VENICE, Italy — Denzel Washington takes a detour to the dark side playing a hard-bitten LAPD narcotics detective in Training Day, which had its world premiere over the weekend. (A screening at the Toronto Film Festival will follow before the film hits U.S. theaters nationwide on Sept. 21.) The charismatic Oscar-winner flew in from Cleveland — where he's at work on his yet-to-be-titled directorial debut — to attend the Venice unveiling.
Washington retains the aura of a saintly Hollywood superstar despite the diversity of his roles in such films as The Hurricane, Cry Freedom, Glory, and Remember the Titans. And he says that he knows some moviegoers will be turned off by the decidedly dubious morality of his Training character, who takes a unique approach to breaking in his straight-arrow partner, played by slacker icon Ethan Hawke.
"I've always said this and I guess I've proven it now, but I've always done what pleases me," a good-humored Washington told media members, buoyed by a positive reception that included Oscar whisperings. "I like this role and am positive some people won't like it. I enjoyed it as much as any other role I've played."
The star noted that he has another film ready for release, John Q, "which I actually made before Training Day, and it comes out next year. [My character is] a very sweet guy, a positive family man. One of my producing partners said, 'If they don't like you in Training Day, John Q can be your apology to your public.' But I don't really care about that.
"I like my fans," he laughed, "but I'm not here to please the public; [I'm here to] do films that stir my interest."
Waking Life Director Not Trolling for Oscars Hawke, who attended the Training Day premiere with noticeably pregnant wife Uma Thurman, also appears in Richard Linklater's Waking Life, one of two American films competing for the Gold Lion, the Venice festival's highest honor. The offbeat film, which also features director Steven Soderbergh, was shot conventionally on digital video and then fed into a computer software program where 30 artists colored the images to make an animated film.
Linklater, whose drug-addled high school satire Dazed and Confused has become a cult classic, said that the notion of winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature — an award that will be presented for the first time at next year's ceremony — is more than a long shot. "No, this film is not fishing for Oscars. We didn't hear about [the new award] until after [Waking Life] was finished," said the Texas-based writer/director, adding, "We don't have the budget Shrek has to buy the Oscar."
Kidman Considers Cruise, Crooning Nicole Kidman, who's been in Venice promoting The Others, quickly dispatched the lingering ghosts of her now-defunct marriage to Tom Cruise at last Saturday's packed press conference.
Asked by a Russian reporter for her thoughts on the famous quote "The perfect man is tall and named Roland," Kidman quipped, "I'll take a tall man." Longtime Cruise associate and Others executive producer Paula Wagner, seated nearby, didn't smile.
Kidman went on to confirm that her crooning career, launched in Moulin Rouge, continues with a just-recorded duet with Robbie Williams for his upcoming album of Sinatra songs. "It's a remake of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet, 'Something Stupid,'" she said. "I did it very quickly one afternoon, but I have no desire to be a singer. He asked me and I did it; I had a giggle."
The American-born, Aussie-bred actress also addressed the observation that, in The Others, she finally has a hit movie that's been sold on her marquee oomph alone: "Even though in terms of the business, it's making a difference, it's not going to change how as an actress I want to explore characters and work with some great directors. That's what I've had so far and look forward to in the next decade."
Kidman's next project will be Lars Von Trier's Dogville, but her next movie in theaters will be Miramax's Birthday Girl, which screened non-competitively at Venice. Pressed to demonstrate her self-proclaimed fluency in Russian — her Birthday Girl character is a Russian mail-order bride — Kidman smiled at her inquisitor and simply said, "Nyet."