Here’s what Denzel had to say to Entertainment Weekly about his experience as actor and director of “The Great Debaters“.
Did you always know that you wanted to play real-life debate coach and author Melvin Tolson?
DENZEL WASHINGTON: No, absolutely didn’t want to play him.
So why did you end up in the role?
It’s called money. It’s called: They’re not gonna give you enough money unless there’s someone of a certain name to do it.
As the director of the film and an actor in it, did you find it hard to wear both hats?
Absolutely. It’s the worst part of it. When I did Antwone Fisher, I really hated it. But on this one, I just tried to embrace it, and have fun. It wasn’t so bad, but I wouldn’t really look forward to doing it again.
You don’t feel like it gets better the second time?
No — not the kind of actor I am. Because I’m dead serious about my acting.
How would you describe yourself as a director, then? Do you approach directing the same way?
I don’t. First, of all, I would try and say this: ”I want everybody to have a good time, I want everybody to work hard.” And if you talk to other people that were on this film, not too many of them will tell you they worked harder than me. I was the first one there, the last one to leave.
Tell us a little about young actress Jurnee Smollett, who plays debater Samantha.
DENZEL WASHINGTON: Jurnee was great. And let me tell you, these kids — Jurnee Smollett, and there’s another kid, who’s oddly enough by the name of Denzel Whitaker, he’s the young kid in the movie — you’ll be hearing [a lot about them in the future].
Sounds like he has a famous name already!
I mean, could you believe it? Denzel Whitaker. I told him, ”You almost didn’t get the job, just because of your name.” But he, Nate Parker, Jurnee, Jermaine Williams, are all excellent, excellent young actors. You know, the thing that makes me most proud is that I think I have a good eye for young actors, like when I did Antwone Fisher…Derek Luke turned out all right.
I think so. You may have helped him out a little bit.
A little bit. I think, you know, he’ll be able to eat from now on!
Can we talk a little bit more about Jurnee? People say this is going to be her breakout role.
Time will tell. I think she did a great job, and ”breakout” means someone has to give you a job, right? That’s what breakout means. It’s the most difficult for African-American women in this business. So I wouldn’t dare say that everything’s gonna happen great, because…who would you name that’s had a breakout role that’s her age? See what I mean? But I give her credit. She’s a great, great actress, and God willing, she will break out.
For the rest of the interview click here