It’s been nearly 17 years since the film Training Day premiered, and to this day Ethan Hawke, who played Officer Jake Hoyt, says it’s still one of his most-quoted films. This week, the actor joined The Bill Simmons Podcast to discuss that movie and what it was like to work on it with Denzel Washington.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Bill Simmons: Training Day, 2001—did you know that was going to be a monster [film]?
Ethan Hawke: Totally.
Simmons: You have MJ in his prime. You have a great script. You had a good director.
Hawke: I read that script and, you know, you’re picturing the intersection of Denzel [Washington] at that moment in his career with this great piece of writing. Antoine Fuqua was a really exciting young director at that point, and he was ready for that job. And I wanted that part so bad because I knew what a good film that could be. I met Antoine, and it became kind of clear to me that Antoine and Denzel wanted me but other people didn’t want me, and I was going to really have to jump through some hoops and audition. ... I was already being offered movies and things were going well, but I was like, you know what? I’m going to get this part. I’m going to eat a little humble pie, and I’m going to go in and I’m going to get this part. And I did.
Simmons: What movies have [you done where] people come up to you and just throw lines at you? That’s gotta be in the top three, right?
Hawke: Oh, yeah. You know, “Jake! Jake! You got the money, Jake?” You know, “King Kong ain’t got nothin’ on me!” I mean, people say that to me pretty much daily.
Simmons: Was [Denzel] the biggest force-of-personality actor you worked with, or was there somebody else?
Hawke: A bigger force than Denzel?
Simmons: Just like day-to-day, on the set.
Hawke: Let me tell you something: Have you heard of the expression “alpha male”?
Hawke: Yeah, well, if there was somebody who was bigger than Denzel on a set, I wouldn’t want to be there.
Simmons: He was friendly with Michael Jordan, and I always wondered, like, what happened when they hung out together that they didn’t just fight to the death?
Hawke: I just mean that he’s an amazingly confident man. He knows who he is, and he fills the room, and he knows what he wants, and he expects a lot from other people. I worked with him again on The Magnificent Seven [in 2016]. I love working with Denzel. I’d love to work with him again. I mean, he’s great at what he does. If you’re some shrinking violet, it’s going to be a hard time for you.
Simmons: It sounds like Jordan.
Hawke: It’s an unbelievable accomplishment, what he’s done. Thirty years, major international movie star, and a world-class great actor. I mean, he’s on Broadway right now doing Iceman Cometh. His performance in Flight is—anybody else does that movie, and it’s like a charming, kind of neat indie movie. Denzel Washington in Flight, that is an event. He’s one of our finest actors and a genuine, bona fide, card-carrying movie star, you know? He’s a better actor than, maybe when you think about other generations, like, Clark Gable or one of these people. He’s on par with Marlon Brando, but he’s sustained it for 30 years.
And he’s doing it carrying the burden of being African American in this country and having to carry a lot of extra weight as a role model, as a leader in his community, having to face racism, having to fight through it. I just saw in Brooklyn the other day, they did an anniversary screening of Malcolm X. I guess it’s been 25 years. It’s a towering achievement, and if you see that movie in a crowded house in Brooklyn on the big screen, it’s like a rock concert. And I was thinking, he should’ve won five Academy Awards for that movie. It’s just so much better than most of the performances that guys win Oscars for.
Simmons: I would say that with sports, where the MVP trophy should be different weights depending on how good it was. It’s like a 40-pound Oscar.
Hawke: Yeah, it’s a 40-pound Oscar.