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Dakota Fanning Details Her Experience Filming For "The Equalizer 3"

In "The Equalizer 3," Dakota Fanning explores the character of a CIA agent, giving audiences a taste of some action as she finds her way around Italy where the movie was filmed

Dakota Fanning stars in the vigilante action film The Equalizer 3 as Emma Collins, a young CIA agent working at a desk job. This character, the 29-year-old American actress plays, "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. t’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."

Since giving up his life as a government assassin, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) has struggled to reconcile the horrific things he’s done in the past and finds a strange solace in serving justice on behalf of the oppressed. Finding himself surprisingly at home in Southern Italy, he discovers his new friends are under the control of local crime bosses. As events turn deadly, McCall knows what he has to do: become his friends’ protector by taking on the mafia.

This is not the first time Dakota and Denzel have worked with each other. Twenty years ago, when Dakota was just nine, she worked with Denzel on the movie Man on Fire (2004). She's been a fan of the actor since and are actually good friends with his kids. 

The Equalizer 3 (directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Richard Wenk, based on the television series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim) serves as their reunion project and is the third and final film of the trilogy.

In an interview, Dakota Fanning talks about filming The Equalizer 3:

Dakota Fanning as Emma Collins in "The Equalizer 3"
Dakota Fanning as Emma Collins in "The Equalizer 3"

What can you tell us about your character in Equalizer 3?

"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, played by Denzel Washington of course, and she has to figure out why he is calling her specifically and what is going on. 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."

It’s interesting because McCall is a very American hero. What does it give the story taking him to Italy?

"I think it was such a great idea to do that and see this character in a different place because it opens up the story and the world in a really interesting way. People are used to seeing McCall in very American towns and cities and I think being in Italy, especially the parts of Italy that we were filming in, like the Amalfi Coast and Naples, it opens up the story and opens up the world. And there were so many great Italian actors on the cast. It was cool to see this character in a new place."

Did you know that part of Italy?

"Yes, I do. A few months before I did a series, Ripley, in the same part of Italy. I was there from September of the previous year to the March of the same year we did Equalizer 3 so it was very familiar. It was like going home–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."

Was it good to be back there? 

"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 (laughs). it’s such a beautiful part of the world."

Was there a social side to the filming? Did you all get together for dinners sometimes?

"Yes, I did get to with some of my friends from my previous shoot.  For Equalizer I was there for a much shorter period of time. I popped into Rome, popped into the Amalfi Coast, back to Rome, so it was kind of shorter periods for me. But even just working in a little town square in Amalfi in between takes you are sitting there and it feels idyllic. Even during a long hectic shoot day it’s hard to know whether you are on vacation or whether you are working (laughs)."

How is your Italian coming along?

"It’s not bad. I had to learn a little bit for Ripley so I can understand it. It’s just that sometimes they speak quite fast (laughs). I love it. Italian is such a beautiful language and I love hearing it. There’s a lot of emotion in it."

Were you a fan of the first two Equalizer films?

"I worked with Denzel when I was nine years old on Man on Fire and his kids are really good friends of mine. 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. 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. He’s such a powerful figure but also a deeply connected and 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. And so 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."

So what was your reaction when they asked you to be part of Equalizer 3?

"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. And I think 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 all the time. So 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."

How many films had you made before Man On Fire and what do you remember about working on that one with Denzel?

"I think it 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 (director) Tony Scott and Denzel. And 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. So yeah, 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."

Do you think it’s a sign of the times that we relate to the character of McCall so strongly? That audiences kind of wish that there was a McCall out there? 

"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." 

And do you think it’s important that the Equalizer films have an emotional heart?

"Yes, I do. 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 all that stuff and I love films that create that and I think the Equalizer films do that so well and so I want to go back to learn the next thing, whatever it is.

Did you have to do any action scenes for the film?

"There’s a taste of some action. It wasn’t too intense (laughs). I’m happy to let the professionals do the action–I’ve no ego when it comes to any of that (laughs). In terms of preparing for the role, I spoke to Antoine a lot and (screenwriter) Richard Wenk is such a talented writer and such a great guy. I loved getting to work with him and getting to know him, so I felt that I had the information I needed in the script. And a lot of it is about this almost cat and mouse relationship between my character and McCall. They are sizing each other up in each scene and trying to put the puzzle together and figure out what is going on. So I focused more on that. 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 (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 (laughs). 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."

Antoine and Denzel have made five films together now and they clearly have a great rapport. What are they like together on set? How does it work?

"You can definitely tell that they have this deep history and there’s a lot of trust and friendship and there is definitely a shorthand. You can tell they know each other really well and there’s a complete understanding that they have of each other and you can feel that. I recently worked with a director again and it’s such fun, as an actor, to build a relationship with one director and return and work with them. The collaboration that Antoine and Denzel have from working on five films together is very strong, obviously, and it’s almost like they can finish each other’s thoughts. They definitely seem to have that."

Both Antoine and Denzel talked about filming in the hilltop town where the cast and crew had to climb hundreds of steps to the location. Where you filming there too and if so what was it like?

"I had to go up those steps too! (laughs). Oh yeah, it was crazy. I had been to that town (Atrani) before and so I was familiar with the steps and I couldn’t quite believe that we had to go up all those steps. I was like, ‘really? Oh my God!’ (laughs). And the crew had to get up there with all that equipment. Everyone has this idea of what making movies is like and we are on the Amalfi Coast and it is absolutely beautiful but I was literally dragging myself up hundreds of stairs and it was wild (laughs)."

Had you kept in touch with Denzel in the intervening years since Man on Fire and Equalizer 3?

"We have crossed paths, for sure. He is always kind of surprised that I’m a woman now (laughs). The reunion for me was with the guys that work with Denzel, like the person who does his make up and hair, the same guys that had been working with him forever and I knew all of them from Man on Fire but I hadn’t seen them in 20 years so that was a reunion. We were running towards each other and saying, ‘I can’t believe it’s been so long!’ You know, that was lovely."

Sum up what it was like to make Equalizer 3…

"It was great. To get the opportunity to work with Denzel not just once, but twice, well, a lot of people don’t get that and 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."

The Equalizer 3 is now in cinemas. 

This interview was done before the SAG-AFTRA strike.