How much improv went into lots of these scenes? There was [clearly] a script, but there was definitely lots of improv being thrown around—
Denzel: Or vice-a-versa. We just went for it. Kicking the hat, stuffing the gun in the guy’s crotch—
Mark: I worked with Baltasar [Kormákur] before so he was comfortable with me doing my thing. Improvisation can always make the scene better as long as it pertains to the moment and the movie. People have a tendency—if they don’t know their lines—[to] just say whatever comes out, and it has nothing to do with the movie or anything else, but as long as it kinda makes sense with the story and the scene [it works]. We played and played and played, and he’d look at me and say, “Did you really just say that?”
Denzel: People have said to me for a long time, “Man, you’re funny.” Well, I’m quick, but being funny on purpose take after take—that’s why I said for me it was new territory. By improvising, something might come out that might be good, and it’s film so they can cut it if it ain’t good.
Paula, tons of women who would kill to be in [your] position with Denzel Washington, but what did Robin have to say about it?
Paula: The day before we were gonna shoot this scene, I was thinking about it and these are people that have been together before and they are just having a conversation and just made love so it seemed really phony to me to have a shirt on. So I just kind of sprung it on Baltasar, and I came to set and I was like, “No, I’m not gonna be wearing a top,” and I asked Robin before. I texted him and I said, “It doesn’t feel natural.” He goes, “Go for it, babe. Absolutely.” We don’t really get hung up about those kinds of things. Straddling’s a different story. But once I decided to take my shirt off, Denzel was like, “I’m gonna take my shirt off too,” and it became a new scene.
Both of you have played field operative agents before. What was appealing about this particular film?
Denzel: For me, we could have been mailmen. It was the opportunity to work with Mark, and without being cliché, we’re buddies and it is a buddy movie so [it was] the chance to do that and to have fun.
Mark: I was attached to the movie first, and it was always about who is the other guy? Usually they’ll take the comedy guy, like the really out there comedy guy, and then the very straight guy and put them together. We didn’t want to do that. It felt like we had to have two really formidable opponents to earn that comradery and to earn that trust in one another. Once I heard Denzel was interested, I was like, ‘Great, we got a movie!’ And that was the best possible version of that movie in my eyes.
Denzel, Of the 50+ movies you’ve done—
Denzel: It’s not 50. What’d you do, go on IMDb or something like that? [Laughs]. It’s something like 41.
Okay, 41, we’ll go with that.
Denzel: No, it is ! The first [movie] they have me in is Death Wish; I wasn’t even an actor. It says “Alley Thug” in 1974, in 1974 I actually was an alley thug. They add the special thanks…I don’t know how they get that on IMDb; I don’t know who these folks are, but I’m like, “You’re welcome!” But go ahead! [Laughs].
Of your 41 movies, there have been less than 15 where you’re not a cop or someone of authority. Do you enjoy playing those intense, authoritative, hardcore roles?
Denzel: No, I just think that’s the formula that’s been…it’s not a conscious choice. That seems to be the movies they make, you know. Like I said, the DEA part of it to me—not to say it was the least of it—I wasn’t interested in wearing a uniform.
Do you ever get used to handling guns, and what was the very first time you had to shoot a gun?
Denzel: I plead the fifth! [Laughs]
Denzel: He pleads the fifth!
Mark: I remember him holding that giant 44 magnum near my head, and I was like, ‘Oh man, that’s big!’