TORONTO - Denzel Washington makes it a habit of doing repeat business with filmmakers - three films with Spike Lee (including Malcolm X), three with Ed Zwick (Glory).
He just finished his second with his Crimson Tide director, Tony Scott, and is about to start his second, a remake of The Manchurian Candidate, with his Philadelphia director, Jonathan Demme.
Then there's Carl Franklin. Franklin is the guy who coaxed out of Washington what is perhaps his best - certainly his sexiest - performance, in the 1995 adaptation of Walter Mosley's 1940s Los Angeles detective thriller, Devil in a Blue Dress. Even though the film was not a hit, "I'll get on the plane any time with Carl," Washington says. "He's my pilot. Long as he can see down the runway, we're good."
Franklin sees things a little differently. Washington is his muse. Devil in a Blue Dress being such a creative high for the both of them, he wanted to trap lightning in a bottle a second time. Franklin, 54, re-teams with the man he calls his favorite screen alter ego for Out of Time, another film-noir thriller, this one set in the present day. Out of Time opens Friday.
The two men were together in Toronto to show the movie at the Toronto Film Festival.
"I talk him into all kinds of stuff," Franklin says with a grin.
Like sex scenes.
Washington, 48, is famous for dodging the hot and heavy in his films, avoiding the clinches with everyone from Julia Roberts (The Pelican Brief) to Angelina Jolie (The Bone Collector). He got down and dirty in He Got Game and Training Day, but Devil in a Blue Dress remains the gold standard for Denzel in the sack. And now, here he is, tempting Eva Mendes and roiling the sheets with Sanaa Lathan (Love and Basketball) in Out of Time.
Again, thanks to Mr. Franklin.
"He has a female audience that expects him to be sexy in a role," Franklin says. "But I don't know that the roles that he's done have him as this sexual person. In both Devil and in this one, sex is a potent part of the movie. The sex scene in Devil in a Blue Dress is about him trying to get information. In this case, all of the action is precipitated by the heat between he and Sanaa."
When he's with Franklin, Washington is "definitely a more sexual being," says Out of Time screenwriter David Collard. "And he's easier to believe as this somewhat sleazy character because of his working relationship with him."
Washington read Collard's script "and I thought `temptation' " he says. "The first shot of the film, shot in Boca Grande [Fla.], was this sign, `Temptation,' and the camera pans down and you see me walking. There just happened to be a place called the Temptation Cafe there. That was the whole movie for me."
"I don't think Carl saw the script the way I did until we saw that sign."
Asked about that in a later interview, Franklin grins, too.
"Oh, I think I got it before that. A little before that."
Screenwriter Collard notes that director and star "have such an easy trust that there really isn't any tripping over each other on story. They might disagree on plot points or whatever, but each trusts the other's instincts so that they can get that behind them with no fuss."
Out of Time presents Washington as an unlikable, amoral police chief in the Florida Keys. He drinks on the job. He commits adultery and lies to his detective ex-wife. He steals from the evidence room. And it all comes crashing down around him.
"I was hesitant to offer it to Denzel," Franklin says. "I know what he usually likes, and this didn't seem like it fit with him. He prefers things with a stronger social context, or some historical meaning.
"But I liked the tainted characters," Franklin says. "And we both loved the environment, the love quadrangle, the messiness of that."
He knew if anybody could pull this off, it would be Washington.
"Bogart did something to the frame," Franklin says. "So did Brando. So does Denzel. When he comes into a movie, even if he's not the star, he changes it. His rhythms are different. He doesn't play the beats the same as other actors. He bends the notes like jazz."
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.