*As a nation that seems to move closer and closer to remove traditional beliefs from the schools and everyday life, Denzel Washington has taken upon himself the arduous task of filling movie theaters when “The Book of Eli” is released.

It helps that Washington is an ass kicking, no-nonsense warrior skilled in the martial arts.

Washington’s son not only suggested he take the role, but is a co-producer. The son of a preacher who has read the “book” a couple of times, Washington was also fascinated by this story of “good” vs “evil.”

Casting Washington as the wayfarer with a mission was a no-brainer say twin brothers/directors Allen and Albert Hughes.

“Warner Brother had about 25 actors up for consideration but I couldn’t imagine any other actor pulling this off so we put Denzel’s name on the table and they reacted immediately to it.”

The role of Eli, Washington says, is not that different from the majority of his parts.

“Most characters I play have the same traits. A lot of them go through some kind spiritual evolution. Malcolm X went from hatred to a whole completely different doctrine. Hurricane Carter went through a change. Even with something as dark as ‘Training Day,’ I tried to show some change in him. I wrote on my script, ‘the wages of sin is death.’  In the original version of ‘Training Day,’ they had him dying in the smallest way, with his death being announced on TV. I said, ‘nah, nah,’ I can’t. In order four me to justify living in the worst way, I have to die in the worst way.

“So in my mind for a lesson to be learned there must be an evolution. With ‘Man on Fire,’ it was the same kind of thing.  A very dark man meets this young angel who awakens him and he gives his life for her. So I guess this is a somewhat similar theme here in that Eli has this mission and this mission has turned him into this violent killing machine. It’s no coincidence that at the moment when he’s about to chop whoever with this hatchet, this ax, this young girl says stop. I mean why was he sent through this town right before he makes it to where he’s supposed go? He could’ve gone around but it would’ve been a whole different story. In his spiritual evolution this was part of the process. He had to go down through the valley of the shadow of death.”

While filming a scene in New Mexico, after Eli doles out justice to a killer, there was a gush of wind that gave everyone pause. “It was a lot of wind blowing,” Washington laughs, “and we actually used it in the movie. After I stuck him with the sword, the wind started blowing and the sand blew right over us and kept going right through the tunnel and it was like death or something and it stopped and we said cut! Everybody was like, ‘man, what was that all about?’ I said I think we’re on the right track (laughs).”

James McAvoy

Also opening this week is “The Last Station,” a film about the famous writer Leo Tolstoy who, late in life, takes on a religion mindset. He renounces is noble title and property in favor of poverty, vegetarianism and celibacy. James McAvoy plays Tolstoy’s assistant. Like Washington, McAvoy prefers parts that present change. “My favorite movies and favorite stories are the ones where people change,” he says.  

“It’s about things happening and changing that interests me and where a character takes on a different moral view, opinion, or hair cut at least, by the end of the molvie. You know what I mean?  So, yeah it’s nice to play that, and I always look for a bit of character arc, progression, change, and all that.  Even the bloody ‘Wanted’ had change in it, and I kind of like that a lot.”

McAvoy was forever changed when he appeared with Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland.” “I spent time in Uganda and had an amazing time there,” he recollects. “I had my eyes opened to stuff that I didn’t understand beforehand.  I feel a debt to that country because it’s definitely a big step up in my career.  I work with an amazing organization called RETRAK that works not only in Uganda, its now spread to Kenya, and I think up here as well.  They basically re-house street kids and sometimes, if they can, get them back with their families if their parents aren’t there anymore or if they can’t find the parents.  They basically try to keep kids off the streets.  A lot of kids that come from the countryside and end up on the streets are basically fighting for their lives. So those are the things that I’m glad to be a part of.”

This story was written by Marie Moore