“Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer 212-555-4200” — newspaper ad
Did you ever watch “The Equalizer” series back in the mid- to late-1980s? (Assuming you were around back then, that is.) Or, maybe you picked it up later on some cable or streaming channel, or you got the DVDs from the library? Anyway, it aired during my high school days, and I thought it/he was so cool. Not as much action as you might think, certainly not as compared to some of its contemporaries (e.g., “The A-Team”). But, it was a “gritty”, well-written drama (like “Wiseguy”) and one of my favorite shows at the time.
The titular character was ‘Robert McCall’, played so well by the late Edward Woodward (5’9or10″,b.1930). McCall was a middle-aged, former CIA operative (yet, obviously British), now retired and living comfortably in a modest NYC apartment. He had expensive tastes — i.e., for nice clothes, food, wine, opera — and didn’t seem to hurt for money, but he didn’t have a regular job. In an effort to ease his conscience from having done some nasty stuff in the past, he offered his services — at no cost, apparently — to average folks who got in over their heads and felt their lives/safety threatened. In effect, he was part private investigator, part vigilante.
Woodward played the character with a combination of stern, cool menace and mystique. McCall may have preferred to keep things low-key and not resort to violence, but he was quite comfortable using physical assault, threats, guns, and whatever else it took to protect his clients from bad guys and, in many cases, teach his opponents a lesson in “manners”. Because he was 50-something and had a cultured, British air to him, New York criminals — especially young punks and hoods — often underestimated him.
While primarily a solo operator, McCall made use of his many contacts and a few specialists. His old handler, ‘Control’ (Robert Lansing), would alternately give warnings, advice, or provide helpful information, but he also argued a lot with McCall and didn’t always cooperate. McCall had a sort of love/hate relationship with the NYPD, sometimes assisting and sometimes being a thorn in the side of various Lieutenants (Smalls, Burnett, Brannigan, Elmer) and others. ‘Mickey Kostmayer’, played by the terrific Keith Szarabajka, was a young CIA operative that McCall most often called on for backup when things were gonna get hairy. (I seem to remember him having some computer expertise, as well, but don’t quote me on that.) There was also the streetwise ‘Jimmy’ (Mark Margolis), who was able to “acquire” whatever McCall needed for surveillance, sting operations, etc. ‘Sterno’ (Irving Metzman) was the overweight and somewhat neurotic accountant/numbers-guy who McCall roped into assisting in a few episodes. ‘Pete O’Phelan’ (Maureen Anderman) added her skills into the mix in later episodes. Etc.
The other day, I watched the new(ish) The Equalizer (2014) film starring Denzel Washington (6’1″,b.1954). (Russell Crowe (5’11.5″,b.1964) had been originally attached to star.) I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I have mixed feelings about it, given my affinity for the old TV series. The acting by Washington and his co-stars was terrific, of course, and it was a decent story. (SPOILER ALERT!: McCall doesn’t call himself ‘the Equalizer’ or solicit clients with a newspaper ad until the very end.) But, other than being a retired CIA agent with a certain set of skills (and psychological baggage) and a love for reading classics, this version of McCall was very different from the TV version. There was also more violence, but that’s to be expected in an ‘R’ movie involving vigilante justice.
Personally, I’d prefer a white guy in the role, though the character works fine for a Black actor, too. I’m more concerned that they made him American. I mean, sure, it makes more sense for a CIA operative to be American. But, McCall’s being British was part of what made the original an interesting character. (Given his last name, Scottish would be acceptable, too.) The other (potential) issue for me is age. Woodward was 55 when the pilot debuted and 59 at the series finale; I think that age range works best for the concept. Washington, on the other hand, was 59 when The Equalizer movie came out, and he’ll be 63 when the sequel hits theaters this July. That said, I thought he totally sold the fight scenes. (Kudos to the director and fight choreographer, as well.) So, I guess a fit 60-something works, too.
With that in mind, if I were to fan-cast ‘Robert McCall’ for a new TV series, perhaps one that continues from where the original left off, here are a few candidates…
I would love to see Peter Woodward (5’10.5″,b.1956) take over his father’s role. He has a similar build and bearing, and he has a long resume of work in the action/adventure and sci-fi/fantasy genres. For example, “Crusade”, The Patriot, “Charmed”, “Fringe”, The Fall of the Essex Boys, “Dracula”, The Last Scout, plus some voice work, and currently “Age of the Living Dead” and “Dystopia”. He’s already 62, but as long as he’s relatively fit, I think he’d be great. Whether or not to give him a hairpiece, I’m undecided. 🙂
Another actor in his early 60s that might do the character justice is Ray Winstone (5’10”,b.1957). He generally plays less-refined types, but he probably has the skills to play a more “cultured” character. He certainly won’t have a problem with the violence, since he’s done a few of those roles. A few credits on his CV are “Fox”, “Robin Hood”, Sexy Beast, Henry VIII, King Arthur, The Departed, “Vincent”, 44 Inch Chest, The Sweeney. He may need to shed a few pounds, but I think Winstone could be a decent Equalizer.
Now, going a bit younger and a somewhat different look, let me suggest Ralph Fiennes (5’11”,b.1962) as our new McCall/Equalizer. Regarding genre credits, consider Schindler’s List, Strange Days, Red Dragon, various Harry Potter films, The Hurt Locker, Clash/Wrath of the Titans, Coriolanus, and the last two James Bond flicks. Fiennes definitely has both the drama and action chops, and I think he’d do a fine job in the role of our erstwhile CIA man-turned-detective/vigilante.
Finally, while slightly on the tall side, I think Graham McTavish (6’2″,b.1961) might be a terrific choice for the part. He’s certainly physically fit and used to action-oriented roles. Some relevant things he has appeared in are “Red Dwarf”, “Taggart”, Rambo, “Prison Break”, “24”, the Hobbit movies, Creed, “Outlander”, “Preacher”. McTavish has done quite a bit of voice work, too. He often has a full beard, but I chose a pic without it (as with the other candidates). Next to Peter Woodward, McTavish just may be my preferred candidate.
I’m sure there are other great British actors that would do a bang-up job as ‘The Equalizer’. Indeed, I considered and rejected a few more (e.g., Liam Neeson, Idris Elba, Peter Firth, Colin Salmon) for various reasons. But, among those I’ve been exposed to, the above are my top choices. Feel free to add your own suggestions…
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.