Nine Years Later, Hughes Brothers Picture Apocalypse

Picture a bleak, post-apocalyptic American wasteland where nearly all of humanity has been wiped out save for a solitary, dust-covered man, carrying a sword and a mysterious book. It's the first movie in nearly nine years for directors Albert and Allen Hughes, who also directed such films as Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with the duo about their new movie, The Book of Eli.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Picture a bleak, post-apocalyptic American wasteland. Nearly all of humanities wiped out, save for a solitary, dust-covered man carrying a sword and a mysterious book.

(Soundbite of movie, The Book of Eli)

Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor): (As Eli) They showed us weapon. A weapon, and he (unintelligible). But the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate, it will give us control of it. If we want to rule more than one small town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they do exactly what I tell them if the words are from the book.

CORNISH: The Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington, is the work of directors Albert and Allen Hughes, better known as the Hughes Brothers. Its the first movie in nearly nine years for the duo who also directed such films as Menace II Society, and Dead Presidents.

Albert and Allen Hughes join me now from the studios of NPR West. Welcome.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES (Co-Director, The Book of Eli): Thank you.

CORNISH: You guys are, first of all, its fraternal twins not identical twins?

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Well, theyve said back then we were fraternal but there were a lot of mistakes made in the early 70s and we havent had a DNA test. I suspect were identical, though.

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES (Co-Director, The Book of Eli): Even though 60 pounds heavier than my brother.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Its just because I dont eat. This is Albert.

CORNISH: Oh, good, because if I said the name I might insult someone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Now, because I know that you guys are heavily involved in script writing and script development, I want you to talk about what drew you to "The Book of Eli" as a story.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Well, Allen, I think you should start with that and then I'll finish with it, because if you came to Allen first...

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: You see how we're doing our names perfectly for NPR? It's Allen talking. Well, I read the - the script came, my agent said I finally found a movie for you. And I said, what's the title? And he said, "The Book of Eli," and that's when I go, wow, what a great title. And what's the log line? Lone warrior walking across the wasteland, post-nuclear with the last bible on the planet and the bad guy wants it to reboot civilization.

I read it - first 45 - at the 45-page mark, Gary Oldman's character, Carnegie, says just what you had at the clip there: it's not just a book, it's a weapon. And that's when the hair stood up - and I never had that kind of moment - and I read the rest of it and it really finished strong and I called Albert.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: He goes, this script, you got to read this script, you got to read this, you know. And I said, okay, I'll read it. So, I started reading it, I was flipping the page. I'm like, wow, this is cool, this is interesting. And then by the end, I just had kind of an uneasiness about what I just read and it was more to do with the spirituality and religious...

CORNISH: I want to ask you about that because usually in these dystopias, the big resource that people are battling over might be energy, it might be water. With this, not only is it a book, it's spiritual knowledge.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Well, at first that's what scared me about it because I'm not a true believer.

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: That's Albert.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Yeah, and I called him up and I said I just read it. I dont know about this. And he sounded deflated and he basically said, well, just go to sleep on it. And he had been playing this Trent Reznor song for me the week before and - not for me, it was just playing in his car - it's called "Zero Sum."

And when I went to sleep, that song was what got me into the movie. I actually had a dream about the movie because I like the song so much. And then I woke up and I totally got it. And I saw what you can do with that kind of material if handled right. You can show the good and bad side of what we're fascinated by about religion. You know, it's like it's not so much the books as it is the people that mess up things.

CORNISH: Were there any concerns about it basically being considered a Christian movie or an evangelical movie? Because I know the audience I was in, I got the sense that people were actually surprised when this part of the plot was unveiled. And there was a little bit of looking around and, like, wait a second, am I in the right place?

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Yeah. I think the concern was just trying to strike a great spiritual balance whether you're a non-believer or a Buddhist or Hindu, you know, Muslim or Native American. There's a certain oneness that was met in the movie where everybody can get something out of it. It just so happens that Eli's personal journey involved the King James version of the bible.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Book of Eli")

Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor): (As Eli) Both forms and thistles, it shall bring forth for us, for out of the ground we were taken for the dust we are. And to the dust we shall return.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: It's not about the Bible to us really. You know, that's a big part of the story, but it's about the guy. And in the end, you know, we were lost up out there. We know that this topic is controversial but, you know, the Christians have embraced it and that's great, you know. The problem is more with my people, you know, were liberals.

And it's interesting to me how a person like that can go into a "Star Wars" film or a "Lord of the Rings" film and totally buy into the fantasy if you're, let's say, an atheist liberal. But if you go into a movie like this, you can't buy into the fantasy of it.

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: You know what I found interesting - this is Allen speaking -is that I don't consider myself a liberal anymore, and I'm definitely not conservative. But if you at the look liberal, left, left, left liberal and the right, right, right conservative, they're both so predictable. There has been critics who have given us high marks in the past and have body slammed this movie because of the Bible, because of the...

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: But they won't say it though.

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: They won't say it.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: But you can tell...

CORNISH: But you think that's what's behind it.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Yeah, you can tell what's behind it because they're smart critics and they're not quantifying their hatred for the movie at all. They're just, it rubs them the wrong way. I think it's a good thing.

CORNISH: I'm speaking with Albert and Allen Hughes, directors of the new film, starring Denzel Washington, called "The Book of Eli."

Now, I also want to ask you how you got Denzel Washington involved and how he came to be a part of the picture.

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: It's a very interesting journey with Denzel because we met Denzel probably 17 years ago when we were in the Cannes Film Festival at the French airport at the - what do they call it - the baggage...

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Baggage, luggage, yeah.

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: And over the years, we had seen him and we've had conversations with him, never in a professional capacity but always kind of like the great crazy uncle that would come around and have geopolitical conversations with us, I mean long conversations with us. And this came up when we just signed onto the movie, we had a big meeting with the top brass at Warner Brothers and all the $20 million actors were on the table.

And I dont know why I was hesitant. But after going through the first three guys, I said what about Denzel? And the room stopped and you can just see, they all went, like, wow, only he probably is the only one that can pull this role off. So, went to Denzel. Unlike a lot of actors, Denzel's very decisive. He responds no right away or yes right away, and we got in the room with him right away.

That still wasn't an easy process. It took - he kind of veered away from it, did other things. And it was his son, who's a professional football player by the name of John David Washington, who read it and said, pops, you need to revisit this. This is his eldest son, the same one that convinced him to do "Training Day," for which he won his first lead male actor - what do they call that one?

CORNISH: Best Actor Oscar?

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: Best actor. And his son also convinced him to do "American Gangster." So, he had a great track record with his father, and his father reconsidered, read it and the rest is history.

CORNISH: Well, it's been nine years since your last film, and I have to ask what you've been doing in that time and am I going to have to wait another nine years before there's another Hughes Brothers film?

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: You are sweet.

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: Well, I would hope not because we'd walking in with, like, wheelchairs and a cane the rate we're going right now. It's a combination of a lot of things. It's like we always like to live our life. The elements have to be right for us to make a movie. If there's one personality off in that room and, you know, we'll bow out gracefully. The material doesn't speak to us on an emotional level - it can be an action movie, it can be great but, you know, it needs to speak to us.

And there will not be another nine years, but I can guarantee one thing, for me - and I'm sure Albert will agree - is that we're connoisseurs of life. And in between each movie, we go out of our way to actually observe life and interact with real people. And we don't live in the buffer zone of valet cars and lunches in Hollywood, this, that and the other. So, I think the movies will get better over time. They won't get worse.

CORNISH: Well, we're all going to be looking forward to the next one. Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes, directors of the new film starring Denzel Washington, "The Book of Eli," thank you both for talking with us.

Mr. ALLEN HUGHES: Thank you.

Mr. ALBERT HUGHES: Thank you. It was great.

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