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Denzel Washington throws down with Jared Leto, Rami Malek in ‘Little Things’: ‘These guys ain’t playing’

  • January 27, 2021

Jared Leto let his freak flag fly as the Joker in “Suicide Squad,” the Method-mad actor sent his castmates taunting gifts – a live rat, even a dead pig.

Denzel Washington makes clear that definitely did not happen while filming “The Little Things,” even though Leto plays cagey murder suspect Albert Sparma and Washington is the law as Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon in the psychological thriller.

“He didn’t do any of that with me,” says Washington, 66, shutting down the question even before it’s fully finished.  “Nah. He’d have been paid a visit. That wouldn’t happen.”

But the two-time Oscar winner makes it explicitly clear that he relished the opportunity to mix it up onscreen with two co-stars who have a strong case for inclusion in the next generation of American acting greats: fellow Oscar recipients Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), who plays slick lead detective Jim Baxter in “The Little Things” (in theaters and streaming on HBO Max Friday).

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Denzel Washington plays Sheriff’s Deputy Joe “Deke” Deacon in The Little Things.

He went into battle with the next generation to win it, even putting on the weight he felt his emotionally broken character needed. Washington’s world-weary Deacon might look like an “overweight, over-the-hill” cautionary tale in “Little Things.” But that’s hard-earned acting preparation, he insists. 

“There was a Joe Deacon diet. The sacrifices I make for my character,” says Washington with a laugh. He cops to allowing too much dessert and putting a hold on daily exercise to get fighting flabby. “Gaining the weight, that’s a piece of cake. Literally a piece of cake. Eating big late. It’s not healthy, but it works. Milkshakes were my friend. Ice cream was my very good friend.”

He looks soft, but his mind games were hard. Leto and Washington didn’t make nice off-camera. Director John Lee Hancock says the first time the two laid eyes on each other in “Little Things” was in costume for a night scene where Deacon suspiciously checks out Sparma’s car. The coolness helped keep the screen tension.

“I stayed away from him. He stayed away from me, respectfully so,” says Washington. “We’d bow or nod from across the highway. Literally, one day we nodded across the highway from each other.”

Denzel Washington's Joe Deacon keeps his eyes on murder suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto).

Washington says he took his detective work a step further with Leto, spying on his co-star. “I’d follow him around. I was outside of his apartment sometimes and he didn’t know,” says Washington, who declines to elaborate. “I won’t say anything more about it. I’ll put it this way, he didn’t know.”

By the time it came to film a dramatic interrogation scene between the three characters, the creative pressure was ready to blow. With Malek’s Baxter starting the questioning, Washington insisted on watching from behind one-way glass in the observation room for the initial fireworks, Hancock says.

Denzel Washington says there was electricity in a central interrogation scene with murder suspect Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) and homicide detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek).

“Afterward, Denzel said to me, ‘Man, they are throwing down. I cannot wait to get in that room,’ ” says Hancock. “He told me, ‘I feel like I’m the old heavyweight and I’m watching two young bucks battle in the ring.’ “

When Washington did enter, his Deacon went unhinged interrogating Sparma.

“Obviously, we’re going to stay safe and not break out into a fistfight,” says Washington. “It was sort of like every man for himself. Everybody’s coming in there with their A-game and let’s see what happens.”

Outside the “Little Things” arena, Washington need only look to his own household to see another of the next generation’s great actors coming up: his son, “Tenet” star John David Washington, 36. But the father advises that John David (and the world) look out for daughter Olivia, 29, who has a small role in “Little Things” and has just wrapped the drama “Solitary” with David Oyelowo.

“Remember, I said so. John David has a sister named Olivia Washington,” says Washington. “She’s really a great young actress. So his sister is coming for him.”

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Deke (Denzel Washington, left) gets in the face of Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) during an interrogation in the crime thriller The Little Things.

Washington, who has completed his role as Lord Macbeth in director Joel Coen’s “Macbeth” and is directing the Iraq War drama “Journal for Jordan” with Michael B. Jordan, started taking the Deacon weight off while filming “Little Things.” He was noticeably fitter in time to shoot flashback scenes of a younger Deacon toward the end of the 2019 shoot.

He went back to his boxing regiment and pushed away the ice cream. “One day Rami was like, ‘Man, is it me, or are you getting smaller?’ I didn’t say anything to him, but inside I was like, ‘Oh, thank you.’ “

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