TORONTO – Denzel Washington knows how to take care of business.
“The last real fight I had was in Boston,” says the superstar. “Thirtysomething years ago, my wife was doing a show there called ‘The All-Night Strut.’ I came up to visit her. Security tried to suggest that I was a pimp and she was a prostitute.
“I didn’t know how to fight, but I knew how to win. There is a difference,” he says, ending the story there.
In “The Equalizer,” opening Friday, Washington plays Robert McCall, a man who leaves a murky and mysterious past behind him in order to live a quiet life. Enter a young woman named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is trying to escape from the control of Russian gangsters. Suddenly, he finds himself pulled back into his old role as a problem solver who believes in his own form of street justice.
The film reunites Washington with his “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua in their first film together in 12 years. In fact, Washington had a funny way of accepting the role.
“It was a great script,” Washington says. “I read it on a long July 4 weekend and it was a quick read. I called right away and said, ‘This is Robert McCall calling.’ It was a real quick decision.”
Then he got on the phone.
“Denzel called me and said, ‘I just read a script. I think it’s great. Read it. Get back to me,’ ” Fuqua recalls, adding, “When Denzel calls, you say yes.”.
Washington and Fuqua had been looking for a project to reunite on. Consider that the last time around, with “Training Day,” Washington won a best actor Oscar.
“The smartest thing I did on this movie was just to call him,” Washington says of his director. “I don’t want to go into a film worrying if the filmmaker can make the film. I don’t have to even think about that once he has signed on.”
Washington enjoyed playing a bit of a mystery man in “The Equalizer.”
“I liked that this guy was alone. And I loved that we didn’t have the big exposition scene that explained him. A lot remains a mystery,” he says.
As much as Washington loves acting, directing is his other calling. He called the shots for 2002’s “Antwone Fisher” and 2007’s “The Great Debaters.”
“I always ask my actors, ‘How are you doing? Do you feel good?’ I know that actors are baring their souls,” he says. “I want to be there for them.”
In his long, celebrated career Washington admits that there were times he wasn’t there for himself. “I made the mistake of turning down ‘Se7en,’ ” Washington says of one of his career regrets. “The Brad Pitt part. I read it and it was just too much for me.
“Then I saw it and….” he moans. “It was great and I loved it when I saw it. But it wasn’t for me. It was for Brad.”
“All was well in the end,” he says.
When he’s not on a set, Washington lives quietly in Los Angeles with wife Pauletta and their four children.
He also likes to talk to kids through his involvement in the Boys and Girls Club of America. He has accumulated life knowledge during moments with prejudice.
“The first time I got called the n-word was in Florida, and I asked my mother, ‘Why would somebody say that?’ She said, ‘Oh, that’s just somebody worried about you taking their place.’ She put it in those terms and I didn’t quite know what she was talking about, but it was good enough for me.”
“You have to work to enlighten,” he says.