Tales of good cops tempted by corruption are nothing new in Hollywood. But a tale of a good actor who has managed — in a varied and acclaimed stage and film career — never to portray a man in blue? ”Amazing, isn’t it?” says Hawke (”Hamlet”, ”Dead Poets Society”), who takes on his first law-enforcement role in this South Central-set narc drama. ”You’d think ‘cop role’ is just synonymous with ‘male actor.”’
Apparently not. Hawke has long been seen as the introspective, collegiate type. And according to ”Training Day” director Fuqua (”The Replacement Killers”), it was exactly that ”just become a man” quality that led him and Warner Bros. to screen-test the actor. (Buzz also had Tobey Maguire, Freddie Prinze Jr., Scott Speedman, Paul Walker, and Ryan Phillippe testing for the role alongside Washington.) So it’s fitting that Hawke plays a rookie facing off against a legend. As Jake Hoyt, he’s a wide-eyed beat cop assigned to an elite antidrug squad led by the highly decorated, seductively decadent Sgt. Alonzo Harris (Washington), a character Fuqua describes as ”a guy who’s come to believe his own myth.” That self-delusion, the director says, is a particular trap for undercover cops: ”The job means you do whatever it takes to make the person you’re hunting — assassins, drug dealers, killers — believe in you. So sometimes you become the monster you are chasing.”
For Washington, who’s known for embodying paragons of righteousness (”The Hurricane”, ”Malcolm X”), the role represented a delicious chance to be on the wrong side of a movie’s moral dilemma. ”Alonzo’s a murdering, drug-money-stealing, sick, sick man,” he says. ”He curses like a sailor, he’s got women on the side and babies all over town.” But malevolence does have its advantages. ”The bad guy has all the fun!” laughs the actor. ”Everybody loves the bad guy! The bad guy is sexy! The bad guy can say anything. He’s bad, he’s mad, he’s Alonzo in ”Training Day!”” Washington shushes himself before he can be overheard. Who knows? That line could end up on a poster.