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THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123

Casting The Film
At the moment that the filmmakers began to consider a new adaptation of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, they had one name in mind for their leading man. "Only an actor like Denzel Washington, with his powerful screen presence and immense talent, could make such an ordinary character in an ordinary desk job so compelling to watch,” Helgeland says. 

Nor did it hurt that Washington had a long history with Scott, starring in three of the director's films, Déjà Vu, Man on Fire, and Crimson Tide. "He's the best, he has a good heart,” Washington says about Scott. "Tony works harder than anybody, so whenever he calls I come running.”

Washington also had a strong professional relationship with the screenwriter and the producer who courted him. Helgeland had written Man on Fire that starred Washington, while Black produced the actor's two acclaimed directorial efforts, Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters. Washington was eager to work with Black again. "Todd Black knows what he's doing,” says Washington. "He's the consummate professional producer, one of the biggest in Hollywood.”

Scott was impressed by Washington's take on the character. "He said, ‘I've played FBI, I've played CIA.' He recently played a hostage negotiator in Inside Man, so he didn't want to do that. He was looking for something different. We found the difference in simplicity. Denzel plays Garber as the Everyman, the guy next door, in a very honest way, and it's the perfect counterpoint to John Travolta's angry character.”

Helgeland adds, "It's compelling to watch how someone who has no experience reacts when the phone rings and a killer is on the other end.”

For the role, Washington talked to veteran subway workers, including one who just retired after 60 years. He also befriended Joseph Jackson, a train dispatcher in the Rail Control Center. Like Washington's character, Jackson began his career driving a subway train. Responsible each day for the safety of the five million passengers that traverse an underground system as large as the city itself, a dispatcher's most critical skill is staying cool during an emergency. "Passengers tend to get panicky, especially in the tunnels,” says Jackson, who served as a technical advisor on the film. "Plus, there are only two crew members aboard each train to help. You don't want people trying to get off the trains in between stations.” In this case, the dispatcher can be the critical liaison that smooths out an emergency situation.

Observing the dispatcher, Washington seemed "like a computer, taking it all in,” remembers producer Todd Black. "Denzel would watch silently, then ask questions. He knows how to embody real people, to capture their gestures, things they would say. There's no one better at that.”

In a sense, Washington had spent many years preparing for the role. "I grew up in New York and I took the 2 train from 241st and White Plains Road every day,” he says. "When I was a kid, I'd go between cars, between stations, sneak down the side of the train. You never went too far. It was interesting, after 30 years, to be on the subway.”

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was also unusual for the actors in that the two main characters, Garber and Ryder, are apart for so much of the film. Garber is above ground in the control center as Ryder manipulates him from the subways below. "For the first six weeks, I didn't even see John,” says Washington. "We were both on set, but I was in one room and he was in another. We had a very interesting scene in which he embarrasses Garber; he finds out a lot about Garber and vice versa. We develop a relationship, twisted as it may be. The trick, when you have these two characters on opposite ends, is how you're going to get them together.”

Indeed, with Garber cast, the list of actors who could hold their own opposite W

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