He studied with Chris Reeve and others for his ''Bone Collector'' role

By Josh Wolk
Updated November 09, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Courtesy Universal

Denzel Washington has played an action hero in ”Crimson Tide” and ”Ricochet,” but in his latest film, ”The Bone Collector,” he plays the ultimate inaction hero, a quadriplegic forensics expert who tracks down a serial killer from the bed in his loft. ”Some people thought it was a big risk,” says Washington about the role in which he could move only his head and one finger, ”but I just thought it was a great opportunity to do something different, and sort of showy in a way. Until I started trying to do it, and then I said, ‘Oh, shoot, I got myself in a jam here.”’

Washington didn’t take the challenge lying down. He prepared by talking with quadriplegics, including Christopher Reeve, to get a sense of what their life was like. When shooting began, he had no trouble dominating the scene, says Angelina Jolie, who plays a rookie cop and has many intense bedside arguments with him: ”Because he couldn’t grab me, it was his job to hold me in that room with something else. He had to look at me, say the right thing, and pull me to that bed…. Denzel has more ability sitting still than most have moving around.”

An immobile protagonist might make the director of a thriller nervous. But Phillip Noyce (”Clear and Present Danger”) was determined to give into the stillness of his hero. ”The camera hardly ever moves when it’s on Denzel,” he says. ”We did two weeks of tests in that loft set, and it felt artificial when you moved around the person that couldn’t move — because it was unmotivated.”

Noyce also worked to make sure the other actors didn’t try to compensate for Washington’s immobility. ”When you visit a bed-bound person, you don’t move around because you don’t want them to have to keep moving their head,” he says. ”So instead of having people move for no reason — which is what directors tend to do, having them go over to the window and so on — we followed the reality and had people stand still.”

The Bone Collector

  • Movie
  • R
  • 118 minutes
  • Phillip Noyce