Redemption in the Trenches

Another theme that Washington particularly appreciated about the Book of Eli story was the all-too-important reminder than even in God's work it's important to "do for others more than you do for yourself."

"It's interesting, here's a man who like Saul/Paul is knocked off his horse. Eli has this epiphany, this moment that God spoke to him—‘take this book west." And of course, I don't know if this is said—‘and kill everybody on the way!'" Washington says. "But that's what happens. For me, that became the arc of the character, that at his most violent, this innocent girl [Solara] who can't even read and doesn't even know what the Bible is says ‘Stop!' You know sometimes we get so focused in God's name, I mean who is the better man at that moment: Carnegie or Eli when my character is chopping people to bits? There's a fork in the road, and Eli makes the choice [to travel through Carnegie's city]. Or a choice is made for him. Either way, he goes into that town, and maybe that's why, because there was a lesson for him to learn."

When portraying other violent characters in his past like a corrupt police officer in Training Day, Washington says he's "tried to bend" even the worst of roles.

"The first thing I wrote on my script for Training Day was ‘the wages of sin is death." Washington remembers. "In the original script, you find out that my character died on the television. And I said ‘No, no, no.' In order for me to justify him living in the worst way, he had to die in the worst way. I had Ethan Hawke's character pulling me out of the car, and I crawl like a snake, and the whole neighboring community turns their back on me. Then I get blown to bits."

In Malcolm X, Washington even found the proverbial silver lining in playing a man who'd seen his father murdered in "the worst way," a man "with all this hatred in him."

"Then he learned that there were Muslims of all colors, and he learned to love—or at least, change—before he was killed," Washington adds. "I try to find a way to ‘turn that' or ‘use that' in all of my characters. And thankfully with ‘Eli' that was a little easier. For me, it was very parallel to my role in man on fire. This very violent man meets an innocent child who teaches him to be human again—and then (SPOILER ALERT) he sacrifices his life for her. That's the story I was telling here."

Opening wide in theaters on January 15, 2010, The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals and is rated R for some brutal violence and language.  For more information, please visit the official Web site of the book of eli

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.