Training Day is a movie that comes straight from the streets it depicts a product of the match up between screenwriter David Ayer, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and director Antoine Fuqua, who grew up on the rough side of Pittsburgh. Both men are intimately familiar with the daily, potentially explosive face-offs between cops and criminals in urban America.
"Our generation doesn't have a Vietnam, and we don't have any external wars, but the war we're fighting is within - it's inside the very heart and core of America," says Antoine Fuqua. "In communities across the country, the police are fighting the people and vice versa. It's an explosive situation and it's something that urgently needs to be talked about. "
As a 1998 Los Angeles Times report on 51 major urban police departments noted, on average, any police unit can "expect to have ten officers charged per year with abuse of police authority, five arrested for a felony, seven for a misdemeanor, three for theft and four for domestic violence. " Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Washington D. C. are among the many U. S. cities that have experienced major police scandals in the last few years, most involving narcotics enforcement. Los Angeles, in particular, was recently rocked by the worst police scandal in its history - accusations that officers in the city's high-crime, gang-heavy Rampart division engaged in brutality, fabricated evidence and told outright lies in criminal investigation reports, while also stealing money and drugs from felons.
Rising young screenwriter David Ayer grew up in this same area of Los Angeles, where he personally witnessed the ways in which hardened gang members and equally hardened inner city cops danced around one another. Long before the Rampart scandal, Ayer wanted to show how it really is in these war zones within America - and just how hard it is to walk the line between cop and criminal in a place where neither can afford to show any mercy. In 1995, he began writing a screenplay that would prove to be prophetic.
"I wanted to capture the rough and raw reality of the law enforcement mind-set in inner cities and look at where it comes from and also where it can lead," says Ayer. "I wanted to ask the question: 'When a cop goes bad, what does it do not only to the man but to the community?'"
While writing Training Day, Ayer unflinchingly immersed himself in the day-to-day rapport between gang-bangers and undercover officers in Los Angeles' toughest neighborhoods. "I spent a lot of time observing and talking with people who live and work in these areas," he says. "I really wanted to get beneath the surface of what it's like to be a cop out here and how the community looks at them. "
Ayer put most of what he learned about how and why cops use down and dirty methods into the character of Alonzo, who he calls "a guy who's so good at his job, it's come at the expense of his soul. " He wanted Alonzo to be a seductive character, someone you want to believe in, want to care about, but who exists in a moral gray zone where right and wrong are no longer clear to him. "I myself had many different feelings while writing him," Ayer admits. "There were times when I thought he was the greatest person in the world and other times when I was furious with myself for writing the words he speaks. One thing I knew for sure is that Alonzo himself believes he is right. He doesn't see himself as evil - in his own heart, he has decided that he is doing what is best for everybody. "
As a counterpoint, Ayer then created the character of Jake Hoyt, the young rookie who, until this day, had no idea how things really operate in the streets. "The interesting thing is that Jake is who Alonzo used to be. Jake's a young, daisy-fresh rookie from the Valley. He's a guy who became a cop because he really believed in justice," says Ayer. "But the more he sees of Alonzo, who is so incredibly charismatic and effective and yet a real trickster, the more he has to question his beliefs until, in the end, he has to make his own decisions about what's right and wrong. "
Once Ayer had created his characters, he made the decision to tell the story over one adrenaline-fueled 24-hour period. "I am fascinated by the kind of day a person has where everything is transformed," he says. "I liked the idea that Ethan Hawke's character wakes up in the morning, kisses his wife goodbye, goes to work and comes home a different man. He will never be the same again. "
It was this gritty intensity and transformational power that drew producers Robert F. Newmyer and Jeff Silver to the script. "What attracted us was the incredible level of realism," says Silver. "This story hits you right in the gut with the actuality of what it's like to be on the streets as an undercover cop. It's an exciting ride, sheer adrenaline entertainment, but it's also about two men in the midst of a moral quandary that affects us all. "
"In the end," Silver concludes, "this is a movie about choices - and it leaves the audience to make their own. It raises some really important questions: When it comes to fighting crime, is there one moral code or are there many? Which do we want more: effective police or police who follow the letter of the law? And can there be any compromise in between?"
The heat and intensity of Training Day also derives from the urban vision of director Antoine Fuqua, who strove to bring the audience not only into what officers experience on the outside - from chases to shoot-outs to life-or-death moments - but on the inside as they grapple with an amoral world of drug dealers, murderer, rapists and thieves. Fresh from his stylish thriller The Replacement Killers, Fuqua wanted to create a gritty, unflinching, fast-moving intro to life on the other side of the legal line.
From the moment he read David Ayer's script, Fuqua had in mind the raw realism of films such as Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, but with his own contemporary street-wise visual style. "I was immediately drawn to the script because it reminded me of the great cop dramas of the Seventies," he says. "It's about something but it's also a really interesting challenge for a filmmaker because you have to take these characters through an incredible amount of action and transformation in just one day. "
For Fuqua, capturing the visceral nature of life on the streets was paramount. "I only wanted to shoot in real locations with real people in the background," he says. "I want to make it clear that these are everyday experiences in some people's lives. The reality of life for cops and criminals in the inner-city isn't something we should hide from - it's something we should be talking about and thinking about. "
Fuqua came to the project with a street credibility that uniquely prepared him for what was to come.
"Antoine Fuqua might be the only director around who can move through Hollywood and the gritty streets of Watts or Rampart or Crenshaw with equal agility," says Robert F. Newmyer. "And that's what this movie required. "
Jeff Silver concurs: "Antoine brought the ability to capture the mean streets of L. A. in an honest and revealing way, but also with a visual style that makes every scene exciting - whether it's a major action sequence or just two guys in a car talking. "
The cast was also moved by Fuqua's personal passion for capturing the grace and grit of these often ignored communities. Says Denzel Washington: "Antoine brings both an edge and a heart to this story that makes it so much more powerful than your standard cop thriller. He turned it into something dangerous and important. "
The character of Alonzo Harris personifies a condition addressed by the African American author James Baldwin in his description of the plight of an inner-city police officer: "He is facing, daily and nightly, people who would gladly see him dead, and he knows it. He moves. .. like an occupying soldier in a bitterly hostile country, which is exactly what he is. "
In a dramatic departure from his more unabashedly heroic roles, Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington provides a nuanced portrait - filled with dark humor and emotional dynamism - that brings out the good, the bad and the ugly of Alonzo, sometimes all at once.
"Alonzo's a fascinating character because some people would say he's a great cop because he knows how to intimidate and he gets the job done no matter what," says director Antoine Fuqua. "Yet, others would say he's clearly taken his authority way too far and become a gangster himself. I personally think he probably was someone who once believed in doing good, but in the world he works in, he's learned that he can never show vulnerability, because he knows he'll be eaten alive. "
Fuqua continues: "Denzel shows just how incredibly human Alonzo is underneath it all. This is one of the darkest characters he's ever taken on, but he doesn't just paint Alonzo one color. Denzel makes Alonzo feel incredibly real and that makes him so much more scary and sad and fascinating. You get the feeling you're watching true human nature, going into the heart of darkness. "
For Denzel Washington, playing Alonzo was an irresistible opportunity. "I always look for a departure in every new role I do," he acknowledges. "You might say that this is the first time I've played a bad guy, but I don't really see Alonzo as bad. He's confused, he's over the line, he's angry, but he's not entirely bad. I think in some ways he's done his job too well. He's learned how to manipulate, how to push the line further and further, and, in the process, he's become more hard-core than some of the guys he's chasing. "
Washington was able to understand the ways in which Alonzo may have shifted over time, winding up as the man who takes Jake Hoyt into a 24-hour pressure cooker. "I think it's a case of if you're dealing with violent people every day, you wind up having to be just as violent," he says. "Alonzo didn't start out like this, but he had to be more clever, more cunning than the criminals he was after and it taught him how to go over the line. And, once you've crossed that line, it's very hard to go back. "
Washington even had a strong sense of the character's street-honed style. "I always saw him wearing a lot of jewelry - you know, he's got his diamonds and his gold rings and his imitation Rolex," says Washington. "He's not the kind of cop who's sneaking up on people. He's in the neighborhood operating like the drug dealers he's after. "
Also intriguing to Washington was the increasingly complex relationship between Alonzo and the rookie Jake. "I think that Alonzo starts out seeing Jake as someone he can use, another potential member of his gang, but he also really wants to teach Jake to be a good cop," explains Washington. "He wants to cut to the chase and show Jake how things are really done, take the weakness out of him. The big questions for Alonzo are can he trust this kid, and can this kid survive. "
Perhaps the most interesting, and frightening, aspect of the role for Washington was honing the kind of aggressiveness that marks a successful undercover cop. "When you add aggressiveness to your personality, it magnifies who you are," he observes. "It brings out the darker side, and that's what happens to Alonzo, so I had to be willing to go to those dark places. "
Says producer Jeff Silver of Denzel Washington's performance: "It's very exciting to see Denzel in a different type of role and what makes him so perfect for Alonzo is the empathy audiences have for him. He's so beloved that you just go with him even as he crosses the line into dangerous behavior. It was a bold move for Denzel to take on this role and I think it stretches him in a way people haven't seen before. "
"Watching Denzel bring Alonzo to life was really chilling," adds David Ayer. "It gave me goose bumps. He became so much like Alonzo it was scary. "
Playing off against Washington's hard-core, no-holds-barred detective is Ethan Hawke as Jake Hoyt, the rookie who thinks he is headed for a day of minor busts and basic instruction but winds up on an action-packed 24-hour reckoning. Like Denzel Washington, Hawke plays a cop for the first time - a cop who finds himself way in over his head.
"Ethan is perfect for this role because you're immediately worried for him," says Antoine Fuqua. "He so clearly doesn't belong in this world, you fear that he'll never survive. His Jake has such a good heart that it makes you really question whether that's something you can afford to have when it comes to fighting crime. "
Hawke was drawn to the script's non-stop action and exciting reflection of real life. "It's intense, like a chain reaction where there's one spark and everything changes all in one day," he comments. "But I think it's also very daring - it basically says, we're going to let you experience what it's like to be an undercover cop for 24 hours. I loved that and, of course, I was excited to work with Denzel. "
Hawke was also intrigued by the journey that his character takes as the day's events unfold. "Jake starts out the day looking at a great opportunity to ride around with this highly decorated, highly revered officer who he thinks is going to help him with his career," Hawke observes. "But then he starts to see his methods of intimidation and fear and he has to question what the cost of doing things Alonzo's way is. The big question for him is, once you start bending the rules, where do you stop? And do the ends really justify the means, no matter how bad it gets?"
"Jake really represents all of us who have never been out there on these streets," notes Jeff Silver, "so the audience really has to relate to his experience. And Ethan is one of those people that you look at and think 'That could be me. ' He has that wonderful everyman quality that allows him to take you into these tough moral decisions. Every time Ethan wonders if he should take the dark path or stick to his principles, you're right there with him. "
Hawke characterizes the relationship between Jake and Alonzo as "tense, electric and charged. They're two sides of the coin. " Adds Fuqua: "Jake's one fatal flaw is his ambition. He so wants to make detective, but there's a price to pay and Alonzo extracts that price. He brings out Jake's dark side: the underlying desire for women, drugs, money, you name it. Ethan is perfect for this because he has a real innocence and yet there's something in his eyes that says he's seen some things in life. You believe he could be a straight and narrow cop, but you also believe he has that darkness under the surface. "
More than that, Hawke was able to withstand the ferocity of Denzel Washington's volatile portrait of Alonzo. "We found that virtually no actor could stand up to Denzel when he plays Alonzo at his most intimidating," says Robert F. Newmyer. "But Ethan could go toe-to-toe with him, while still maintaining that vulnerability and innocence that makes his character so likeable. "
Antoine Fuqua helped prepare Washington and Hawke for their roles by taking them to meet people in some of L. A. 's most notorious neighborhoods, including gang-bangers and drug dealers. "I wanted them to really get a sense of this environment, to feel the texture of the world, to see how it is for common people just living their lives in the middle of these war zones," he says.
Fuqua also encouraged both leading men to confer with several law enforcement consultants on the project. "This was extremely important to the film, letting Denzel and Ethan hang out with cops and really see what they are thinking and feeling and what they might be capable of," Fuqua explains. "They got to see that people like Alonzo really exist, cops who seem like the nicest, most caring people you could ever meet but when they get out on the streets, are scary and dangerous. They're dealing with the worst of the worst, and that's what they can become. "
Technical consultants were used to help maintain authenticity throughout the production. Michael Patterson, a former member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, served as the film's police consultant. San Francisco undercover police consultant Paul Lozada worked with Denzel Washington to explain the finer points of life as an undercover narcotics officer. Shiheed "Bone" Sloan gave the film the street's perspective as the technical advisor on gangs.
Says Paul Lozada: "I wanted Denzel Washington to understand what it's like for real, what it is to be pumping fear, to be part of a drug raid and feel the intensity, the chaos, the adrenaline high, the energy. I wanted him to know that you have to really be on your game or it can quickly turn sour. The thing is that in these situations, you can't hold back or hesitate even a little because it will cost you your life. You gotta be on it if you're gonna do it because we're playing for keeps out there. When you understand that, you can understand why some guys turn into Alonzo. "
Adds Michael Patterson: "What I wanted the actors to know is that almost everybody comes out of the Police Academy wanting to make a difference, wanting to make their city a better place. But, unfortunately, it doesn't always turn out that way. It turns out there are a lot of very gray lines out there and it's a little too easy to get into big trouble. "
Rounding out the cast of Training Day is an ensemble that includes Scott Glenn, Cliff Curtis and Tom Berenger, each known for the intensity of their varied and notable performances. Playing some of the film's most colorful, street-wise characters are several heroes of the hip-hop and R&B worlds, including snoop Doggy Dogg, [Dr. Dre] and Macy Gray - each of whom writes songs about communities similar to the areas where Training Day takes place.
Snoop Doggy Dogg plays Sammy, a gangster confined to a wheelchair. "I think this movie is something that needed to come about," Snoop attests. "We've had so many gangbanger movies, it's time to see what's happening with the police. I think it's important to see that not all police are bad, just like not all gangbangers are bad, but there are some who cross the line. "
Musical sensation Macy Gray makes her feature film debut as the Sandman's wife. "I like that the characters are so in your face and that it moves so fast," Gray says. "I couldn't put the script down, so I knew that was a good sign. " Gray also liked "that it's a real street movie. It really gets into the heads of the police and their mentality and their power. I think people will really be intrigued by that. "
The casting reflects the filmmakers' emphasis on street authenticity. "I'm interested in people who have seen some things in life, and these people have seen it," says Antoine Fuqua. "They will be memorable. " Says David Ayer: "I think the supporting cast adds a lot of spice to the movie. Snoop is hilarious - he just clicks; Dr. Dre is fantastic in action, the kind of guy you would never mess with; and Macy Gray adds a richness to the role we couldn't have gotten from any other person. It brings something special to the film. "
Part of the searing effect of Training Day is its barrage of evocative images captured from real life on the streets. From the beginning, Antoine Fuqua wanted to shoot the film in the vein of a war movie such as Apocalypse Now (1979), bringing the audience deeper and deeper into the heart of the city's darkness with a realism that won't let up. That's why Fuqua insisted upon shooting on location in some of Los Angeles's most dangerous neighborhoods, including South Central, Crenshaw, Watts, Firestone, Inglewood, Rampart, Echo Park, Lincoln Heights, downtown Los Angeles and the infamous Imperial Courts housing project.
At first, the filmmakers were told they could not shoot in Imperial Courts for safety reasons, but the response from the community was so great, permission was granted. "The people living there really wanted this," notes Jeff Silver. "They told us: 'We need the attention and we need the work. ' We hired a lot of them and it was a great experience. Here we were in a place where you would normally be scared just to drive down the street and we were sitting around drinking coffee and feeling totally comfortable. "
Fuqua wanted to capture these places in the raw, without any Hollywood-style sheen. "I wanted the dirt, the graffiti, the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) buildings that are collapsing. I didn't want anything to be fake," he says. For Dr. Dre, the effect was exhilarating. "I was impressed that the production went to the real places where these things really go down," says Dre, who plays Paul, a member of Alonzo's entourage. "They went to Imperial Courts, to the Jungle, to Crenshaw, and they weren't afraid of getting dirty. Antoine Fuqua told me he was taking the gloves off to shoot this movie, and he meant it. "
"All the locations are real," production designer Naomi Shohan attests. "All the interiors done on stage were taken from the locations and researched in the neighborhoods with the help of the residents. We sort of became urban anthropologists. Everything you see is as it really is. The colors and textures change throughout the journey of the movie, but everything we used was taken directly from the neighborhoods that you find yourself in throughout the film. "
Shohan wanted the movie's design to reflect the underlying relevance of the story. "I see Training Day as a kind of journey to the heart of darkness and chaos which, as Antoine says, is about America's war with itself, the war within," she explains. "That's the journey that our movie takes us on, and so the locations get darker and grittier each step of the way. This is also seen in Mauro Fiore's cinematography which plays with light to bring us not only into real night but a dark night of the soul. "
Fuqua also cast bit parts and extras right out of the neighborhoods where they were shooting. "I met with gangs and cops and even went in to crack houses and said 'I want to shoot here,'" recalls the director. "I wanted people who had real scars, real bullet holes, who deal with the cops everyday. "
The film was shot almost entirely in sequence, following the clock from the crack of dawn to a very dark night of reckoning. Compressing intense action and emotion into a brief time frame became one of the filmmakers' key quests. "Making sure the film feels like it's one single day unfolding became the single biggest challenge during the production," says Jeff Silver. "We had to keep the light consistent, the emotional tone consistent, and we had to keep the momentum going through the curve of that one day. We even wound up plotting out the movement of the sun and its angles. "
He continues: “We wanted to make sure that the ticking clock represented a dramatic element in the movie. You perceive that as night falls you’re going deeper and deeper into the war zone. It’s no accident that the climactic scene takes place in an area of Los Angeles called ‘The Jungle,’ where you better know where you’re going or else you’ll have your head handed to you.”
Although rapt attention was paid to creating authentic street scenes, much of Training Day was shot inside Alonzo and Jake's car. Of course, this isn't just any ordinary vehicle. As undercover cops, they fit into the 'hood by driving a flashy 1978 Monte Carlo low rider known in the lingo as their "G-ride. "
The "G-Ride" was designed by Marc Laidler of 310 Motoring, a company that customizes cars for the likes of L. A. Lakers players and other star athletes. "We wanted something classy and stylish that Alonzo and Jake could get by riding in the hood," says Laidler. "Once we had the 78 Monte Carlo, we tricked it out with hydraulics, chrome, tinted windows and a big mahogany steering wheel. "
The result was a high-style haven for the film's main characters. "The car is like a third character in the movie," says Jeff Silver. "The cops go in there and this is their universe. They have their conversations, their private moments and their arguments and then they come out and have to face the real world. But while they're in it, it's their cocoon. "
In addition to depicting the true vibe and visual feel of urban Los Angeles, the Training Day filmmakers also captured its sound in a diverse soundtrack shaped by music supervisor John Houlihan and Priority Records' executive producer David Ehrlich. "The film's soundtrack reflects the vibrancy of urban life in any big city in America," Jeff Silver says. "If you're driving around Los Angeles, you might hear rap or hip-hop on one corner and Latin music on another. There's intensity to the music that reflects what's going on in people's lives. And the music in Training Day reflects this intensity, diversity and spirit. "
The Training Day soundtrack features original material recorded specifically for the film by hip-hop superstars Nelly, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, Xzibit and Cypress Hill, as well as a rare collaboration between Sean 'Puffy' Combs and David Bowie, who joined forces to record a remake based on the idea of Bowie's classic song "This Is Not America. " In addition, artists C-Murder and Trick Daddy have remade the classic N. W. A. anthem "F**k Tha Police" as the retitled track "Watch The Police," and underground hip-hop heroes Golden State Warriors have recorded the brand new anthem "Bounce With Golden State. "