Richard Wenk is one scriptwriter who seems to relish a challenge. Not only did he write the sequel “The Expendables 2,” but he also tackled the upcoming “The Equalizer,” which gives a nod to the hit 1980s CBS television series that starred the amazing English actor Edward Woodward. The original idea was about a man who, as a former cover operations officer, tries to make up for past sins by helping people who are in trouble.
For the new film, Denzel Washington portrays an equally rough and tough guy not to be messed with. Definitely fans of the TV series will be observing how this film turns out, but in speaking to Wenk, any doubts about the film soon fade, as this is a man who definitely knows his art (he’s also written “The Mechanic,” and “16 Blocks”).
Moviehole had the lucky chance to chat to Wenk to ask him about writing, making it in the biz and of course, Denzel.
Moviehole: How did you get to produce and write “The Equalizer”?
Richard Wenk: Todd black and Jason Blumenthal (producers) called and asked if I’d be interested in discussing turning it into a feature project. Then they spoke two magic words – Denzel Washington. They thought it could be a great project for him, and the idea of writing something that he might do was intriguing – we discussed various ways to make it.
We decided not to take anything from the TV show except the conceit of a man with great skills helping those whose circumstances needed help. Then as I mulled the idea to do it, I dug out an article from the Wall Street Journal about a poll listing five things for Americans in 2007-2008 to make their life better – the top thing was justice (ahead of wealth and health). It was the time of Madoff and of helplessness – imagine a man who was a changer of circumstances, only for those unable to change them themselves and who were in impossible situations. I liked the idea of it, a wish fulfillment sort of thing, and it had some emotion to it. I like movies like that.
The second thing we decided was not to tell anything about this man, ever – I felt very strongly he was a much more interesting character. He did some bad things that not many people had done, he has some skills. He’s got a hole in his heart from the past and it’s the little girl that put him on his journey, it’s not a typical actor movie. You don’t know where it’s going, he’s not a superhero, he’s got this innate sense of right and wrong, and it doesn’t sit well with him to see people be taken advantage of – heaven help them if they cross this path.
Moviehole: This is not a remake of the television series – why did it take so long to get this project going?
RW: I didn’t work on it other than this time, so I’d venture to guess is that it was TV and every week he’d help someone – once you see that happen in a movie, you can’t repeat it, it’s not very compelling. One thing we learned, we liked watching him help people but where it doesn’t feel coincidental or episodic and that’s hard. It’s the birth of the Equalizer, as far as I know there’s no characters used from the TV show.
Moviehole: What was it like working with Denzel, this seems to be a very different character for him?
RW: I liked the richness of the character – he’s an ordinary guy living an ordinary life with extraordinary skills. Working with Denzel was an honor and a revelation; I feel he’s one of the greatest living actors we have. He’s the hardest working movie star I’ve ever worked with, he would read and read the script and we’d go over it. Many times Denzel would say “I don’t need to say this, I can play it.” I learned a lot from him, it was a great lesson to have someone enormously talented and committed. He would say “if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage.”
It wasn’t never just about his part, it was about everybody’s part. He likes to work in really good movies, he likes to be great in really good movies, we’d have the same discussion about other characters that were in other scenes where he wasn’t even in those scenes – we’d discuss it and I’d make it better. Normally writers don’t get a chance to do that, to be able to be around and on the set and see the different cuts.
Todd and Jason used to work on the script with me every day, we changed and cut and pasted every day.
Moviehole: How did you get into entertainment, you’ve done a lot of different things, acting,etc.?
RW: I had a great high school teacher who taught “The Art of the film” that inspired me – I thought, this is what I want to do, I went to college and took off from there. I’m fortunate to keep doing it.
Moviehole: Can you tell us about any new projects coming up?
RW: I’m not sure yet – I’m toying around with “Equalizer 2” – depending on how it’s received, I thought the story would continue anyway, there’s nothing on the board. Sony is doing such an amazing job with the trailer.
Moviehole: Who are your favorite writers or authors?
RW: Billy Wilder, Frank Pierson, Will Goldman, Paddy Chayefsky, Paul Schrader – I loved “Taxi Driver,” “Network.” I love the Coen brothers, love to read how they write, I’m always trying to learn something. What I write is to be read and then I fix it to be shot. Jason and Todd say I’m my own worst critic.
Moviehole: How do you come up with ideas?
RW: Sometimes I start with a character, sometimes I read something in a newspaper or someone will tell me a story about something they saw. My first job as a writer was writing a children’s book – “Choose your Own Adventures” – you had to come up with 10 different storylines with one story, it was great training on how to not box yourself in, and it takes you down different paths. And if it moves me in some manner I’ll keep going.
Moviehole: What are your long-term goals?
RW: I don’t have any, I like what I’m doing, I just want to continue doing it. The longer I do it, the more I learn. I love to watch a movie that’s created in a dark theater, I love to keep doing it and writing better movies.
Moviehole: How about advice for beginning writers?
RW: Read a lot. There are lots of websites where you can read produced screenplays; I read them all, that’s where everything starts from. Remember it’s a business, they have to sell that movie to someone and people have to want to buy a ticket. You can write terrific stuff but you have to satisfy an audience. Constantly write and constantly read.