]
How was it working with a director who’s making his first American film?
Reynolds: Daniel Espinosa is just a truly incredibly gifted filmmaker and so insightful and a guy who almost acts like a bit of a thug, but he’s read every book you can pretty much imagine and he’s seen every film that you can imagine and he’s learned from the best, and that’s applied everyday to what he does. It really is a craft for him. Daniel’s a guy you want to buy stock in.