Denzel Washington, who stars in new action-packed movie The Equalizer, has no plans for retirement despite his approaching 60th birthday, he tells Susan Griffin.
Synonymous with playing unruffled men, who boast the sort of cool exterior you require during a crisis, Denzel Washington appears to be a man in control.
“It’s a facade,” he says, laughing. “No, I’m happy with myself, I’m at peace with myself,”
Incredibly, the New York native turns 60 this December, but a mammoth party’s unlikely to be in the pipeline.
“My birthday comes three days after Christmas, so it was never a big deal in my house. ”
You do sense that age is but a number for the double Oscar winner, and retirement isn’t something he sits around contemplating.
“I think it’s sad when you hear about people who say, ‘I’m going to retire and do nothing’, and then they die two years later. You need to stay active and have a passion for living. Don’t put me out to pasture!
“Besides, actors don’t have to retire. Look at someone like Clint Eastwood in his 80s, Betty White’s in her 90s. I don’t know if I want to go that long, but we’ll see,” he adds.
Washington, who’s starred in the likes of Malcolm X, Man On Fire, American Gangster and Deja Vu, looks in his prime in his latest movie, The Equalizer.
It’s a violent, action-packed movie that takes its title from the Eighties TV series, and shares its central premise too – a mysterious man called Robert McCall (Washington), who uses his skills to ‘equalise’ the odds when they’re stacked against the helpless.
“Robert’s done a lot of bad things in the past, and he’s trying to do better,” explains the actor. “He didn’t like himself, but he never lost his skills, he just made a conscious decision to put that behind him.”
It’s when he meets Teri, a young girl (played by Chloe Moretz) who’s being abused by a sex traffic ring, that he decides to do something about it – and despatches the Russian gangsters, in increasingly grisly ways.
Screenwriter Richard Wenk wrote the movie with Washington in mind, but he and the team had an agonising three-day wait for his verdict, after sending him the script.
Eventually, he called producer Todd Black and said: “Todd? This is Robert McCall.”
Washington and Wenk continued to hone the script, with the actor keen to cover the basics. Who is McCall? What makes him tick? What is he trying to get over?
“I think that long ago, he started out as a man who wanted to help people and turned into something else,” says Washington. “He had to put that all behind him to shut that door, and this young innocent opens it again.”
The character has created a new, anonymous, life for himself, and, despite his status, Washington, who studied drama and journalism at Fordham University, insists he can get about incognito too.
“Especially in New York, nobody’s looking for me. Sometimes I have people say, ‘You know who you look like?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I hear it all the time. I wish I had his money!’”
He was recently back in the Big Apple, appearing on stage in a production of A Raisin In The Sun. “I love the theatre. That’s my first love as an actor, so the last nine years, I’ve done three Broadway shows, and I’d love to go back in another three or four years,” he says.
As for treading the boards in London’s West End... “I’ve been asked,” he admits. “It’s just, you know, a long way, but maybe.”
Geography has always played a part in how he chooses projects. “I didn’t do a play in New York for 15 years, and the reason was because we were raising our kids,” says Washington, who has four children with Paulette, his wife of 31 years.
“I couldn’t commute, as it was too far to try and do eight shows and come home [to the West Coast] Sunday night and go right back Tuesday morning, so I just laid low for a few years, but now I’m back.”