The star-producer of CBS' latest bet, a reimagining of the '80s series, reveals why she didn't talk to Denzel Washington beforehand.
CBS reboots the 1980s TV series, which starred Edward Woodward and also inspired Denzel Washington's film franchise, with Latifah taking the helm as the eponymous heroine. As Robyn McCall, Latifah plays an enigmatic woman with a mysterious background who uses her skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. On paper, McCall may seem like an everyday divorced single mom quietly raising her teenage daughter, but to a trusted few, she is The Equalizer -- an anonymous guardian angel and defender of the downtrodden, who’s also dogged in her pursuit of personal redemption.
When she first sat down to discuss the possibility of bringing The Equalizer back to the small screen, it was late 2019 and the temperature on the country was vastly different than it is now, amid racial and social justice.
"I watched The Equalizer as a kid growing up, so I always loved the idea of it -- and the world was just so nasty at the point in time," Latifah, 50, told ET's Kevin Frazier over Zoom ahead of the series' post-Super Bowl launch. "This was a bit over a year ago, but the world was nasty. The world was mean... the world was not fair and it still is not, but I felt like this would be a great opportunity to take all the things I've learned throughout my career and my life and be able to exact some justice. Even if it's just on television. It's a powerful medium and people need to see some justice for a change."
"I had no idea when I took this job that the world would flip upside down and go crazy, and break and change," she continued. "Some change is for the good. It's supposed to fall apart so you can put it together the right way. But I had no idea that this was coming, so it's really right on time that we're doing this show."
Latifah leads an inclusive ensemble that includes Chris Noth, Tory Kittles, Lorraine Toussaint, Liza Lapira and Adam Goldberg. For Latifah, it was crucial that The Equalizer represented the life she knew and was familiar with growing up in New Jersey and later, New York City, both in front of and behind the camera.
"I think part of the problem is people are so sheltered or they're so used to their own status quos or their own bubbles that they don't really see that there's a big world out there. There are a lot of different people. Everyone is not living at the same level and we need to help each other out a little more and we need to have compassion and empathy for other people. But if you don't even see it, you don't even know it exists, you don't even think about it...," Latifah said. "It's been a mission throughout my career from the point that I garnered any sort of decisive power to make sure that my crews look like the world that I grew up in, that my casts look like the world that I grew up in, if possible. That I was able to employ people who, when I look beyond that camera, that I did not just see white men."
"That was all I was seeing and that was too much. I felt like, 'Where is everybody?' because I grew up in New York, New Jersey. I'm used to the melting pot," she explained. "It was important to make sure people were being given opportunities. I don't want to give anybody a job that they don't deserve or a job that they're not qualified for, but I want to make sure that if I'm in a position that I can bring people up and help them get an opportunity to learn, to train and to be part of a story that's being told about us all and that it's being told by us, so it's not some... caricature or some thought that someone may have come up with or what they think from what's been historically seen. But something that's more true to life. And the only way you can do that is to be inclusive."
Latifah revealed she didn't seek out Washington's advice when she was toying with becoming The Equalizer, joking, "Well, clearly I didn't talk to Denzel first because he would've told me I was crazy! He would've talked some sense into me!"
But she credited her decades-long career of touring and acting for preparing her for the grueling physical demands of filming an action crime drama.
"I actually do have to train. I do have to do stunts and I give all the props to the stunt crew and the stunt folks... the fight coordinators, the special effects people, my motorcycle double, my car doubles. I definitely have to handle weaponry, have to fight," she said. "The brain is the biggest weapon I have to use on this show, but you will definitely see the action and that's really the training, the stunt coordination that we do here to make it as efficient as possible, you know. But I've been able to use things in real life that have been very helpful and I appreciate having a father that was in law enforcement and showed me how to do things at an early age, so I'm very comfortable with a lot of these things."
Latifah credited her "adventurous" side for setting her up for success, from riding motorcycles to driving cars. "It just came with the job. So now I'm getting paid for what came with the job," she said.
As for The Equalizer's anticipated debut after the Super Bowl, which pits Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers against Patrick Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa, Florida, Latifah admitted she was "shocked," but "excited" about landing such a massive platform to launch the series. "Everybody went crazy... Everybody just went nuts," she recalled.
Latifah paid tribute to the late Richard Lindheim, co-creator of the original Equalizer series, for giving the team his stamp of approval after seeing a cut of the first episode the day before his death on Jan. 18 at 81. "A sweet, gorgeous man. We got along from Day 1, and he got an opportunity to see the cut of the show and he passed away the next day," she shared. "So he saw that cut and he was like, 'Wow, it was really good,' and then off he went. We feel very blessed."
The Equalizer premieres after Super Bowl LV on Sunday, Feb. 7 at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT (time approximate after post-game coverage) on CBS, before moving to its regular Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT time slot the following week.
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