Queen Latifah on picking up where Denzel Washington left off as The Equalizer

Queen Latifah Pic credit: Sophy Holland/CBS

Denzel Washington revitalized the concept of The Equalizer with two hit movies, but when CBS introduces its rebooted version following this Sunday’s Super Bowl, it will harken back to the ’80s television show with one big twist:

The Equalizer will now be a woman named Robyn McCall, played by Queen Latifah, rather than Robert McCall.

“I am absolutely excited and love the fact that Denzel made this a relevant product again, because I did watch the original series as a kid,” Queen Latifah told reporters at a press conference for the project. “Denzel set a bar in a way, but also gave us a lot of room to go a completely different direction.”

The new Equalizer will be telling the story from a Black woman in America’s perspective, and a single mom on top of that, who uses her extensive skills as a former CIA operative to help those with nowhere else to turn.

McCall uses her cover as a single mom to 15-year-old daughter Delilah (Laya DeLeon Hayes) to keep her identity as The Equalizer, defender of the downtrodden, on the DL, but she does get assistance from her former colleagues.

“She’s got to figure out how to turn off the soldier in her and turn on the mom, so I think she’s going to get all she can handle from that,” Latifah said. “Luckily, she has Aunt Vi, played by Lorraine Toussaint, to help her navigate some of those pitfalls that she may face trying to step between those two worlds.”

Her former co-workers include William Bishop (Chris Noth), her former CIA handler and longtime friend; Melody “Mel” Bayani (Liza Lapira), an edgy bar owner and a colleague from Robyn’s past; and Harry Keshegian (Adam Goldberg), a paranoid and brilliant white-hat hacker.

“Unlike Denzel’s version and unlike the original version, those characters were much more stoic, much more closed off a bit, if you will, much more guarded,” Latifah continued.

“Robyn’s character doesn’t have that luxury. And so, it’s going to be interesting watching her jump from action into shutting that off, compartmentalizing that Equalizer person and turning into a mom and a woman who needs love and affection and likes to laugh.”

For more from Queen Latifah on the new CBS version of The Equalizer, check out the rest of her interview below.

Monsters & Critics: What is Robyn’s superpower?

Queen Latifah: I think her superpower is the fact that she is extremely skillful at what she does, at what she’s learned. She’s a leader. She knows how to delegate. She’s very skillful at many things, but what’s most important to her right now is that she’s done with all of that.

She’s done working for the people who make the big decisions. She’s done with the greed. She’s done with the uber-powerful.

She is all about taking what she has learned through the years, what she’s mastered deftly, and using it for everybody, using it for the other 99 percent of the population who don’t have access to people like her, and that’s what drives her at this point.

It’s the people she couldn’t save that makes her lose sleep. I think we’re in a time when that’s what makes a lot of people lose sleep. The people you can’t save, the people that can’t get a break, the people that have it rough, the people that are in line for food.

That’s who she wants to fight for. That’s who she wants to Equalize for. She doesn’t want to Equalize for billionaires anymore. She doesn’t want to Equalize for countries who play chess with people; she wants to Equalize for people.

And that’s a really important space to sit in at this time. Who in their mind could even fathom what the world would turn into over the last year? But it seems to be perfect timing for us to be able to tell these stories, stories ripped from the headlines now and so timely now.

M&C: How are you doing with the new series?

Queen Latifah: I want therapy. (jokes) No, you know what? I’m actually getting more and more and more comfortable every day. I’m starting to settle in. It’s almost like the lights were off, and then CBS said, “Flick,” and the lights turned on. And now the lights have been on for a while, and I’m feeling good about it.

As every script comes in — and, yeah, these are tough, challenging days, but I feel like I’m starting to settle into this character. There are just days when I’ll do a scene with Chris Noth or with Tory Kittles, and we just, like, “Yeah, that was a good one, right?” We just have fun.  We crack jokes afterwards, and we feel good.           

Queen Latifah Pic credit: Barbara Nitke/CBS

M&C: What’s it like getting the spot after the Super Bowl?

Queen Latifah: I am a huge, huge football fan. I’m so stoked that we are coming on after the Super Bowl. I’ll also say I think it was great on behalf of our crew that has been working really hard under difficult conditions.

We’ve been shooting outside, in cold and rainy weather and snowy weather, and working really hard, of course, with COVID conditions to keep safe, keep everybody safe.

And so, to find out that we were airing after the Super Bowl, it just gave us an all-around boost. It just made us want to work even harder. I think it bonded us, because when you’re working, everyone’s behind masks, because we’re being safe, so it was like our hearts connected. There was a lightness that came over the set with our crew.    

It’s very important that we look out for each other and we take care of each other’s emotional and mental conditioning, because we’re doing an action show. We’re doing a big show and we’re very excited to do the show. So, anytime we get an opportunity to just lift ourselves up, come on. This is big stuff and it was very, very exciting for us.

M&C: Tell us about the fight choreography and how much we’ll get to see Robyn fight?

Queen Latifah:  I like to fight as much as possible and I think we’re getting better with our fight choreography as well. I’m learning a lot about how to do it, how to do it efficiently, and how to preserve my body as well. I have a lot of respect for stunt people, for fight choreography, for all the stunt profession, because they really sell a lot of what we do.

Now, listen, I can do this. I can do all these things, but I’ve got to do it for the whole season. So, I want to make sure that I don’t pretend to be 22 years old, because they would have these paws (raises clenched fists) in every episode in every different way.

But I think it’s a specific kind of fight choreography, a specific action that makes McCall so cool. And that’s what I think I want to keep in range. It’s not just fighting for the sake of fighting. It’s why is she fighting? Why is she physical?

She’s not fighting just because she wants to fight. She’s fighting because someone did something wrong. She’s fighting because someone did something unjust. She’s fighting because she has to protect someone. And that’s the way I was raised.    

M&C: Who was it that taught you to fight as a child?

Queen Latifah:  My father taught us, at a young age, how to defend ourselves. He taught us all these moves and then told us never to use them unless you were defending your mother, your brother, or you were sticking up for someone who was being bullied in school, being abused in some sort of way.

 So, it’s the character that comes along with the fight, because we don’t need fights just to fight. We don’t need just gratuitous violence. We get enough of that. 

But I love action, and I love fighting. Believe me, you’re going to have plenty of it in this show and it won’t just come from me. It will come from our other characters. We have Mel, played by Liza Lapira, who is a sharpshooter. It’s going to pretty sexy to watch her pop someone from a distance.

And we’re going to see people fight with their minds. I want to see Robyn fight, not just with her hands, but with her brains. And, to me, that’s what you haven’t seen enough of, particularly from Black women on television and in a lead role. So, I want to see this woman fight with her mind, not just with her hands.

The Equalizer premieres Sunday, Feb. 7 immediately following Super Bowl on CBS.

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3 years ago

Queen Latifah as The Equalizer is a fantastic idea and series I just watched the first 2 episodes and I’m hooked and will definitely spread the word!