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INTERVIEW: Tony Scott talks Denzel, Gene Hackman’s retirement, and runaway trains for “Unstoppable”

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: HollywoodNews.com’s interview feature, “Hollywood In Ten,” showcases the creative individuals responsible for the movies we love, and corners them for some quality minutes.

After shooting their remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123,” Tony Scott and Denzel Washington needed a change of scenery. They didn’t get it. Instead of fleeing the cozy confines of a train, however, the two decided to up the ante by increasing the speed of their current production.

“Unstoppable” pits Washington and “Star Trek” standout Chris Pine as Pennsylvania rail conductors tasked with slowing down a runaway train that’s loaded with toxic chemicals. The train has no driver, and the track leads directly into the heart of a Pennsylvania mill town. When I spoke with Scott, we discussed the physical challenge of shooting the bulk of his scenes on a moving train.

“I would try and find a 10-mile run where I’d run the train at 60 miles per hour,” the director explained. “Then I’d lump together my dialogue into maybe seven or 10 minutes of dialogue. And then I’d get the boys to do maybe three takes in a row. But I’d just keep my cameras rolling, shooting with three or four cameras on the train and a helicopter. Because every time I had a reset, it was 40 minutes. So on average I’d get three takes for every 10 miles of track.”

This story takes place in a blue-collar section of our country, and the neighborhoods threatened by the steaming locomotive come across as individual characters, much the same way that the train comes off as the villain.

That wasn’t always Scott’s intention, however.

“Originally, when I first started [researching], I started to think of Montana,” he said. “I started to think of big, wide, open spaces. I was a Marlboro kid, and I shot Marlboro ads when I was coming up. I shot in Idaho and all over the mountains of the West, and I thought it would be so cool to have this train blasting through this flat, surreal landscape.

“But it’s an organic process, and as I started looking at pictures of Pennsylvania, I realized it was a much more dangerous scenario having the train go through the trains and those valleys.,” Scott continued. “And I grew up in an environment very similar to what is portrayed in the movie. It was depressed, a ship-building and steel industry town with these beautiful valleys on the edge of Yorkshire.”

“Unstoppable” also marks Scott’s fifth project with frequent collaborator Washington. The two most recently worked on “Pelham” and “Man on Fire,” but their partnership goes all the way back to the days of “Crimson Tide,” when Washington had to stare down Gene Hackman on screen.

Scott actually compares the two actors in our interview, saying Washington’s ability to internalize his character resembles the way Hackman approached a role. Scott would know, having worked with Hackman on “Tide” as well as “Enemy of the State.” When asked why Hackman all of a sudden stopped working, Scott remains as baffled as the rest of us.

“I tried to get him to come back and do a movie for me, actually, which could be my next movie. But Gene is down in New Mexico. He’s painting. He has a great life and he loves where he lives,” Scott said.

“But I love him. God damn, I just love him. I did two movies with him … and he’s fantastic. He absorbs all of the world, and then relies on such a simple form of communication. There are a myriad of colors going on. [Gene and Denzel] can do nothing and communicate everything.”

Tony Scott’s “Unstoppable,” with Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, and Rosario Dawson, will be in theaters on Nov. 12.

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