New York Daily News

An un­likely trio with wildly dif­fer­ent styles

Wash­ing­ton, Malek, Leto come to­gether in film ‘Lit­tle Things’

- BY LIND­SEY BAHR Law Enforcement · Law · Denzel Washington · Washington · Rami Malek · Jared Leto · HBO · HBO Max · Bohemian Rhapsody · Golden · Steven Spielberg · Warren Beatty · Danny DeVito · John Lee Hancock · Albert · John David Washington · The Blind Side

Den­zel Wash­ing­ton has played some iconic cops over the years, but he doesn’t get hung up on things like that. For him, it’s all about the script.

So when John Lee Han­cock came to him with “The Lit­tle Things,” a 1990-set crime drama about law en­force­ment and ob­ses­sion, he was in­trigued. The part was for Joe Dea­con, who left city du­ties for the coun­try after a gru­el­ing case years ago but gets pulled back in to help with a new mur­der.

“There’s an old say­ing, ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage,’ ” Wash­ing­ton said. “And this was on the page first.”

Then Han­cock told him whom he wanted for the other leads: Rami Malek for his un­likely coun­ter­part, Sergeant Jim Bax­ter, and Jared Leto for the cer­tainly sus­pi­cious but maybe not guilty loner Al­bert Sparma.

“I’m like, ‘OK, let me reread it,’ ” Wash­ing­ton laughed. “It wasn’t hard for me at all. It’s like, ‘OK, when do we start?’ ”

“The Lit­tle Things,” open­ing in the­aters and stream­ing on HBO Max on Jan. 29, is one of Malek’s first big roles after his “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” awards sweep, where he first crossed paths with Wash­ing­ton.

“Den­zel and I met at the Golden Globes the year of ‘Bo­hemian Rhap­sody.’ He was there with John David (Wash­ing­ton) for ‘BlacKk-Klans­man,’ and I locked eyes with Den­zel for a mo­ment. He locked eyes with me ... I saw him start to stand up, and I thought, ‘Well, you bet­ter get up and move to­ward him much faster than he’s mov­ing to­ward you,’ ” Malek said. “It was shortly there­after that I re­al­ized he and John Lee had me in mind for the role.”

The equa­tion was sim­ple enough: When Den­zel Wash­ing­ton wants you for a movie, you say yes. Han­cock liked that Wash­ing­ton and Malek were “strange bed­fel­lows.” “They don’t strike me as the types that would hang out or go to a bar and watch sports,” Han­cock said. “I thought that would re­ally ben­e­fit the movie.”

The un­likely trio all had wildly dif­fer­ent styles too. Wash­ing­ton was in near con­stant con­ver­sa­tion with Han­cock from the mo­ment he was cast, dis­sect­ing the char­ac­ter, the choices (down to whether or not he needed to be wear­ing a coat in a cer­tain scene) and the script. Leto, on the other hand, stayed away from his co-stars un­til the shoot. It wasn’t that he wasn’t tak­ing it se­ri­ously, but he’s a method ac­tor and wanted to meet them in cos­tume and in char­ac­ter.

“You don’t want to show up and be the per­son who is not pre­pared on a set like this,” said Leto, who counts Wash­ing­ton as one of his per­sonal heroes.

Han­cock loved the en­ergy it brought to their first en­counter on cam­era.

“It was like they were smelling each other. They’re feel­ing each other out. It just was elec­tric be­cause they hadn’t been in a room to­gether and hadn’t been buddy-buddy,” he said. “It was Al­bert Sparma and Joe Dea­con.”

Wash­ing­ton agreed and liked that it kept it fresh.

“At the end of the day, it is still act­ing,” he added.

Although Malek may be al­most 40 and Leto al­most 50, Wash­ing­ton, at 66, refers to them as young ac­tors and “the next gen­er­a­tion.” And he was just as ex­cited to ob­serve the two at work as they were to work with him. For one scene, where Malek’s char­ac­ter is in­ter­ro­gat­ing Leto’s, Wash­ing­ton de­cided to sit be­hind the glass and watch.

“I wish I’d had some pop­corn!” Wash­ing­ton said. “It was like I was watch­ing a box­ing match.”

His ded­i­ca­tion, which in­cluded gain­ing and los­ing 40 pounds, as­tounded Malek.

“I ap­pre­ci­ated that he was al­ways there,” Malek said. “We got re­ally ex­cited after that scene in par­tic­u­lar. We were in that mo­ment part of a trio of some­thing spe­cial.”

Han­cock said it wasn’t about man­ag­ing the three ac­tors as much as it was just get­ting out of their way. All of them, he said, brought their A-game, even if their meth­ods at ar­riv­ing there were dif­fer­ent.

Wash­ing­ton, a long­time boxer, lives by the logic that “you stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.” He was sure he could trust his co-stars to do the same for what would be a tough and fast-mov­ing shoot.

“Both of th­ese ac­tors are Acad­emy Award win­ners like my­self. We’re all three world cham­pi­ons, if you will. So you know you’re get­ting in the ring with two world cham­pi­ons,” Wash­ing­ton said. “It wakes you up.”

“The Lit­tle Things” is the end of a long chap­ter for Han­cock, who wrote it in 1993. The script was pop­u­lar but never got off the ground for var­i­ous rea­sons. Steven Spiel­berg, War­ren Beatty and Danny DeVito were just a few big names who’d find them­selves at­tached to di­rect at var­i­ous points over the years.

Han­cock’s pro­ducer brought it up again a few years ago. By that time, Han­cock him­self was an es­tab­lished com­mer­cial di­rec­tor with cred­its like “The Blind Side,” “The Rookie” and “Sav­ing Mr. Banks,” and they thought it was the right mo­ment to give it an­other shot. Although what was once a cut­ting-edge look at polic­ing in tran­si­tion, 25 years on was now a pe­riod piece.

“It would have saved us a lot of money to make it con­tem­po­rary,” Han­cock said with a laugh. “But I liked the idea that this was preDNA 1990. In­ves­ti­ga­tions were harder. Ev­ery­thing was harder. You had to take rolls of quar­ters for pay phones.”

And at its heart, it’s an orig­i­nal riff on a well-worn for­mula that will keep you guess­ing un­til the end.

“I wanted it to feel like it was go­ing to be a genre movie un­til you re­al­ize it’s not about that at all,” Han­cock said. “In­stead of build­ing to­ward res­o­lu­tion, this one kind of un­rav­els.”

 ?? NI­COLA GOODE/WARNER BROS. PIC­TURES PHO­TOS ?? John Lee Han­cock, cen­ter, with Jared Leto, right, on “The Lit­tle Things” set.
NI­COLA GOODE/WARNER BROS. PIC­TURES PHO­TOS John Lee Han­cock, cen­ter, with Jared Leto, right, on “The Lit­tle Things” set.
 ??  ?? Han­cock, left, and Rami Malek on the set of “The Lit­tle Things.”
Han­cock, left, and Rami Malek on the set of “The Lit­tle Things.”
 ??  ?? Den­zel Wash­ing­ton, left, and di­rec­tor Han­cock on the film set.
Den­zel Wash­ing­ton, left, and di­rec­tor Han­cock on the film set.

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