Action maestro Tony Scott presents his fifth film with Denzel Washington in the runaway train thriller “Unstoppable,” inspired by true events. Denzel describes the director as the hardest working person on set, while his co-star Chris Pine calls him “the magic movie elf”, a tightly wound ball of appropriately unstoppable energy.
Here, the British auteur explains the method behind his madness, and how his work was inspired by his mother.
Q: What is it about the theme of man versus machine that you found inspiring?
A: Because my last movie was The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, everyone thinks I’ve got this love affair with trains. Actually, it’s two different stories and this one is more like Jaws; we even call the train “The Beast”. The movie starts at 50 miles an hour and ends up at 150.
Q: Why did you want to tackle another movie set on a train so soon after Pelham?
A: I read the script three years ago and I loved it. Other people said to me, ‘Why are you doing another train movie?’ I said I don’t see it that way, it’s a totally different beast. This thing is very different from anything I’ve done before and it has this tremendous momentum in terms of the story.
Q: This is the fifth time you’ve chosen to share that journey with Denzel Washington. Why him?
A: He’s a major talent. With every movie I’ve done with him we’ve always managed to tap into a different aspect of his personality, so it’s never Denzel. He can internalize something and give very little on the outside and still communicate everything. Two of my heroes are Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington and they both have that same thing. They do a lot of homework and they sit it all back, but they still communicate.
Q: You deliberately avoided doing a lot of CGI work on the film – why is that?
A: I take pride in the fact that I shot everything for real. I sound like an old fart, but I’m not. I just think one of my major strengths is being able to put people in the seat of a racecar or a cockpit or a train. This film has weight and energy and danger. We shot the whole thing at 50, 60, 80 miles an hour. We did a 360-degree track around the train at 80 miles an hour.
Q: Did you get any pressure to use CGI?
A: When my mom was still alive she used to say there’s something ‘funny’ about that scene—when it didn’t quite work. It was always the CGI. Plus there’s something about the weight of those engines and the noise and the power and the scale that is really hard to reproduce with CGI.
Q: Were you inspired by any other, great American runaway train movies?
A: I love Runaway Train, the movie with John Voight and Eric Roberts. We pay homage to it at the end. Opening November 10 in the Philippines, “Unstoppable” is a 20th Century Fox film to be distributed by Warner Bros.