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Training Day: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts From The Denzel Washington Crime Thriller

Here is something crazy to think about — it has been 20 years since audiences first got into the car with Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) and Officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) in Antoine Fuqua’s gritty and eye-opening crime thriller Training Day. Released in October 2001, this tense police drama about a still-wet-behind-the-ears cop spending a one-day evaluation with one of the most decorated, yet morally-corrupt detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department remains one of the best movies of the 21st Century due to its remarkable story, electric cast, and unforgettable moments.

And, since the Academy Award-winning film is celebrating a big anniversary, we’ve put together a collection of the best behind-the-scenes facts that makes Training Day one of the best Denzel Washington movies.

Ethan Hawke in Training Day

David Ayer Originally Wrote The Training Day Script Out Of Frustration With The Studio System

Long before David Ayer became known for directing movies like Suicide Squad and writing The Fast and the Furious and S.W.A.T., he was a struggling screenwriter living in Los Angeles trying to make it in Hollywood. Throughout the 1990s, Ayer wrote various spec scripts that he thought film studios would like, but they were never really anything that he enjoyed.

That was a completely different case for Training Day, as he explained in a 2003 interview with Screenwriter’s Monthly Magazine (via Screenwriter’s Utopia), in which he revealed he wrote the script out of frustration with the studio system and as something for himself, because he was tired of doubting himself and had something to say.

Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel; Matt Damon in The Departed

Samuel L. Jackson And Matt Damon Were Attached To Star In Training Day Early In Development

It is hard to imagine Training Day being led by anyone else but Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, but there was a point in time, early in development, in which the two leads looked completely different. In a July 1999 Variety report it was revealed that Samuel L. Jackson and Matt Damon were attached to star in Training Day, with hopes of starting production at some point by the end of that year.

For one reason or another, those plans fell through, which opened the door for Washington and Hawke to step in to lead the whole show. At that time, the studio was also looking at having Davis Guggenheim, best known for his work on Deadwood and the 2006 climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, direct the picture.

Ethan Hawke in Training Day

Director Antoine Fuqua Was Drawn To The Innocence And Darkness Of Ethan Hawke

Ethan Hawke plays Jake Hoyt, the young officer looking to become a detective alongside Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris in Training Day, a role which it seems like he was almost meant to play. When Antoine Fuqua was casting for the part, he felt that Hawke was great for the role because he had that perfect balance of innocence and darkness needed for it, as he explained in the Training Day: Crossing the Line documentary:

There’s something so innocent about Ethan [Hawke] — he’s such a nice person, he’s a great guy. But there is something in his eyes that tells me he’s seen something in his life. I needed somebody that had some darkness to start. I think that made him more interesting.

But, though Fuqua, and even Washington, were on board, beating out other actors for the role was no easy task for Hawke.

Ethan Hawke in Training Day

Ethan Hawke Had To ‘Eat A Little Humble Pie’ When Going Out For The Role Of Jake Hoyt In Training Day

When Ethan Hawke was going out for his role in Training Day, he was already an established star in young Hollywood, having appeared in Reality Bites, Great Expectations, and Dead Poets Society. Despite this (and despite Fuqua and Washington wanting him on board), Hawke still had to go through the normal auditioning process, which he recalled during a 2018 episode of the Bill Simmons Podcast:

I met Antoine, and it became kind of clear to me that Antoine and Denzel wanted me but other people didn’t want me, and I was going to really have to jump through some hoops and audition. ... I was already being offered movies and things were going well, but I was like, you know what? I’m going to get this part. I’m going to eat a little humble pie, and I’m going to go in and I’m going to get this part. And I did.

The hard work evidently paid off, and Ethan Hawke went on to land one of the biggest roles of his career up to that point, and perhaps since.

Eva Mendes in Training Day

Eva Mendes Made The Decision For Her Character To Bare It All In Training Day

One of Eva Mendes’ first big roles was that of Sara, Alonzo Harris’ mistress, in Training Day. The mother of the crooked cop’s son shows up on a couple of occasions throughout the movie, including in the final act when Jake Hoyt busts in to arrest Alonzo. In that scene, Mendes’ character is seen lying naked on the bed, but this wasn’t some racy moment dreamt up by a Hollywood executive. Instead, it was Mendes who suggested the idea. During a 2014 interview with W Magazine (via People.com), the actress revealed she mentioned the idea to director Antoine Fuqua, even though it wasn’t originally included in the script.

Denzel Washington in Training Day

Parts of Training Day, including its explosive final act, were filmed on the Palmwood Drive cul-de-sac, a.k.a. “The Jungle,” in the Baldwin Village area of Los Angeles. During a 2018 interview with CinemaBlend during press for The Equalizer 2, Fuqua revealed that what you saw in the movie is exactly how the street looked at the time. A lot of the extras featured during those scenes actually lived in the neighborhood, adding a sense of reality to the picture. Fuqua also remarked that the area has since been developed and no longer looks the way it once did, meaning Training Day is another time capsule of Los Angeles’ history.

Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in Training Day

The Training Day Production Crew Was Once In The Middle Of A Stare-Down Between The Bloods And Crips

With Training Day being shot on location in “The Jungle,” it was only a matter of time before the crew found themselves in the middle of some kind of incident during production. And, that happened one day during the middle of the shoot when they noticed the 40 Crips (who live on the south side of Martin Luther King Boulevard in Los Angeles) and just as many Bloods (who live on the north) were in an intense stare down, with the cast and crew in the middle of it.

It was reported in an October 2001 Washington Post article that the moment was intense but nothing ultimately happened and the shoot was able to resume not long after. Later in the piece, Antoine Fuqua revealed that before they even started filming in the area, he met with members of the Bloods and asked for permission to film on their turf.

Macy Gray in Training Day

Macy Gray Joined The Training Day Cast Because She Wanted To Work With Denzel Washington

Macy Gray was one of the most promising up-and-coming singers with the massive hit “I Try” by the time she was asked to join the cast of Training Day, but her role as Alicia in crime thriller was the first time she had appeared in a movie. During a 2021 interview with Daily Blast Live, the Grammy winner revealed that she initially thought Antoine Fuqua was crazy when he asked her to take the role, but that she quickly agreed to sign on when she found out Denzel Washington was involved.

This was in part so she could take a picture with Washington for her mom, but the singer later turned to the Academy Award winner for some crucial acting advice that she said helped her out with her performance. Twenty years later, Gray has appeared in several dozen movies and TV shows, all thanks to Training Day.

Denzel Washington in Training Day

The Famous ‘King Kong Ain’t Got Shit On Me’ Line Was Improvised By Denzel Washington

There are few Denzel Washington lines as memorable as a defeated and bloody, yet cocky, Alonzo Harris yelling “King Kong ain’t got shit on me” at the end of Training Day, and a lot of that is thanks to the actor himself. In 2019, Vanity Fair published a list of the 25 best movie scenes of all time, which, no surprise here, included the iconic Training Day moment.

When speaking about the line and delivery, Antoine Fuqua revealed that Washington, who won his second Academy Award for his performance, came up with the line in the heat of the moment while filming the scene. After it was all said and done, Fuqua said he looked at the cameraman and said he hoped he got that because it probably wasn’t going to happen again. Luckily for everyone, he got it.

Denzel Washington in Training Day

Denzel Washington Fought To Change The Training Day Ending

Alonzo Harris finally getting taken out by the Russian mafia at the end of Training Day makes for a satisfying conclusion to the story, but that wasn’t part of the original and more open-ended ending. During a 2015 event where Washington shared stories about his career, the two-time Academy Award winner revealed that his crooked character was originally supposed to survive the night and simply walk away, per The Hollywood Reporter. But, Washington “was not having it” and the scene was later rewritten to see Harris pay for his sins at the four-way stop near LAX.

After reading all of this, it’s easy to see why Training Day remains such a beloved movie even 20 years after its initial release. Who knows, maybe we’ll be thinking about some of the upcoming 2021 movies the same way in a couple of decades.

Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.