Jonathan Demme's remake of John Frankenheimer's 1962 political thriller THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE opens nationwide today. Starring Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Liev Schreiber, the film details the struggle of a Gulf War vet (Washington) to overcome the nightmares he's experiencing relating to his time in the desertnightmares that seemingly tie into the presidential campaign in which his former comrade (Schreiber) is running for Vice President.
CINESCAPE recently sat down with Washington to discuss the film and its political overtones.
Question: You mentioned you haven't seen the original Manchurian Candidate.
Denzel Washington: Nah, I haven't [seen it]. I guess I should now!
Q: How could you
DW: Because growing up I didn't watch movies. When did it come out? 1962? I was eight. I saw King of Kings and SINBAD. I just never saw it, and honestly, I never heard of it until I read the script. There are probably a lot of movies I never heard of!
Q: Did you read the original novel?
DW: Nope. I wanted to work with the screenplay. I didn't want to go back, although it probably wouldn't have been a bad idea to read the novel. But what we were doing was so different; not so much what we're doing but the time in which we were working is so different.
Q: Do you ever feel pressure because you were playing the Frank Sinatra role from the original?
DW: Maybe if I had to sing I would have felt the pressure! To me, any good piece of materiallike Shakespeareshould be open to interpretation, or reinterpretation. I played Othello, but I didn't sit around thinking about how Olivier played it. It wouldn't do me any good.
Q: You were on this movie before Jonathan Demme. Did you get him involved?
DW: I sat down with [producer] Scott Rudin in L.A. to talk about directors. He had a short list and I had a really short list... of one. He said, "Jonathan." I love Jonathan and wanted to work with him again. That was that.
Q: How was this film different from working with him on Philadelphia?
DW: I'm older! And obviously it was much more serious subject matter the last time, especially when we shot it. I'm more experienced today, having directed a film and having acted in I don't know how many more. Maybe more of a collaboration, but a good vibe and a good experience.
Q: Was his style the same?
DW: I guess it was the same. I'm more worried about what I'm doing! "He had great style, but you sucked!"
Q: What was shooting in New York City like?
DW: Great. I'm from here, so to be on 42nd Street shooting, where I remember standing 30 years ago and watching a guy burn himself up protesting the war... Standing there and right beneath my feet was the train station I used to sneak into because I didn't have any money. It's always great to be home.
Q: Did you talk
DW: I've done so many war movies, and I've [already] done a lot of that, talked to a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists. The research I did for this had to do with mood disorders and things like that, because my question about this character is what's wrong with him. That's the question to ask. Doctors have him on medication and they say Gulf War Syndrome, but it doesn't seem jibe with that particular illness, whatever that is.
Q: Did you see a connection between this and your previous film, Courage Under Fire?
DW: Maybe, though not in the day to day. The major difference is the conflict in this character's mind between what actually happened [during the war] and what he's having dreams about. It's not all lined up like it was in Courage Under Fire. Here he dreams one thing and is told another.
Q: Do you watch your own movies?
DW: Yes. A year before I started directing, I began watching them a lot because I knew I would be in Antwone Fisher and I had to get used to watching myself. Prior to that, I would watch the finished film so I would know what I am talking about on days like this! But now that I've stepped behind the camera, I'm more analytical, thinking about how films are constructed.
Q: Does directing change the way you act?
DW: Yeah, it has. I'm more aware. Although I've done three films since I directed and I've noticed it less. With [Out of Time] I was like, "What lens!?" And especially with Tony Scott, who has too many cameras for me to keep track of! So I got back in front of the camera where I belong.
Q: Did you guys all sit down and say, "We're making a political movie with MANCHURIAN?"
DW: First of all,
Q: But were you ever worried how that aspect would turn out?
DW: I always say that the time to worry about flying is when you are on the ground. I trust the pilotJonathan.
Q: Might audiences see the film's evil corporation, Manchurian Global, as a stand-in for Halliburton?
DW: Could be. I'm not worried, that's a fact. There are a lot of huge corporations. Manchurian Global is like a Halliburton or Enron or McDonalds. They do pretty good for themselves. But I'm not worried.
Q: Well, the original film was pulled from distribution for 25 years, allegedly as a result of the Kennedy assassination.
DW: I don't have that kind of power. I don't think anyone is going to shoot anybody because of this movie. If somebody is going to make the decision to do that then they were close to it anyway. I don't think some college student is sitting at home and then they'll go see this and [decide] to kill somebody because of this. I don't give a movie that much credit.