With The Great Debaters (which is based on real events), Denzel Washington proves once again that he’s a director who can handle the truth.
Both of the movies you’ve directed — this and Antwone Fisher — have been historically based. Do you intentionally seek out nonfiction scripts?
That wasn’t my plan. My thinking when I took on Antwone Fisher was, ”I can’t believe somebody’s asking me to make a movie. This one sounds good.” And when I read [Debaters] I was like, ”I don’t want to become Mr. Biography.” But it was a good story that moved me.
Were you always intending to direct and star in Debaters?
Heck, no. It was strictly business. [Producer] Harvey Weinstein said, ”I’ll give you two dollars to make the movie if you’re not in it, and four dollars to make the movie if you are in it.” I wanted people to see it. And I’m not bad casting.
Casting yourself must have given you some leeway to go with unknowns to play the three lead debaters.
Somebody said, ”Why cast unknowns?” And I said, ”Name one 18-year-old African-American movie star.” We’ve got three now.