'Magnificent Seven' Director On Staying True To The Original Film's Message

For director Antoine Fuqua, remaking the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven was a return to childhood. He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that the original film reminds him of his grandmother, who used to watch Westerns with him on Sunday afternoons when he was growing up.

"I would sit there with her, and she would make me whatever food I want," Fuqua says. "What I recall about [The Magnificent Seven] was ... listening to her talk about each guy as they were introduced."

As in the original, Fuqua's remake of the film centers on a band of seven men who have volunteered to save a remote village from nefarious forces — in the case of the new film, a greedy industrialist mine owner. The film features Denzel Washington as a warrant officer and a licensed peace officer who's a quick draw and a deadly shot. Fuqua says that casting Washington was his idea.

"We were all just going through who would be the best actor for the lead," he says. "As the conversation kept going maybe for an hour or so, something kept pulling at me and I just said, 'Personally, what would make this an event for me to really want to make this movie is to see Denzel Washington on a horse in all black as a cowboy.' "

Interview Highlights

On the burial scene in the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, in which two white characters risk their lives to bury a Native American character

That moment really stuck with me. I remember [my grandmother] being really excited about the fact that they were doing that, her sort of talking to the screen, you know. I didn't realize the impact that scene would have on my life as far as growing up and seeing people be bullied. I just didn't have it in me to stand by and watch that sort of thing happen. ...

There's so many little pieces that make up a person and that was a piece that I realized later in my life when I saw Seven Samurai for the first time when I was in college. ... It was always the idea of the bully and then having someone come to the rescue.

On capturing the essence of the 1954 film Seven Samurai, on which The Magnificent Seven is based

I went back and watched Seven Samurai again and, you know, you go back to the source. I wanted to understand what was [director Akira] Kurosawa trying to say. And of course the word "samurai" means "to serve," and I thought that's the very clear message is that we're all here on this earth to help each other, to be in service of others, for people you don't even know.

I think that's an important message, and that's what ... we all wanted to keep, and we did. And then I watched [director John] Sturges' film [the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven] and he did the exact same thing. He kept the same idea, the essence remained the same — the simple story of [being] in service of others at your own sacrifice and for no monetary gain, really.

On working with horses onscreen

Chris Pratt's horse was from War Horse, that was the one Steven Spielberg used ... so he was used to a certain thing. Denzel's horse, I believe, was in a film before — his was a little more complicated because he was ... wiry, he wanted to fight and run all the time.

A lot of them were stunt horses, but some of them weren't. The ones that were not were a little more complicated. The stunt guys were amazing because they would just take these falls. They did over 800 falls, like, there's no visual effects in that. They're falling off those horses and the horses are running all around them, so I learned quite a bit about horses in this movie and how delicate they are. ...

They're so powerful, they're so beautiful, but they're delicate in the sense that if a horse falls and snaps its ankle, gets hurt, you have to put him down. Luckily none of that happened, but dealing with the trainers, dealing with how skittish they are, how delicate they are with their senses. They could feel when an actor is not in control or their rider is not in control; they could feel the tension around them. ... When you got 60, 70 of them riding down a hill with guys screaming and guns going off and all that kind of stuff, it's dangerous.

On what made him consider becoming a filmmaker

When I look at it now, I don't know what in the world made me think I could become a director. I really don't. I was an athlete, I was artistic and I love drawing and I love movies and I love music. But I didn't think about that until I really saw Seven Samurai and I saw that ... Kurosawa's storyboards were paintings. ... I thought, "Wow, that's pretty cool, motion pictures."

The idea [to] draw something ... was a seed that was in my head. ... "That's pretty cool. How do you do that?" That's where it started for me.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross who's in Washington today and tomorrow where she'll receive a National Humanities Medal at the White House. Here's Terry on tape with today's interview.


ELI WALLACH: (As Calvera) How many of you did they hire?

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: The answer is seven - the magnificent seven. That now classic 1960 Western has been remade starring Denzel Washington.


DENZEL WASHINGTON: (As Chisolm) You tell Bo if he wants his town, come see me.


GROSS: My guest Antoine Fuqua directed the new version of "The Magnificent Seven." His other films include "Training Day" and "The Equalizer," which also starred Denzel Washington, and "Southpaw." The remake of "The Magnificent Seven" is set in the Old West in a pioneering town in which the residents are being forced out by a greedy industrialist who owns mines and wants to mine this town.

Denzel plays Sam Chisolm, a warrant officer and a licensed peace officer who's a quick draw, a deadly shot and keeps to himself. When he comes to this town looking for the man he's supposed to bring to justice, he's approached by a brave young woman whose husband was just killed by the mine owner's men. She asked Chisholm to protect the town. He enlists six other men - bounty hunters, gamblers, hired guns - to help him. Each of the Magnificent Seven is an expert with a weapon - gun, knife, bow and arrow - and is used to facing death.

Antoine Fuqua, welcome to FRESH AIR. What did the original 1960 version of "The Magnificent Seven" mean to you? And I'll tell you that I saw it when I was about 9, and it was the first movie I went to by myself with friends without parents. And we took a bus to get to the movie theater, and it was thrilling to be there on our own. And I just loved this movie so much. So tell me what "The Magnificent Seven" the original meant to you.

ANTOINE FUQUA: Well, the original "Magnificent Seven" had so many memories that I can smell them.

GROSS: (Laughter).

FUQUA: It reminds me of my grandmother. You know, on Sundays - I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa. And on Sundays, they had, like, matinees on TV, and they would play all the different Westerns. And she just loved them. She loved them. I'm not sure if it was her way of keeping me off the streets. I would sit there with her, and she would make me whatever food I want. That's what I mean by I could smell it. She would make me whatever I loved eating. And we would sit there and watch different Westerns. "Magnificent Seven" I remember specifically sitting there watching that with her. And she loved Yul Brynner, you know, from the first time we saw him in "The Ten Commandments..."

GROSS: Oh, yes, the pharaoh (laughter).

FUQUA: The Pharaoh (laughter).

GROSS: And Yul Brynner plays the role that Denzel kind of plays now. It's a variation...

FUQUA: Right.

GROSS: ...On that role, yeah.

FUQUA: That's right, yeah. The lead gunslinger that takes the job initially, and then he goes out and gets the guys, Yul Brynner's role. And it was fantastic because what I recall about that movie was sitting there with her and listening to her talk about each guy as they were introduced.

I recall specifically the moment when Steve McQueen was introduced. And it didn't really dawn on me the importance of what was saying something about racism or inequality from the first time we meet the guys, the idea that the Native American had died in the original "Mag Seven" couldn't get buried in a graveyard where the whites were and the town folks were hell bent on not letting that happen. And this guy very casually just says, I'll do it. And he jumps on the wagon. And then some other guy named Steve McQueen says, yeah, I'll go with you, and they jump on the wagon. And they didn't know each other.

And these two men decided to take this carriage with this body of the Native American up to the white cemetery and put their lives at risk and had each other's back just based on two men who saw good virtue, I guess, in each other. I don't know what it was, but that moment really stuck with me. And I didn't realize the impact that scene would have on my life as far as, you know, growing up and seeing people be bullied or - you know, I just didn't have it in me to stand by and watch that sort of thing happen.

GROSS: Really, you would think of that scene in "The Magnificent Seven" when they took the body of the Native American and buried him?

FUQUA: No, not directly, not that way. It's almost like I realize the impact that it had on me, you know. There's so many little pieces that make a person, and that was a piece that I realized later in my life. When I saw the "Seven Samurai" for the first time when I was in college...

GROSS: Which "The Magnificent Seven" is inspired by. That's a Japanese film, the "Seven Samurai," yeah.

FUQUA: Exactly, directed by Kurosawa, the great Kurosawa, really. And, you know, it was always the idea of the bully.

GROSS: Were you bullied as a kid?

FUQUA: No, never. There was a couple of people that tried, and I put a stop to that pretty quick. I don't have that gene in me where I let somebody take advantage of me that way because I'm also the oldest. I have two sisters and a brother. You know, and when you have two sisters with mouths on them, you know, you have to be able to fight. I used to get off the bus and there'd be a crowd around, you know, and I was thinking, God, I hope this is not for me. And it normally was, and it was because someone said something to my sister and the first she says is, well, I'll get my brother.


FUQUA: And normally it was like the biggest guy, and I'm thinking, oh, my God.

GROSS: But...

FUQUA: You know...

GROSS: Yeah.

FUQUA: ...You had to step up because, you know, you've got to protect your siblings.

GROSS: One of the messages of "The Magnificent Seven" is the most charismatic people are on the side of good (laughter) although...

FUQUA: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Really they're - the seven, they're not necessarily good guys. I mean, they're hired guns. They're bounty hunters, you know, but they decide to this time around work on the side of good.

In the original film, the one that you first fell in love with, you know, they're the seven - they're a group of, like, misfits and gunslingers who decide to save a town, a Mexican farming village because the village is being attacked regularly by bandits led by Eli Wallach who need food. And so they just steal the harvest over and over again, and it's killing the town. And so the town asks Yul Brynner to - well, in fact, let me play a scene here from the original 1960 version when a couple of - you know, of the peasants from this town who are farmers meet Yul Brynner and see that he's a good shot. And they ask him for help. They ask him to help them buy guns to protect the town.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) We need help.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) We must buy guns. We know nothing about them. Will you buy guns for us?

YUL BRYNNER: (As Chris Adams) Guns are very expensive and hard to get. Why don't you hire men?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Men?

BRYNNER: (As Chris Adams) Gunmen. Nowadays men are cheaper than guns.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Will you go? It will be a blessing if you came to help us.

BRYNNER: (As Chris Adams) Sorry, I'm not in the blessing business.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: No, no, we offer more than that. We could feed you every day. And we have this.

BRYNNER: (As Chris Adams) What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) We can sell this for gold. Everything we own, everything of value in the village.

BRYNNER: (As Chris Adams) I've been offered a lot for my work but never everything.

GROSS: I've been offered a lot for my work but never everything. That line is in your remake of the film, too.

FUQUA: It's a great line.

GROSS: It's a great line. So what are some of the things you wanted to save from the original? You've changed a lot. It's no longer a Mexican farming village. It's now a pioneering town in the Old West where, you know, there's a mine company that wants to take it over. The Magnificent Seven is from different backgrounds in your remake than in the original. So there's differences, but the essence is kind of the same. So what is the essence that you wanted to keep?

FUQUA: And I went back and watched "Seven Samurai" again, and, you know, you go back to the source and I wanted to understand - what was Kurosawa trying to say? And of course, the word samurai means to serve. And I thought, that's the very clear message, is that, you know, we're all here on this earth to help each other - right? - and to be in service of others for people you don't even know. And of course, we know there's men and women that do that today, of course, in our military and, you know, officers on the street and all that.

So I think that's an important message, and that's what I wanted to keep and the producers and we all wanted to keep. And we did. And then I started watched Sturges' film, and he did the exact same thing. He kept the same idea. The essence remained the same, the simple story of in service of others at your own sacrifice and for no monetary gain, really, because, you know, you'll never probably get to spend that money.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is director Antoine Fuqua. He directed "Training Day" and "The Equalizer," which both star Denzel Washington, and "Southpaw." And now he's directed a remake of "The Magnificent Seven" that also stars Denzel Washington. Let's take a short break. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Antoine Fuqua, who directed "Training Day," "The Equalizer," "Southpaw." Two of those three films star Denzel Washington. And Fuqua's new film, a remake of the 1960 Western classic, "The Magnificent Seven," also stars Denzel Washington.

So, you know, it's interesting. In the original version from 1960 Eli Wallach, who is not Mexican (laughter), played the head Mexican bandit.

FUQUA: Right.

GROSS: Your film is very diverse. You know, you've got - Denzel is the lead and he, of course, is African-American. Among the seven there's a Mexican, there's a Native American, there's an Asian character. One of the bravest people in the movie is a woman. In the original version, the woman is just, like, the love interest of one of the characters and she's, like, the only woman with speaking lines in it. But in your version, you know, this woman is really brave. She picks up a gun. She knows how to shoot. And she is the person who enlists Denzel Washington's support. So was this your idea, to make the movie as diverse as it is? Did that come with the script or did that come with your casting?

FUQUA: When I first got the script, I do believe that they were - there was a Native American and there was a Mexican. And when I got involved, it kind of came out of just - I was sitting in a room with MGM and Sony, I believe at the time the producers, Roger Birnbaum and Todd Black, and everyone. And we were all just going through what - who would be the best actor, you know, for the lead. Who's the Yul Brynner of the day? Who's a, you know, powerful actor with the gravity and the weight and the this? And as the conversation kept going maybe for an hour or so, I just - something just kept pulling at me. And I just said, you know, personally, what would make this an event for me to really want to make this movie is to see Denzel Washington on a horse in all black as a cowboy.

And the room went quiet, you know? And I'm thinking, OK. And then they turned to me and they said, you think you can get him to do it? And now I'm thinking I may have stepped into something because I don't know if he'll do it or not. You know, because I was pitching it. I was saying, come on, who we have that has that power? And Denzel just came to mind. I didn't think about his color. He was just Denzel.

And once that happened - and he said yes after I met with him. I flew to New York, we sat down, I played some music that I had on my phone, some - I think it may have been some Sergio Leone music and the "Magnificent Seven" song. I had that. And I started pitching him my vision of the movie and he said yes...

GROSS: ...Pitching Denzel?

FUQUA: Yeah, yeah. I started talking - I said, OK, D, and I played the - we're sitting in a restaurant in New York, and I put on this music. And I know people kind of look around. And I start painting the picture of him coming over the hill, you know, through the heat waves with the sun and he's dressed in black on a black horse (laughter), and he just started laughing. He said, you love Westerns, don't you? I said, I love them. I said, I just want to see you on a horse. I want to see you do this.

And about a week later he called me and he said, let's do it. I want to get on some horses and start riding. And, you know - and it just sort of naturally started to fall into place that way. Ethan Hawke basically cornered me in New York before the "Equalizer" IMAX screening that he was hosting. And he just ruffled my jacket - my nice sports jacket, by the way - and he grabbed me. He goes, "Magnificent Seven." That means there's seven parts. I know you're talking to Denzel about being the lead, so there's six parts. And if I don't get one of them, our friendship's over.


FUQUA: So, you know, of course, I was going to call Ethan anyway because it was a great opportunity to put them together again, Denzel and Ethan.

GROSS: What about Chris Pratt?

FUQUA: Well, Chris was funny because Chris - I had a meeting with Chris and was - I loved him soon as I met him. He was the best - funny, just charming. And I was like, this guy is the guy. But he had - you know, "Jurassic World" was coming out and, you know, he had a lot of offers and a lot of choices to make. And he said, I've got to meet with a couple other directors about something I've already committed to meeting about, but I loved talking to you and I loved where you're going with it. And I'll get back to you. I promise I won't hold you up. And he called me maybe a week later. And literally someone in my office said, you know, Chris Pratt's on the phone. I picked up the phone, and he started singing "Oh Shenandoah." He's on the...

GROSS: "Oh Shenandoah"?

FUQUA: "Oh Shenandoah," yeah. He starts singing it. I was like - I'd said hello and then he's just - he was just singing. And I said, he's in. So (laughter), you know, I was literally holding up my fingers, going, OK, Denzel - and I was counting them down like they were doing in the movie. And yeah...

GROSS: ...Exactly. Right, that's exactly what I was thinking. Yeah.

FUQUA: Yeah, that's what I was doing. I was like, he's in. And Chris, he said, I always wanted to be a cowboy (laughter). So that was that. And in Martin - the Native American kid - I was trying to find - authentic Native American, and also someone of a certain age. And he can ride bareback and do all these things. And - but somehow he felt modern.

And Martin walked in. And his hair was down to his knees - beautiful, long black hair and strong-looking kid. He came in, I mean, he was great in the audition. And I hired him. And I don't think he knew it, but for some religious reasons he cut his hair. And they called me and said you're going to kill him. I said what? Martin cut all his hair. I said what do you mean you cut his hair? And they sent me a picture of him. And he looked like a little boy. And I was so mad at him for about five minutes.

But my son Brando, who's 12 now, was bugging me about a mohawk. Kids were all in the, you know, Odell Beckham, the mohawk thing. And I said you're not going to school with a mohawk. I'm not doing it. I'm not doing it. And then it just hit me while I'm talking to my son. I said that's it, a mohawk. That's what I'm going to do with Martin. So I called everyone and said give him a mohawk. But first, check with our - I think it was our Comanche official from...

GROSS: Adviser?

FUQUA: ...Yeah, adviser, professor. Make sure it's authentic to that time and that tribe and all these things. Then I got the word back that, yeah, it was. And I said absolutely, cut his hair. Give him a mohawk today.

GROSS: Well, you know, an essential part of any Western is charisma. And Denzel is so charismatic. He's really, like, iconic in this. And like the original Yul Brynner character, he's dressed in black with a black hat. And Denzel wears that hat with the brim kind of tilted down. And his face isn't even in full view in it. He's not a talkative guy in it. So, like, some of his tools as an actor can't be used to the maximum because you don't always see his full face. He doesn't have that much dialogue. And yet, he's so iconic in it.

So can you describe working with him to get that kind of, you know, iconic look?

FUQUA: I think what you'd - you be honest about who he is, right? This particular character has a secret...

GROSS: Yeah, which I'm not giving away.

FUQUA: Right, so some of that is that that he has this quiet intensity. And Denzel has that power to pull that off. And the thought is that he - you don't really see him clearly really, you know? You think you do. That's why you need an actor like Denzel. You know, that's why my instinct went to Denzel because he doesn't have to say much. And, you know, there's a power about him that he could be still - right? - you know the old saying power doesn't move, everything kind of comes to it? That's Denzel. So a guy like that could just be still and have his hat down low and you barely see his face and you can't keep your eyes off of him.

GROSS: Right. So you wanted to see Denzel on a horse. I mean...

FUQUA: Absolutely.

GROSS: ...Are these Hollywood horses? Are they stunt horses?

FUQUA: A few of them were. Chris Pratt's horse was from "War Horse." He was - that was the one Spielberg used. So he was used to a certain thing. Denzel's horse I believe was in a film before. His was a little more complicated because he was a - kind of (unintelligible) and he was wirey. He just wanted to fight and run all the time. But a lot of them were stunt horses, but some of them weren't. And the ones that were not were a little more complicated. The stunt guys were amazing because they would just take these falls - they did over 800 falls. There's no visual effects in that. They're falling off those horses, and the horses are running all around them. And when you got, you know, 60, 70 of them riding down a hill with guys screaming and guns, you know, going off and all that kind of stuff, it's dangerous. And...

GROSS: Can I ask you a delicate question about the horses (laughter)? There aren't scenes that I noticed in which there's - what's the word to use for horse poo? - horse manure...

FUQUA: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...Where there's horse manure. But you have that many horses, you know there's going to be a lot of manure on the set. And this is the set that the stunt people have to, you know, fall off the horses and act like they've been shot or hit with a bow and arrow. So really, as the director, how do you deal with all the horse manure?

FUQUA: Well, anybody out there listening that wants to get in the film business, that might be your first job...


FUQUA: ...Because there are some, like, great young people in Baton Rouge, they're beautiful, young - like, boys and girls, like, beautiful. And I would see my AD just go clean up, and they'd come running out with their shovels. And I'm thinking they are earning their stripes these kids. And it was hot. So, you know, hundred-something degrees and they're like cleaning up horse poo. And you've got to get out there and move quickly 'cause I'm on a schedule.

GROSS: (Laughter) That's right.

FUQUA: Yeah, that's funny. No, we've had a few situations where a couple of guys got shot off the horse. And like I said, the horses don't know what's going on, and the horse raises its tail up and goes to the bathroom. And the guy falls off the horse, and he has to lay still 'cause he's supposed to be dead.


FUQUA: It's happened a couple times.

GROSS: That is a hard job.

FUQUA: Oh, God.

GROSS: All right...

DAVIES: Antoine Fuqua directed the new version of the film "The Magnificent Seven." After a break, he'll talk about getting into the movie business through music videos and about working with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in the film "Training Day." I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross who's in Washington, where she'll receive a National Humanities Medal. We're listening to Terry's interview with Antoine Fuqua, who directed the new version of the film "The Magnificent Seven." His other films include "Training Day" and "Southpaw."

GROSS: OK, so here's another indelicate question.


FUQUA: Go for it.

GROSS: I love Westerns. I grew up with them. And it just always struck me that a lot of the guys in the Westerns wore their gun belts really low. And I was thinking, like, when they're sitting down that's got to, like, hurt their privates just a little bit.


GROSS: And so when you were consulting with people about where did they really - like, what's the authentic way to wear, like, your gun belt, what did you learn about protecting yourself when you're wearing it?

FUQUA: That's interesting. Well, that would be more for the actors because they had to do it. But...

GROSS: ...It's their bodies (laughter).

FUQUA: It's their bodies. I didn't interfere with how they protected those private parts. What I realized, though, is that - you know, that everyone had a different way of wearing it just based on, you know, how they move. You know, what's best for their hand-eye coordination, what - how to get the gun out fastest. You know, I found that some of them never even pulled a gun out. They shoot - you know, they just reached down and grabbed the gun and twisted their holster and fired right through the holster.

So in your mind, you think because we've always shown Westerns that they take it out and shoot - some of them never took them out. They would, like, literally just bend their holster up, twist it up towards you, and before you realize it they've already shot a bullet through the bottom. Why wouldn't you do that? The logic of that makes perfect sense once we sat down and talked to the guy. He said, what would you take it off for if you're fast enough to just twist your holster up?

GROSS: Can I try to answer that? I would assume that the holster would affect the trajectory of the bullet and that your aim would not be as good if you're shooting through the holster. But what do I know?

FUQUA: That's a lot of power coming out of that gun.

GROSS: That is true. I want to ask you about "Training Day." In fact, let's play a scene from this. And "Training Day" is about two cops - the veteran cop played by Denzel Washington, who's a kind of corrupt, rogue cop, very manipulative of his new rookie partner, who's played by Ethan Hawke. And in this scene, they're both in the car. Denzel is driving. Ethan Hawke is in the passenger seat. And then Denzel takes out a pipe and offers it to Ethan Hawke and asks him to take it and then kind of tries to bully him into taking it.


WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) To be truly effective, a good narcotics agent must know and love narcotics. In fact, a good narcotics agent should have narcotics in his blood.

ETHAN HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt, laughter) What, are you going to smoke that?

WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) No, you are.

HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt, laughter) Hell if I am.

WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) Yeah? Yeah? You're not?

HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt) No.

WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) Why, you a Mormon or something? You're a Jesus freak?

HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt) No, man. I'm not losing my job.

WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) This is your job.

HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt) I can't do that.

WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) Smoke it.

HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt) No.

WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) This ain't a test. Just take a hit. Take a hit.

HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt) Man, listen, I became a cop to stop people from using...

WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) ...Yeah, yeah, blah blah blah blah blah (ph). It's not a review board, and that ain't cocaine. Take a hit.

HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt) No, man. Jesus Christ.

WASHINGTON: (As Detective Alonzo Harris) Yeah, right. If I was a dealer, you'd be dead by now, [expletive]. You turn [expletive] down on the street and the chief brings your wife a crisply folded flag. What the [expletive] is wrong with you? Talking about - you know what? I don't want you in my unit. I don't want you in my division. Get the [expletive] out my car. Go back to the Valley, rookie.

HAWKE: (As Jake Hoyt) Give me that thing. I'll smoke it, man. Give it to me. You want me to smoke it? I'll smoke it.

GROSS: Smoking it is a big mistake in that field (laughter). So...

FUQUA: (Laughter) I haven't listened to - watched that scene in a long time.

GROSS: ...What kind of reaction did you get to "Training Day" from police?

FUQUA: You know, I was - I thought that they would be upset with me, but they were great. Some of - I got pulled over a couple times for like, you know, speeding or something - I can't remember. And I remember one guy looked and he goes, Antoine Fuqua? I go, yeah. You directed "Training Day"? I said, yeah. And he talks to partner, he goes, he directed "Training Day." And he comes over - you direct "Training Day"? He goes, great movie, man. I love that movie. Slow down. (Laughter) And he let me go.


FUQUA: Because, you know, cops - you know, and I have - I'm friends with a lot of them, you know? And undercover cops as well. They helped me out with this film quite a bit. You know, they know that the world they live in, there's a truth to that, right? And Denzel's character wasn't corrupt as much as he was sick. Like, that's a sickness, you know? And cops recognize that sickness. That's a sickness of power, right? He's a guy that mentally, he believes that everything he's doing is for the greater good. He believes that that's how you - you know, you deal with bad guys and that's how you have to be to be on the streets. And he's not wrong, but, you know, that kind of behavior without oversight is the problem. That kind of behavior without going to therapy, without being watchdogged a little bit is the danger.

GROSS: So I'm wondering if you have a very complicated set of thoughts about the police shootings that have been on the internet and all over the news - you know, shootings of young black men - and also the Black Lives Matter movement since you know so many cops.

FUQUA: You know, it's a complicated question. The first thing that's - I mean, I'm horrified and saddened to see police officers kill young black men so coldly that way. You know, to see that happen is just - it's heartbreaking and scary. And being a black man and being a father worries me and concerns me like it does everyone else. And, you know, my heart goes out to those families because their journey never will end, right? They have to now deal with that pain and their kids have to deal with the pain.

And, you know, I think that the dialogue between police officers and the black community has to get better, but not better in a way where oh, let's talk about it when something horrible happens. The dialogue has to be going on consistently, every day. And there needs to be a real clear understanding of what's really going on. And oversight for some of these officers has to happen. They're not all bad. They're not all good. Like people in the community - not all bad, not all good. But everyone's afraid. That's the first thing that needs to be admitted. There's fear, you know...

GROSS: On both sides.

FUQUA: ...These cops - oh, absolutely.

GROSS: Have you had experiences, like direct conflict experiences with police in your lifetime?

FUQUA: Of course. Yeah, we used to be on the corner and guys would just pull up and, you know, put us on a curve, take everything out of our pocket, you know, just degrading. And you'd just be sitting on the corner with your friends listening to music or, you know, flirting with girls. You're not doing anything, you know? It's just...

GROSS: How would you react to that?

FUQUA: Well, I mean, you'd be upset, you know? And sometimes you'd mouth off. And then, you know, if you're smart you don't because you don't have any control over that situation. You know, they have the power, you know?

And so there was times where I would say something when I was younger. And you know, it'd get you into trouble, you know, and you find yourself on a curve with a foot in your back or something. There was times where some of the guys were just - you know, and this is, you know, where I come out - there was guys that literally would come up sometimes and be like, man, you guys should get off this corner. And it wasn't because they were being bullies.

Some of them knew that there was some violence going on and there was information that they couldn't - they weren't going to tell us. You know, there's gang violence. There's something that could happen. And some guys would come and go, you should get off this corner, you know? And you could kind of tell when they were genuinely concerned. And you could tell when they were just, you know, in a bad mood and they just wanted to pick your pockets or they wanted to know, you know, do whatever it is they wanted to do.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is director Antoine Fuqua. And his new film is a remake of "The Magnificent Seven." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is director Antoine Fuqua. He directed Denzel Washington in the films "The Equalizer" and "Training Day." And now he directed him again in the remake of the classic 1960 Western "The Magnificent Seven." And the remake of "The Magnificent Seven" opens this week.

So I'm going to change the subject 'cause I'm interested in the remaining time we have to find out a little bit about your family because I know your uncle was Harvey Fuqua, who was from the harmony group the Moonglows, who did among other things the "Ten Commandments Of Love."

FUQUA: Yep, low harmony.

GROSS: And his uncle, Harvey Fuqua's uncle, was Charlie Fuqua, who was in The Ink Spots, the vocal group The Ink Spots. Were you close to Harvey?

FUQUA: No, not really. I mean, I was so young. He's closer to my father and everybody. I was so young, and he was always traveling. You know, he was with Marvin Gaye and he was...

GROSS: Right.

FUQUA: You know, him and Smokey Robinson are like thick as thieves when he was alive. You know, those guys always playing golf together. Like, I didn't really get a chance to really engage until I was older, until I moved to L.A., you know, 20-something years ago is when I got a chance to sort of sit down and, you know, talk to Harvey.

GROSS: What...

FUQUA: He was always distant.

GROSS: What did it mean to you as somebody who at some point in your life knew you wanted to make movies to know that you had family - you had two family members who had been in the entertainment industry. And so it might have made it seem like becoming a filmmaker was a reachable goal because you had relatives who were successful in music.

FUQUA: Yeah. Movies, you know, especially then - it was such a foreign place or foreign idea to become a director. It just wasn't something that was a part of the world. Being in music just seemed more realistic because of those things. You know, and black people in the music business is obviously a big part of the music business. You know, that's just - you know, it's a part of our world, some of the greatest. But as a filmmaker, there was nobody really as an example. It's different. It was considered, like, foreign completely. People didn't even know what a director does - what is a director? - at that time back then.

GROSS: When you say back then, what period are you thinking of?

FUQUA: You know - well, when I was a kid, you know, when I was, you know, 12, 13, 14. Even when I went to college, you know, like in the '80s - like, '84, you know, '83 - you know, no one was really talking about directors like that.

You know, guys were emerging like the Scorseses of the world and Coppola and all those guys, you know, Spielberg and those guys, you know, in my life is when those - I start hearing those names. You know, they were bigger than the title of the movie at times, you know, because, you know, seeing "Taxi Driver" or seeing "Apocalypse Now" or seeing "Godfather," you know, Brian De Palma's "Scarface," like, all of a sudden, directors' names had star power. But no one really thought of how do you do that?

GROSS: Why did you think that's what you wanted to do?

FUQUA: I think I was just so naive, and I was, you know, brave enough to just think I could. I don't know, you know, when I look at it now, I don't know what in the world made me think I could become a director. I really don't. I really don't. I really don't because I was an athlete, and, you know, I was artistic. And, you know, I love drawing and I love movies and I love music.

You know, but I didn't think about that until I really saw "Seven Samurai" and I saw that his storyboards - of course, our storyboards were paintings. When I was in college, we talked about Asian art - Kurosawa's paintings, his storyboards - I think it was "Ran" was the first one I saw. And they were considered, like, these paintings, you know?

And I remember "Seven Samurai," and I was like I saw that movie, you know, because they used to have I think it was Regal Theater - I forget what theater it was in Pittsburgh. It would play, like, foreign films. It would normally be Bruce Lee and those sort of things. And then every once in a while, they'd have something like "Seven Samurai," you know? And I thought, wow, that's pretty cool, like, motion pictures, you know? The idea of draw something and then - you know, as a kid, you have the little book. You know, you could flick it, you could draw stick men, it moves...

GROSS: A flip-book, yeah.

FUQUA: Yeah, it was sort of like that sort of - seed that was in my head that began. And I was like that's pretty cool, you know, and how do you do that? And that's where it started for me.

GROSS: So when you looked around you, you saw a lot more - you know, many more African-Americans in the music industry than film directors. You know, you didn't know African-American film directors. But you started in the film industry directing music videos. Was that an easier door into filmmaking than just becoming a feature film director right off the start?

FUQUA: Yeah, absolutely. For me, absolutely.

GROSS: Do you think it was easier as an African-American to break in through videos than it would have been just through feature films?

FUQUA: Yeah, for me it would have been. Yeah. I mean, for some people no. I mean, like John Singleton came into it with a great script. He wrote a great script and made a great movie out of it. For me, I was - you know, I was - I think he went to film school. I didn't go to film school, so I was learning the craft on my own, you know? And I was learning the tools through the videos and commercials and stuff. Music was a part of my world. Music was a part of my world because of Harvey and Charlie, but not just them. I had a cousin - the group called The Mighty Clouds of Joy, it was a gospel group.

GROSS: Yeah.

FUQUA: Yeah. Those are my family members.

GROSS: Really?

FUQUA: Lead singer - yeah. So they used to come every summer and stay with me and my grandma, stay at my grandma's house with my family and all of us. And in my whole family, it was always that music. And then it started to change. You know, my cousin, Andre Dobson, he became an anesthesiologist. And he was like my big brother, you know?

And he - that started opening my mind up to other things. You know, that you can be other things. And I was - I spent a lot of time around him. So my cousin Harold, who was a businessman, he had a company in Wall Street and things like that. That's how I met Eric Meza, who was at the time a music video producer and director. He had his own company. I met him through my cousin Harold and Andre. And that's how I got going in the business.

GROSS: Well, before we have to end the interview, I need to play some of the theme from "The Magnificent Seven."


FUQUA: Please do. Please do.

GROSS: You have original music for your film that James Horner had started writing before he died last summer. And your score was completed by Simon Franglen. But I want to play some of the original score that Elmer Bernstein wrote because it's really just one of the great film scores. And...

FUQUA: Absolutely.

GROSS: ...I was thrilled when, in spite of the original score, there was still a moment in your remake of "The Magnificent Seven" when you used some of the original score.

FUQUA: Yeah, that song, I use it in the film as the journey begins, and then I use it at the end because it was tricky to try to put it in the body of the movie, you know, because the pacing of the movie now is different than it was then. You know, in those movies, you can be a little more languid, and they had dissolves when they're on the journey. And I didn't think it was doing it justice if you couldn't really play out those notes. So that's why I use it as a bow, so you can play it out in full.

GROSS: Right.

FUQUA: You know, without any interference.

GROSS: Antoine Fuqua directed the new film "The Magnificent Seven," a remake of the 1960 classic Western. And the new film stars Denzel Washington. And here's some of Elmer Bernstein's score from the original version that's also interpolated in the new film. Thank you again.

FUQUA: Thank you.


DAVIES: Coming up, John Powers considers how TV portrays the presidency with the premiere of the ABC series, "Designated Survivor." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.