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Friday, April 9, 2010

Monique Interviews Antoine Fuqua & Wesley Snipes Of "Brooklyn's Finest"

Antoine Fuqua Talks "Brooklyn's Finest"

Antoine Fuqua is like the Phil Jackson of Hollywood.

Like the famed NBA coach, Fuqua has coached some of the best players in Tinseltown, including leading Hollywood MVP Denzel Washington to the Academy Awards promised land for his work in "Training Day," a film that Fuqua directed. A former music video director -- the 43-year-old shot videos for the likes of Prince, Toni Braxton and Stevie Wonder -- he's since transformed his career into that of a successful Hollywood director. His path, as these stories go, wasn't a straight shot, either. The former West Virginia University point guard had to fall out of love with hoops in order to pursue his real dream -- making movies. Fuqua scores again with cop thriller "Brooklyn's Finest," which opens Friday, and chats with Page 2 about his hoop dreams, working with some of the finest actors of our time and why he walked away from an athletic scholarship after playing for two years.

I read that basketball changed your life. How so?

You know, just the discipline of playing ball. For me, playing basketball was something I used to do every day in Pittsburgh, I had to practice hard. I'm just 6-foot, so I'm not the tallest cat on the court. I had to hone in on my game -- even in the winter when it was cold outside and the YMCA or the Boys Club was closed, I had to go outside on the court. I learned discipline and work ethic. It kept me off the street and got me a scholarship and got me in college. It taught me how to be a team player.

What position did you play at West Virginia?

Point guard.

Interesting. That's actually a fitting role for a film director …

I know, right?

So how have you applied that point guard background to filmmaking?

I'm competitive. I watch other films and I'm competitive in that way. The energy that you give off, everybody feeds off you. As a director, you walk onto a set and people are going to react off of you. If you're strong and you're leading them, they'll follow. But if you come into the game and you're weak, it's going to become chaos. And the end result is that you won't win. Trust the leadership -- call the right plays. Just like in basketball when that last shot can be the one to win the game, it's the same in filmmaking. When the clock is counting down -- or in my case, the sun is going down as a director -- and sometimes that last shot can be the one and when you get in the editing bay, that's what nails the scene.

Do you follow any teams now? Which ones and why?

I watch them all -- football, basketball and a little bit of baseball. I love the Lakers right now, they have a good team, well-rounded team. Kobe is exciting; he's that guy that always comes through in the clutch. He's built that way; it's in his DNA. I love watching guys that have that killer mentality, that killer instinct.

What made you pick filmmaking over sports?

I took a Baroque art class and fell in love. I always loved art, but didn't know how to express that. There was a moment in my career playing ball where I wasn't having fun. It wasn't fun. It was a strange change that was happening in the business. I remember Nike bought us a whole bunch of tennis shoes and we put on black and white tuxedos and Nike shoes and were at the governor's mansion and taking pictures. It was weird. It was the beginning of that thing, but it was weird to me. I wasn't having fun. I had so much fun growing up and playing ball on the court as a kid, but I wasn't having fun playing in college. I kind of felt like if you're not having fun -- even if you're good at it, how long are you going to last, really? For a while, I couldn't watch it. I loved it, I wanted to play. I wanted to be in the pros. But I just couldn't do it anymore."

Was the squad pretty good when you were there?

Yeah. We did all right. We went to the playoffs one year. It was a pretty good team.

As a director, you've coached Denzel to his Oscar in "Training Day," coached Ethan Hawke to an Oscar nomination for that same film and in this new movie, you directed Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Hawke and Wesley Snipes -- some pretty heavy hitters. Any regrets now about leaving the game and not pursing that childhood dream of playing professionally?

Had I done that, it would have been long over by now! That career would have been gone a long time ago.

This film is an underdog, of sorts. It's got an R-rating, and it's going up against "Alice In Wonderland" this week. That said, do you always root for the underdog?

I do. That's why I make movies like this, too. It's all about the abuse of power in an administration. The guys that are out in the field playing and working hard are bleeding. I like that. I like the common man that is on the ground and things that he can't really control. Sometimes, you can beat it if you make the right decisions, and sometimes it can chew you up and spit you out, which we've seen many times in sports, as well. I like the underdog, absolutely. Plus I need to feel that way. It pisses me off and keeps me fighting. You can't get lost in L.A. and in the sunshine. You can't drink the kool-aid. If I did that, I'd end up back in Pittsburgh, playing basketball on the black top in the cold weather.

Kelley L. Carter is a freelance entertainment reporter. She can be reached at

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