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Denzel Washington: 'On Fire'

Two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington has a new movie, "Man on Fire," opening nationally this weekend.

In it, he plays an ex-CIA operative who can't help but open his heart when he becomes a bodyguard to a 9-year-old girl, who is played by Dakota Fanning, in Mexico City where there is an epidemic of kidnappings.

Washington dropped by The Early Show to discuss his new role as a man seeking revenge when the young girl is kidnapped.

In the movie, Rayburn (Christopher Walken) brings old friend Creasy (Washington) to Mexico City to be a bodyguard to young Pita Ramos (Fanning), daughter of industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) and his wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell). After some initial misgivings, Creasy accepts the assignment.

Pita and Creasy slowly develop a friendship. But, when Pita is forcibly taken away, Creasy vows to kill anyone involved in or profiting from the kidnapping.

"He has…one hand on the Bible, one on the bottle, very depressed, at the end of his rope," Washington tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler. "She's this little angel who just brings him back to life and gives him a reason for living, literally."

In some senses, he takes on the role of a surrogate parent for her. So his world falls apart when the person he has been hired to protect is abducted.

"He becomes a 'man on fire.' He wreaks havoc," Washington explains.

Kidnapping is a widespread problem in Latin American countries. In its original version, in book form, "Man on Fire" was written about 30 years ago, when the kidnapping problem was more prevalent in Italy.

"Man on Fire" was shot in Mexico. Syler asked Washington what kind of issues that presented.

"A lot of security. A lot of fajitas, too," Washington quipped. "It was cool. At first, it was a little bit strange. You know, you go into a foreign country. You get to the airport and…I had six or seven people, two or three cars, following me everywhere. But you start to settle down, and I started sneaking out.

"You know, one of these guys could trip and fall and kill me. Too many guns... We went to a very popular restaurant… You come out of the restaurant, and there's like 45 bodyguards. Everybody in the restaurant has their own bodyguard, own armored vehicle. Heck of a way to live."

Syler wanted to know what it is about Washington that keeps him grounded.

"Well, you know, I've been at it for a while," he said. "I know where my ability comes from, and I don't take myself too seriously. And I have four kids. That will keep you grounded… They could care less. The last place they want to come is on the set, because it's boring. They sit around and do what? Watch me act?"

Don't they know their dad is one of the sexiest men alive?

"Not in my kitchen, no."

Some Facts About Denzel Washington

  • Denzel Washington was born on Dec. 28, 1954, in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
  • In 1977, Washington graduated from Fordham University in New York; the actor landed a part in the 1977 CBS biopic of black track star Wilma Rudolph, which introduced him to his future wife, Pauletta Pearson.
  • In 1981, Washington enjoyed success on the New York stage in Charles Fuller's "A Soldier's Play" and as Malcolm X in "When the Chicken Comes Home to Roost."
  • From 1982 to 1988, Washington played Dr. Phillip Chandler, an insecure young resident, on NBC's medical drama "St. Elsewhere."
  • In 1981, Washington made his film debut as George Segal's illegitimate son in "Carbon Copy."
  • In 1984, Washington reprised his stage role in Norman Jewison's film "A Soldier's Story."
  • In 1986, the actor worked in Sidney Lumet's "Power," playing a part originally written for a white man.
  • In 1987, Washington garnered his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as South African activist Steven Biko in "Cry Freedom."
  • In 1989, Washington had his first lead in the British thriller "For Queen and Country"; Washington won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Glory."
  • In 1990, Washington played the womanizing trumpeter Bleek Gilliam in Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues."
  • In 1991, Washington took on the title role in a New York Shakespeare Festival production of "Richard III"; the actor stared in the crime thriller "Ricochet."
  • In 1992, Washington starred in Mira Nair's art-house romance "Mississippi Masala"; and the actor re-teaming with Spike Lee in "Malcolm X."
  • In 1993, Washington co-starred as the dashing Don Pedro in Kenneth Branagh's "Much Ado About Nothing"; Washington co-starred alongside superstar Julia Roberts in "The Pelican Brief"; and he worked with Tom Hanks in "Philadelphia."
  • In 1995, Washington starred opposite film veteran Gene Hackman in "Crimson Tide"; the actor then co-starred with Rusell Crowe in "Virtuosity"; and he had a leading role in the period detective film "Devil in a Blue Dress."
  • In 1996, Washington co-starred with Meg Ryan in "Courage Under Fire"; and he co-starred with singer-turned-actress Whitney Houston in "The Preacher's Wife."
  • In 1998, Washington starred in supernatural and cop-thriller "Fallen"; he was also in "The Siege"; and "He Got Game."
  • In 1999, Washington played a paralyzed protagonist of the serial killer thriller "The Bone Collector."; Washington re-teamed with Jewison to close out the millennium in "The Hurricane."
  • In 2000, Washington played a high school football coach in "Remember the Titans."
  • In 2001, Washington won a Best Actor Oscar award for his role in "Training Day."
  • In 2002, the actor starred in the action drama "John Q"; in that same year, Washington directed "The Antwone Fisher Story."
  • Washington is one of the national spokespersons for the Boys and Girls Club of America. He is on the board of the Mount Vernon, N.Y. chapter that he went to every day after school.
  • Denzel Washington's next film release will be a remake of "The Manchurian Candidate."
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