Queen Latifah didn’t just want her new series, “The Equalizer,” to be about a woman righting others’ wrongs. She saw it as a way to stand up for people “who don’t have access to people like her.”
In the new edition, the Grammy-winning star plays Robyn McCall, a “fixer” who worked for the powerful but realized they weren’t the ones who needed her support. “It’s the people she couldn’t save. That’s what makes her lose sleep,” Latifah says during a Zoom conference. “That’s who she wants to equalize for. She doesn’t want to equalize for millionaires any more … or countries who play chess with people. She wants to equalize for people.”
The show’s producers say a year filled with outside challenges that have affected everyone made the reboot even more essential. “Who could even fathom the last year?” Latifah says. “For us to be able to tell these stories – stories ripped from the headlines then that are really ripped from the headlines now and (are) so timely now.”
While the original series – starring Edward Woodward – was largely a one-man show, this version will include plenty of friends, relatives and former co-workers who will help McCall right wrongs.
“We wanted to help fill out the emotional world for Robyn McCall,” says Executive Producer Andrew W. Marlowe. “To have these other assets to explore, these other assets allows us to have richer, emotional relationships when our character has these various touch points in her life.”
This “Equalizer” will delve into more of its leading character's past. Those who surround her help explain how she got to be where she is.
For Latifah, it’s a great chance to display her action skills. Although she has scored with gritty dramas and biographies (she was nominated for an Oscar for “Chicago,” won an Emmy for producing “Bessie”), she hasn’t had ample opportunity to show her kickboxing and fighting skills.
“I like to fight as much as possible,” Latifah says. “I’m learning a lot about how to do it and 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.”
More important, “I want to make sure I don’t pretend to be 22 years old because they would have gotten these paws (fists) every episode in every different way. She’s not fighting just because she wants to fight. She’s fighting because someone did something wrong. She’s fighting because she has to protect someone. And that’s the way I was raised.”
Latifah’s father taught her her moves, but impressed upon her they were to be used only if someone else was being bullied or abused. “We don’t need fights just to fight.”
Others in the series get to partake in the action, too.
And, no, there won’t be a crossover with Denzel Washington’s “Equalizer.” The two films he made (as new versions of the original franchise) exist in their own universe, Marlowe says. “To have a Black woman be the face of justice, we think, is really, really interesting special sauce for this moment. So we really haven’t thought too much about the movies.”
This “Equalizer’s” team worked with the original creator – Richard Lindheim – about its origins and how it spoke to its times.
Washington’s version, Executive Producer Debra Martin Chase says, is a lot darker. “It’s grim. It’s bloody in that kind of very visceral way. It was important for all us that this show have warmth to it, that Robyn represents all women that are striking a balance between career and family and themselves and the world. Both versions can live very comfortably in their own lane.”
Latifah says the action does come with aches and pains but it’s worth it if the stories resonate. As a bonus, the first episode of “The Equalizer” will air after the Super Bowl. That was a great boost for crew members who have been working in cold, snowy and rainy weather and have doubled efforts to keep the company safe during the coronavirus pandemic. “It made us want to go even harder, worker even harder,” she says. “I think it bonded us. It’s very important that we look out for each other and take care of each other’s emotional and mental conditioning.”