*This weekend, actor Denzel Washington will hit screens everywhere on a journey across a post-apocalyptic United States, protecting the last copy of a very important book – a very good book, if you will.
The film is the story of a martial arts-skilled Eli, who is determined to protect the precious tome However, Gary Oldman’s Carnegie, a power hungry survivor who emerged as the ruler of the town, is determined to possess the precious item in hopes that it will wield a power to control the masses.
Eli forges on as a stranger in a Western town – complete with saloon – in his quest, where his journey evolves into a deeper quest of living the words of the book instead of simply reading them. The Academy Award-winning actor said that the character’s evolution was one of the reasons he was attracted to the film.
“For most of the characters I play there’s been some kind of spiritual evolution,” he said. “In the case of ‘Man on Fire,’ a very dark man meets this young angel who awakens him and he gives his life for her. There is a somewhat similar thing here in that he has this mission, and the mission has turned him into the violent killing machine.”
Washington explained that his character stumbles upon this town for a reason.
“He could’ve gone around it and it would have been a whole different story. But in his spiritual evolution, this was a part of the process. He had to go down through the valley of the shadow of death,” he said.
In addition to starring in the film and doing his own stunts, Washington is also a producer on the film and played a major role in building the script.
“I don’t know how we got to me being a producer,” he told reporters, “but I knew that there was a lot of work to be done on the script and I knew that I needed to help do it. I just felt like I needed to be a little more hands-on on this one.”
Washington said that there were a lot of sessions with directors Allen and Albert Hughes as they went page by page creating ways to develop the story, written by Gary Whitta, for the big screen.
“We did a lot of rewrites,” he said. “Coming off of directing and I know how I work as a director – I really want to flush out the characters, so I play all the parts.”
That technique was confirmed by the Hughes duo, who said that they welcomed Washington’s script tweaking.
“One thing about Denzel that I really liked — we were there working on the script at his house for six, eight hour sessions, four days a week, and he doesn’t take breaks – is that he plays all the characters,” Allen Hughes said. “He flushes out everything. He kept saying, ‘This bad guy is not right.’ He would get up and start performing Carnegie.”
Washington got involved in the film about three months after the Hughes brothers signed on. Before that, Warner Bros had a list of about 20 actors they proposed for the film. Allen said that he couldn’t imagine any other actor than Washington in the role.
Directing duo the Hughes brothers told reporters that they were drawn to the script because of some particularly powerful words in the dialog.
“We got the script when nobody was attached to it,” Allen said. “No one even knew what the script was. We read it and I think immediately when Mr. Oldman’s character, Carnegie, talks about it’s not just a book, it’s a weapon,” that’s when the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I was like, ‘Wow, this is deep. This is saying something’ and that’s what got us.”
Furthermore, Albert Hughes said that the story resonates with what’s going on the world right now.
“Somebody takes that book and wants to do bad with it and somebody takes it and wants to do good with it,” he said.
“When you’re dealing with that book in particular you’ve got to walk a fine line,” he continued in discussing how the duo slowly revealed what the book was. “You can’t be preachy or put down the book or religion. It could have been a book about plans for a bomb. It could’ve very easily been a different book. So we tried to pull back a bit and reveal it slowly.”
The revelation is that the book is actually the bible although the first time the word ‘bible’ is used in the film is in its last five minutes.
“But the movie is not about the bible,” Allen said. “The movie is about personal faith and purpose when all is lost. It just happens that in this story, he was holding the bible.'”
“I think another element of the movie is how important a history of any sort is,” Albert offered. “How it relates to society right now is that we all need to be cognizant of everything – not just of nature. We should be very conscious of preserving everything that we can in these times. All this is precious. Let’s start acting as such.”
Washington, however, has no projections for the film’s message or what audiences should get out of it.
“I always say it depends upon what they bring to it. It’s not for me to say. I don’t over analyze it. It shouldn’t be as narrow as just the way I think. I know what my character wants, but if I start thinking results – that I want you to get this from it – then I might start showing something to get the result and maybe I’m not right.”
“The Book of Eli” opens in theaters everywhere today. For more on the film, visit the movie’s website at http://thebookofeli.warnerbros.com.
Watch the trailer for ‘The Book of Eli’: