Ethan Hawke Left His ‘Training Day’ Audition Thinking He Should Tell Denzel Washington to ‘Go to Hell’

Even years later, Training Day holds up as one of the most thrilling police movies. Starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, it centers a day in the life of two Los Angeles narcotics officers, one of whom is corrupt.

Part of what makes it so good is the dynamic between Washington (Alonzo Harris) and Hawke (Jake Hoyt). Both actors brought their own spark and energy that translated beautifully onscreen. But Hawke admits that things didn’t go so smoothly in the beginning.

Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke
Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in a scene from ‘Training Day’ | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

How the cast of ‘Training Day’ came together

According to Variety, the movie was initially meant to have Davis Guggenheim on to direct and Samuel L. Jackson and Matt Damon as the lead actors. But that combination eventually changed.

Per Screen Rant, Bruce Willis, Gary Sinise, and Tom Sizemore were all considered for Alonzo before the role went to Washington, who allegedly asked to replace Guggenheim. After he was out, director Antoine Fuqua stepped in and selected Hawke as Washington’s sidekick, citing Hawke’s “just become a man” quality in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

(The same report mentions Tobey Maguire, Freddie Prinze Jr., Paul Walker, Ryan Phillippe, and Scott Speedman were among those considered for Hawke’s role.)

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Ethan Hawke’s comments about working with Denzel Washington

Reflecting on being cast in the movie, Hawke told The Hollywood Reporter:

“Denzel and Antoine Fuqua really wanted me. The studio didn’t want me. I mean they like to tell the story.  But it was obviously a great opportunity that everybody wanted or a lot of more popular actors than me at that time that wanted it. But Denzel really wanted somebody who could play with him, you know.  And he puts a high value on the theater.  And he was extremely interested in me for that part. And so they came and I had to do a screen test.”

When they were testing, Hawke said, Denzel went “totally” off-script, angering him. “Denzel went totally off book during my test. And I walked out debating about whether to go back in and tell them all to go to hell because you know I felt like I had been sabotaged because we didn’t do anything that was on the page.  And I didn’t think that was fair because he had the part.”

Though it’s not the way he thought it would go, it also wasn’t as bad as he figured, as he wound up getting a callback. “I was in LA, I was sitting outside about to-I was thinking about going in and telling them to just go to hell. And then I got the call saying yeah, they — it went great, they want you. I was like, ‘Oh, they did?'”

Ethan Hawke revisits his ‘Training Day’ role around the 15:45 mark

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He went on to have a great experience with his co-star

Hawke continued on to say he “loved” working on the film, specifically with Washington because he would challenge him.

“I love somebody set the bar high for crying out loud, you know,” he said.  “I mean everybody just is so complacent, you know it’s like they’re waiting for Martin Scorsese to show up to give them permission to do great work. Why not do it now? Why not do it with your friends, you know?”

When the movie finally released in 2001, it was met with critical acclaim. Both Hawke and Washington were even nominated for Oscars for their performances, with Washington taking home an award for best lead actor. The outcome makes that early experience all the more fascinating.