Denzel Washington

07/22/2004 at 06:00 AM EDT

Denzel Washington
For his role as Candidate's Ben Marco, a troubled Persian Gulf War vet, Washington did his homework, researching mood disorders.
Hounsfield-Lepresle/ABACA
Denzel Washington is back on the big screen, this time to share the bill with another Oscar-winning powerhouse, Meryl Streep, in the remake of the political thriller The Manchurian Candidate. But don't look for fireworks between the two – they never shared a scene. Washington, 49, recently chatted with reporters about working with his elusive costar, getting back behind the camera and nearing the big 5-0.

How is it that you're in a movie with Meryl Streep, yet you two didn't actually share any screen time?
I didn't really realize it until the day that we were doing the last scene. It was like, I'm an extra in this scene. Probably the most exciting day in retrospect was just the read-through. Just waiting to see what she was going to do and how she was going to do it, and she was really having fun. I was like, She's sort of joking it up, but there's obviously a method to her madness.

Is there any woman as powerful as Meryl is in this?
My mother. (Laughs) More powerful.

Had you seen the original?
No. Still haven't.

Why not?
It goes back to theater, and I'm from the theater. You reinterpret or you interpret plays all the time that have been done over and over. When I read this, and I'm glad that I hadn't seen the film, I said, "Wow." It was all new and fresh to me.

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What about it got you?
It was just fascinating. I was like, Could this happen? ... We all get brainwashed. We are all led in a certain direction. Malcolm X said, You started off hating the Germans and loving the Russians. Five years later, you were loving the Germans and hating the Russians. How did that happen? Someone told you something. You didn't go to Russia or Germany. So somehow you were, in some sense brainwashed or programmed. So it happens in subtle ways.

Do you think you could ever be brainwashed?
Yes, and I was by my mother. She brainwashed me. She trained me well. She did a good job.

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