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Denzel Whitaker Talks Warrior and Abduction

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Warrior/ Abduction
An Interview with Denzel Whitaker

By Wilson Morales

September 14, 2011

With the release of ‘Warrior’ last week and John Singleton’s ‘Abduction’ coming out on Sept.23, actor Denzel Whitaker seems to be having a good month, as the California native is appearing in both films.

While neither film gives him a bigger spotlight as the one he got when he starred opposite Denzel Washington in 2007’s ‘The Great Debaters,’ it does present the opportunity to keep working with new talent and learn more about the business.

His most recent role was in 2010’s ‘My Soul To Take,’ and with ‘Warrior’ and ‘Abduction,’ Whitaker, who turned 21 a few months ago, gets to switch genres from horror to action.

In speaking with, Whitaker spoke his roles in both films, his interest in action films, and working with Taylor Lautner and John Singleton.

Having two films in one month is a great feeling and presents lot of exposure. What’s your role in ‘Warrior’?

Denzel Whitaker: Well, my role in ‘Warrior’ is that I basically play the student to Joel Edgerton’s character. Joel, he was a previous fighter who ends up taking the route to become a teacher and have a stable job for his family. But when that stable job isn’t so stable anymore and, you know, the income’s not coming in as he wished, he actually begins to, I guess, toy around with is roots again. And within doing so the school finds out and he’s suspended from school because he’s fighting while he’s actually enlisted as a teacher during the semester. So my role is basically like a support system, me and two other students. We’re like his favorite students. He’s our favorite teacher. And we’re really sad and heartbroken to see him leave. So within his departure we like cheer on and follow in his events. And, you know, we’re basically trying to do the best we can for our teacher while he is on this road to, I guess, not only living his dream again but trying to support his family.

Is this a movie you wanted to be in or were you approached to be in this movie?

DW: It was a movie I wanted to be in. It was kind of like two sides of the same way. Gavin O’Connor had seen my work; and the casting director, Randi Hiller actually when I went in for her she had known my work as well. Both of them had contacted me. Then when I read the script I thought it was amazing. I was like, ‘I gotta be a part of this.’ It just sort of worked out that both of us were pulling on each side. When I went into the room, after that it was done.

It’s kind of funny because between this film and ‘The Great Debaters’, and I can’t say I’ve seen all your films, but there’s always one setting that you’re in and that’s in a classroom.

DW: Funny. Yes, I guess the reason for that is I still have the young looks. So, there’s not much you can do when you’re still playing a high school teenager. Or just being a really young kid. There’s always a classroom scene.

‘Warrior’ has a lot of action in it. How much of a fan are you of the Mixed Martial Arts world?

DW: You know to be honest I’ve never been really big into sports. I enjoy sports casually as a viewer from the outside. I have lots of friends who are addicted to MMA, and who actually go to the events and go to see the fights. All they do is talk about the Octagon. They even just fight in front of me. I’ll catch it on my iPhone here and there. Honestly, though, I like the fights. I enjoy them. But I’ve never really taken an interest like to get to know some of the fighters or get to see them live. It’s an interesting world, though I do think it’s pretty brutal. And more ways than not slightly more strategic in my opinion than boxing.

Although you’re in the movie, you’re not so much the focal point like in the last few films we’ve seen you in like ‘The Great Debaters.’. You’re really are part of the supporting cast , but at the same time you stand out because as you mentioned, you’re one of the kids that sees Joel’s character try to make it happen.

DW: When I first talked to Gavin he emphasized that a lot with all of the students. As soon as we got in the classroom he told the three main principle students, which includes me, “You guys aren’t the focal point.” He let us know that straight up but he said, “Every character in here has a pivotal role to the story.” He was going to make sure that we weren’t going to get overshadowed by some of the bigger names and some of the bigger roles. He also said, “You guys are just as important as anybody else because you were in the story for reason and every character in here is doing something motivational to move the story forward.” And especially given that we have such a close connection in Joel’s character. He was like, “Really. a lot of the heart, a lot of what’s going to make people love this film and love our character even more is the support that’s around him.”

Soon afterwards, you’ve got another action film that’s going to be highly looked at because it’s got a couple of big names in there. And that’s ‘Abduction’. How long ago did you shoot that movie?

DW: We shot ‘Abduction’ last year. In fact we shot it late summer of last year. Whereas, in contrast, ‘Warrior’ was shot in 2008, and it’s just now coming out.

With ‘Abduction,’ did you know Taylor before shooting the film?

DW: Yes, I had known Taylor before that movie. Actually, in fact, I had known Taylor just basically through mutual friends. I was in ‘All That’ and he was on ‘Sharkboy and Lavagirl,’ and we would go to these different Nickelodeon events and hang out with the same people. We then started hanging out together. In fact, it was so random. I would see him in weird places like acting classes. We’d pop up and see each other and then we’d see each other at this party. It was like we didn’t live close to each other. But every time we’d see each other it was like, ‘Hey, what’s up my man? How you doing?’ What’s cool about that is that it transcended right down into the roles of ‘Abduction’. As soon as I got in the auditioning room, first thing Taylor comes out and says, ‘Buddy, how are you?’ And it was an interesting friendship. We’ve been warming back up since then and I think that naturally worked onscreen because we already had that chemistry in place.

That’s good. Judging from the trailer I see you play one of his friends, who helps him try to discover who he is?

DW: In the film, I’ve always been his best friend over the years. The back story was that John (Singleton), Taylor and I set up was that we’ve all been best friends since birth almost. Even through the girl he ends up falling in love with which is, of course, Lily Collins’ character. We’ve all been best friends since. You know how friends sort of spilt off in high school? Well, we stuck together. Now that he’s actually starting to find out who his true identity is or that he’s actually started to find out that the identity he’s always known isn’t his real identity, that’s when he comes to me for help because everybody around him he can’t really trust. I’m one of the few people he’s known for years that’s not going to turn on him because I’m his best friend. I’m Gilly.

How was working with John Singleton on this movie?

DW: It was great. John’s a very intense director but he’s also very casual in his methods. He has it all in his head. He has the time schedule. He knows what he wants to get, and he knows when he wants to get it. When the lights hit. He’s very precise but at the same time he allows you the room to do your thing. You sort of step back and he’s like, “Play with the character. See what you think.” Or, “Ad lib this line,” or, “Throw me a line here.” So he’s not ready to let you just become the character. But at the same time he’s like, “Dude, we’ve got to get this shot. Come on, man. The light’s taken. I want the light over here and now it’s moving over here.” Which is very good. So within that precision and then within that sort of flexibility I thought he was a great director to work with.

This has been a milestone year for you. Not that long ago you just turned 21. What did you do to celebrate your birthday?

DW: I went to Vegas. Turning 21 was fun. I actually ended up going the same weekend that they had the Electric Daisy Carnival down there. So that was pretty fun because it was, I think Vegas was just expecting a mass amount of people. Most of the people going there at Carnival were pretty young, anywhere from eighteen up to twenty-five. It was a very young crowd. So it was great just to be amongst people who were down to have fun. Just having a good time.

With these two films coming up, is there anything else you have lined up?

DW: Right now it’s all hearsay. I do have some projects that I’m looking towards but the development would be next year. I just want to move further into the action genre. I do want to get back to the roots of a solid dramatic piece where it’s focused on the meat and bones of the characters, like how ‘Great Debaters’ was. Where it’s very character involved. It wasn’t like set involved or action involved. It was just solely about the characters and about the story. Moving the script forward. I love action movies. I can’t get enough of them, and after getting a little taste of it on ‘Abduction’ I want more.

With the films that you’ve done so far, have you kept in touch with the cast? Or is it just pretty much work and everybody goes their separate ways?

DW: It happens in every movie. You build this great momentum and you get this great family going and for the time being sometimes it is only for the movie. Sometimes you do further expand while you get off the set. But either way I’ve built these great relationships with these people; and Hollywood is so small. You’re going to run back into them anyways, even like people that we genuinely like hang out on the weekends but, you’re busy doing a project here and then you’ve got to fly here across country. No we can’t always see each other, which is the unfortunate part. That’s one of the things that’s just part of the business.

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