What do Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Denzel Washington have in common? Oh, you know, just The Little Things.
It’s a stonker of a headline cast: three Best Actor winners from the prestige, pulp and controversial corners of cinema. A legend, bohemian and Joker, together in a dark, twilight LA serial killer thriller with broad strokes of Seven and True Detective; somehow overly familiar and surprisingly bold.
Having long gestated in the crypt of John Lee Hancock’s mind, a decades-old script found life with its cast. But there were no egos on-set, no showboating. ‘Every moment was one person sharpening another one,’ Malek told UNILAD.
For the movie-savvy, you may already be aware of The Little Things. Due to all that’s wrong in the world, the powers that be kept the film from the UK in lieu of theatrical distribution. For the VPN-less mortals, like Kermit at a rainy window, the British public was understandably asked to wait.
Here’s the honest truth: the film itself is a bit dull. A deliciously downbeat atmosphere, for sure, with Thomas Newman doing his thing on the score. But as the story goes, bar some intriguing tweaks to the formula, it feels lifted out of time, struggling to emerge above a chock-full crop.
That said, character-wise it’s rather juicy – it’s no surprise the three actors latched on. ‘It’s something you can only hope for. You see a script like we had, it flows and I think it wrapped us all up. John Lee Hancock assembled what I feel is a triumvirate that really played well off of one another,’ Malek said.
Malek, the most recent Academy Award winner for his performance as Freddie Mercury, plays Detective Jim Baxter, a clinically-operating do-gooder and stickler for proper procedure, enslaved to his record and rising up the ranks. It’s not a role you’d quickly pair with the star – once upon a time, nor would Malek himself.
He explained: ‘I loved the noir detective psychological thriller growing up, I loved Silence of the Lambs, Memento, all those great films. To me, I never thought I’d play a detective in a sheriff’s department. I grew up in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley where this takes place, so for me it was just the culmination of a lot of great things coming my way at once.’
By his side is Denzel Washington’s Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon, a deputy sheriff with a haunted past and axe to grind. As women’s bodies mount up in a series of grisly murders, he works with Baxter to track down the killer. Soon, Jared Leto’s Albert Sparma, an unreliable suspect with an infatuation for crime; not committing it, but its logistics, the method in the madness, the trail behind the catch.
The Dallas Buyers Club star has a fair share of weirdos in his filmography, and Sparma is a right doozy. As for what informed his performance here, he said: ‘The script, the circumstances, the time period, the clues that were in there, the conversations with John Lee Hancock. Then, you know, the research, some of the experimentation, the failure you go through when you’re preparing – that’s always a huge teacher.’
He continued: ‘I didn’t just wanna come in and play a suspect or a bad guy, I felt like that wasn’t probably a great use of my time. John Lee Hancock and I both agreed if we could kinda dig into building a real person, from head-to-toe, something unique, that that’d be quite exciting. So that’s what we did.’
Leto’s reputation isn’t all that kind online. Whether it’s his movie appearances (his latest line-reading of ‘We live in a society’ in the Snyder Cut was memed instantly), tales of alarming on-set hijinks or cult in Croatia, he’s often a target for mockery. His Golden Globe nomination for this very role even attracted groans – it’s worth noting, his performance is actually quite terrific.
As we chatted, he was exceedingly humble, appearing to be truly gracious sitting alongside Malek and Washington. It’s been over 20 years since he was first chopped up by a murderer in American Psycho, now he’s playing a creep of his own.
‘It’s amazing how time flies,’ Leto said. ‘We just did the 20th anniversary of Requiem for a Dream and we were all just blindsided that 20 years had passed. I guess, maybe I’m getting sentimental as I’m getting older, I just have a lot of gratitude that I’ve been able to do some of the things that I’ve done and work with these amazing people and have these relationships that I have.’
Of course, it’s never a bad gig to break bread with Washington. He’s well-acquainted with playing members of law enforcement: The Bone Collector, Inside Man, Out of Time, Training Day, Déjà Vu, The Magnificent Seven and Fallen, to name a few – god, I wish more people spoke about Fallen.
Nor is he a stranger to characters seeking vengeance, like Man on Fire’s John W. Creasy or The Equalizer’s, well, you know. But don’t read into that too much: the actor is simply playing the game, not mining something deeper.
Washington told us: ‘I never think of it that way. Movies belong to the people, once you make it, it belongs to you and you or anyone can interpret it the way they want.’
In the past 10 years, he’s appeared in just nine movies. But his work extends to behind the camera, credited as a producer on not just his own films but also Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, as well as directing with Fences and the upcoming Journal for Jordan, starring Michael B. Jordan.
Just what is it that gets him into a project? Simply: ‘Inspiration, challenge, bills [laughs].’
He added: ‘I was very fortunate to go right from The Little Things – and I really put it down immediately, I didn’t think about at all the day we finished, I just picked up [The Tragedy of Macbeth]. Need I say more? That’s what we live for as actors, to be able to go from The Little Things to Macbeth, with Frances McDormand and Joel Coen at that. That’s what it’s all about.’
It’s flawed, absolutely. You’ll likely not think about it much after its done, bar Washington saying lines like: ‘Your d*ck is harder than Chinese arithmetic.’
But even the staunchest critic will recognise The Little Things as a triple-threat from the outset. As Malek said: ‘It’s an absolute privilege. You dream about working with the best of the best.’
You can rent the movie premiere of The Little Things at home now.
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