The drug scene in 1970s Harlem is the subject of two new films this month -- Marc Levin's Mr. Untouchable, a documentary of gangster Nicky Barnes and American Gangster, Ridley Scott's big-budget drama about the biggest rival to Barnes, Frank Lucas. As Denzel Washington himself points out during the following press conference, no one knew the name Frank Lucas back in the day, including him. Unlike Barnes, Lucas practiced his dope smuggling trade completely under the radar of the general public. He couldn't fly under the radar of the cops, however -- they spent who knows how much money and time investigating Lucas, drawing him closer and closer to the day when his criminal ways would eventually catch up with him. Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington were on hand at a Manhattan hotel this past Saturday to field some questions from the press about the new film. Interestingly, rapper-turned-actor Common was apparently supposed to show up, but didn't. Could that be because he wanted to avoid Justice League questions? Enquiring minds want to know.
Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe
Great film -- my one question is can you talk about the balance between good versus evil that we see so clearly in both of your characters?
DW: [laughs] Now, who was the good guy and who was the evil guy? That's the delicate balance.
The cord runs parallel to both.
DW: Right. And there you have it. The cord runs parallel to both. Jump in there, Russell. [laugh]
RC. Well, I think that's one of the fascinating things about the two characters and about the story itself. That none of that's clear. There's not a clear singular morality. And when you get the opportunity to play that sort of thing, which is nothing more than reality and the sort of humanity as it exists, it's just a bit of fun. You know, Richie's an honest guy and all that sort of thing, but as his wife pays him out in the court: you're only honest in one area -- you try and buy yourself favorites for all the shit that you do. And I just think that's an honest appraisal of who he was at that time. But it also leaks into that area of discussing why people go bad in the first place, or what the process of Frank Lucas was to become a drug dealer. If Frank Lucas had been befriended by somebody else and educated in a different area, he might get in a situation where a university's named after him. He's a very smart guy and he uses things that he's learned to the best of his ability to change his life and change the life of his family at that time. But it just happened to be that Bumpy Johnson was his teacher. Bumpy Johnson -- we were joking yesterday about doing his sort of course work on the street -- PhD in criminality under Bumpy Johnson.