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Dakota Fanning On Working With Denzel Washington

Dakota Fanning first worked with Denzel Washington in the 2004 film "Man on Fire." Now, the 29-year-old actress plays CIA agent in "The Equalizer 3," the final installment of the Washington-starrer action thriller franchise

Dakota Fanning for "The Equalizer 3"
Dakota Fanning for "The Equalizer 3"

When Dakota Fanning first worked with Denzel Washington she was just nine years old. Almost two decades later, reuniting with the double Oscar winning actor on screen for The Equalizer 3 was, she says, a joy.

She admires Washington as an actor, cherishes him as a friend, and was a fan of the first two Equalizer films. So when Antoine Fuqua–who has directed all three–offered her the opportunity to play the key part of CIA agent Emma Collins in the third, and final, installment of the action thriller franchise, it was simply too good to miss.  

“I worked with Denzel on Man on Fire (in 2004) and his kids are really good friends of mine,” she says. “I went to high school with one of his daughters and she is one of my best friends.”   

“I feel a deep connection to the whole family and to Denzel–I’m a massive fan of his–and so anything that Denzel is in I’m interested in seeing. I’m also a fan of Antoine’s work and I love movies like Equalizer.”

Washington has enthralled millions, including Dakota, with his portrayal of Robert McCall, a former black ops agent turned lone wolf who fights injustice in the world.

“I love Robert McCall, this mysterious figure who saves people and helps people and has a back story but is still a mystery. You just feel safe and protected when you are watching this character, you know, and I think that’s the magic of Denzel too,” she says.   

“He’s such a powerful figure but also an emotional actor. He just brings so much to every character he plays and with this character in particular. There is a lot of pain in Robert McCall, and you see him working through that by helping people and doing the unexpected.”   

“I just love Denzel and I love anything he does and so that always leads me to any movie that he is in. I saw the first two Equalizer films and I was definitely a fan long before I was part of this one.”  

“I was so excited when this came along. When I met Antoine and we were talking about it I got even more excited. Man on Fire was such a seminal role in my career and the experience is something that I hold very dear to me.” 

Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua
Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua

“The dynamic between myself and Denzel is something that people talk to me about all the time–twenty years later and still people talk to me about it. To get the opportunity to work with him again was just wonderful. I never knew if that would happen so when Equalizer 3 came up I just jumped at it and I was so thrilled.”  

In The Equalizer 3, McCall has been on a mission in Italy when he is forced to seek refuge in a small town on the Amalfi Coast and is drawn into the lives of the locals. With a ruthless Mafia boss and his band of murderous henchmen threatening the lives of people in the town he has grown to care about; McCall simply cannot turn his back on their fight.  

“I play Emma Collins who is a young CIA agent working at a desk job, working her way up when we first meet her, and she gets a mysterious phone call from a man who turns out to be Robert McCall and she has to figure out why he is calling her specifically and what is going on,” says Dakota.   

“It’s the jump-start she needs for her own career and she also has to unravel the mystery too. This phone call leads her to Italy as well.” McCall has captivated audiences as a mysterious vigilante with an intriguing backstory, a charismatic demeanor and an unrelenting sense of justice.  

“I think we want to believe that there is a hero out there that is going to make everything OK and protect us and we get to kind of have that wish fulfilment with this character and these movies,” says Dakota.  

“Clearly audiences love this character or there wouldn’t be a third movie. There’s a draw to him and the story, the way that it builds the mythology of Robert McCall where you learn something new with each film, there are secrets unlocked each time and I think it brings people back each time to try and figure this guy out.”   

“I love films like this that build a mythology and there is a deep history with the different characters. I love films that create that layered narrative; I think the Equalizer films do that so well and so I want to go back to learn the next thing, whatever it is.”


Filming The Equalizer 3 meant returning to parts of Italy where Fanning had been working just a few months earlier on the upcoming Netflix series Ripley based on Patricia Highsmith’s acclaimed novel.  

“It was like going home,” she says. “A lot of the same crew, a lot of the same people working on the film that I had worked with just a few months before so it was very familiar for me and a kind of funny coincidence that I was back in the same place.”  

“It was lovely to be back there. I had made such great friendships with the Italian crew so seeing them again was really wonderful. And there are worse places to film than the Amalfi Coast,” she laughs. “It’s such a beautiful part of the world.”

Her memories of making Man on Fire with Washington and the late director Tony Scott, are vivid. It was, she says, a magical experience.  

“I think Man on Fire was my fourth or fifth film. I’m a person with a really good memory in general but I remember nearly everything about it. It was six months in Mexico City working with Tony Scott and Denzel.”   

“The experience in general, of being in that country, in that place, experiencing that culture, was so formative for me. And working with two giants it’s not something that I could ever forget.”   

“I remember the experience so well and so fondly. It’s hard to believe it was so long ago. I was little but I remember it vividly for sure. It was really incredible, a once in a lifetime kind of thing.”  

And reuniting with Washington for The Equalizer 3 was equally memorable. Sharing scenes with one of contemporary cinema’s greatest actors is hugely rewarding, she says.

“I just knew from working with Denzel when I was younger, I knew the way that he works and that you have to be on your toes and present–you never know sometimes what he will say,” she laughs.    

“So you have to be really prepared. He will surprise you all of the time and you can’t get locked into the dialogue that’s been written because sometimes he will take it somewhere else and you have to be able to play and go along and that’s the fun of it and also the challenge of making sure you are really listening, which is what you are supposed to do.”   

“With Denzel you don’t want to be caught unaware and it’s super fun and it makes it really interesting and exciting. It’s a good time and you have to be on your game.”  

“To get the opportunity to work with Denzel not just once, but twice, well, a lot of people don’t get that. To be a part of a very iconic franchise was wonderful and I felt so thrilled to be a part of it. It was a great experience and I’m excited for everyone to see it.”  

Dakota was born in Conyers, Georgia and, after several appearances on TV shows, made her feature film debut as a seven-year-old opposite Sean Penn in I Am Sam, which earned her a Screen Actors’ Guild Award nomination.  

Her films include Sweet Home Alabama, Trapped, The Cat in the Hat, Nine Lives, Hide and Seek, War of the Worlds, Dreamer, Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Life of Bees, Coraline, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, The Runaways, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Now Is Good, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Very Good Girls, Night Moves, The Last of Robin Hood, Effie Gray, The Benefactor, Brimstone, American Pastoral, Ocean’s Eight, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The Equalizer 3 opens in PH cinemas September 13. 

This interview was done before the SAG-AFTRA strike.