Even Jared Leto is intimidated by The Little Things co-star Denzel Washington
There’s a lot you can learn about a man and his stature not just by how he behaves, but by how others react to him. Take Denzel Washington, for example. When fellow Oscar-winner Jared Leto, his co-star in the new film The Little Things, is talking about his collaborators, he can’t bring himself to say Denzel’s first name. It’s always Mr. Washington.
“Yes, like Mr. Washington says…” Leto says at one point on the Zoom call.
Washington lets the first one go.
“Yes, like Rami and Mr. Washington both…” Leto says later.
“Denzel!” Washington corrects him. “Denzel!”
“If you watch—” Leto pauses, before finally getting it out. “—Denzel in his movies…”
You get the feeling, in watching him, that the amount of reverence that people show the two-time Oscar winner and legendary performer of stage and screen is both appreciated and taken as an inconvenience, as it often gets in the way of just being able to have a normal conversation about the thing he loves so much—film, and the often-mystifying process it takes to make a good one.
The Little Things, his latest, has him returning to familiar ground—a detective on the hunt for a serial killer, with a few added twists we can’t discuss without spoiling it that make it well worth seeing. When asked how his Little Things character is different from the cops he has portrayed before, Washington gives a deadpan answer.
“About 35 pounds,” Washington says.
All jokes aside, the character’s weight was a focal point for Washington, who used that note in the script to figure out who his character was.
“You just start asking questions and questions lead to more questions and hopefully lead to answers. You get specific. ‘What does he eat? Why does he eat it? What time does he eat it? Why, why is he so heavy? Why is he this? Why is he that?’ You know, all those kind of questions,” says Washington.
Before filming, Washington spent hours each day sitting in writer and director John Lee Hancock’s office, asking these questions as the two of them came up with answers together, getting to the heart of the tale of a disgraced detective trying to find redemption by finding another killer. The tidbits that came from those conversations slowly formed the character, a process that Washington follows for each of his roles. The ‘little things’ indeed.
It’s not all soul-searching, of course. Washington also focuses on the people he surrounds himself with, vetting each person’s track record before taking a role, both in front of and behind the camera.
“You know, I'm the IMDb Pro master. I'm always just looking everybody up and what they've done,” says Washington.
Washington recognizes the accomplishments of those around him, but when he points them out—as he does at one point during the call—he doesn’t do so to flatter anyone, he does it because that’s what he thinks. He doesn’t seem to want to be thanked for a compliment either.
When he brings up the pedigree of the film’s producer, Mark Johnson, and how impressed he’s been with his career, Johnson looks genuinely taken aback hearing that sentiment expressed by the esteemed actor, interrupting him to thank him for his kind words.
“Say that again?” Washington asks, not hearing it the first time.
“I’m so honored to hear you say that,” Johnson repeats.
“Oh,” says Washington.
After 2020, Washington seems equally as focused now on the state of the world, seeing the pandemic as a moral reckoning of sorts that has tested each of us. When talking about what’s been on his mind for the last year, it’s hard not to think of Washington in his performance in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.
“We have to deal with ourselves, our families, our loved ones. We have to reassess who we are. How did we get here? Once you go back outside, if you don't look out for your fellow man, it can not only kill your fellow man or woman, but it could kill you. Through a spiritual lens, it's a sharp and a harsh world or reckoning, whatever the word is, that we have to deal with. But I think, hopefully, prayerfully, we will come out of this more united,” says Washington.
“We have all had time to think about our part. And I believe that, as we go back outside, if we don't look out and take better care, and treat our fellow men and women as we would want to be treated, we will all be destroyed. It's already happening. It's a great opportunity for us to make a turn. And if we don't…”
The Little Things is in theaters now across the Middle East
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