Denzel Washington Insisted on Being Waterboarded for ‘Safe House’

Actors Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds collaborated for the 2012 feature Safe House for the first time. The film saw Washington in the rare role as a villain, whose character would undergo a torturous interrogation process by the government.

Although Washington could’ve used a stunt double for the dangerous scene, he wanted to experience the feeling of being tortured firsthand.

Denzel Washington terrified his co-workers when he was waterboarded in ‘Safe House’

Denzel Washington smiling at the premiere of 'Safe House'.
Denzel Washington | Jim Spellman/WireImage

Washington mostly preferred to do his own stunts in his films. This was the case in Safe House, an action thriller that required Washington to be in decent shape. Since he couldn’t rely solely on stunt doubles, Washington and his co-star Ryan Reynolds worked with professionals to physically prepare for their roles. In a resurfaced interview with Black Film, Washington asserted that he also had time on his side while training for the feature.

“These French guys who you would always want to be with you. The most unassuming guys and we really had the luxury of time; a good two or three months while we were over there,” he said. “In fact, there’s a fight I have where I crash through the roof or something and start fighting this guy, and even the fights we do at the end, we had two or three or four months before we even got to do those fights.”

But there was one scene that perhaps no amount of training could prepare Washington for. In one scene in the movie, Washington’s character needed to be waterboarded. A stunt double was initially supposed to be in Washington’s place. But Washington told the movie’s director Daniel Espinosa that he wanted to do it himself.

 “I went up to Denzel and told him, ‘Time to go, now is the moment where the stunt guy kicks in,’ and he looked at me and he said, ‘Let’s go.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘I’m sure.’ And I was terrified, but I let him go and I had to watch him do it,” Espinosa said according to Vulture.

The Training Day star explained that he wanted to do the scene simply to experience what waterboarding felt like. But the process wasn’t something he could handle for long.

“It’s strange. You can’t breathe in, because the water comes in, and it’s filling up your mouth. And that was just one time for a short time. Imagine having that done for 20, 30 seconds? You will give up the answers! You may not necessarily tell the truth, but you will tell [your captors] whatever they want to hear,” he said.

Ryan Reynolds was disturbed by Denzel Washington’s waterboarding

Washington’s co-star Reynolds had a very visceral reaction to Washington’s stunt. The Deadpool star felt that he was right there with Washington while watching him drown.

“He went all out for this movie. I would definitely not like to be waterboarded. It was intense. Disturbing. I had sympathetic pain. I always get sympathetic pain. I wish I didn’t. I felt like I was drowning,” he said.

Another actor who worked with Washington in Safe House was Robert Patrick. The Terminator actor couldn’t believe Washington would be the one doing the stunt.

“It shocked me, because the more I checked it out, the convulsions, body parts breaking — arms, legs, as you convulse, trying to get out from the restraints — and the psychological damage that was done, I just said, ‘To hell with it, I would never do that,’” Patrick said.

The scene went on for multiple takes, and Patrick was surprised how well Washington could hold his own each time.

 “Now, some of the guys we got, the Taliban guys, they only hung in there for eighteen seconds,” Patrick said. “Denzel lasted five; that’s pretty damn good.”

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