In the Daniel Espinosa-directed thriller Safe House, Denzel Washington plays a former CIA operative gone traitor, a role that seems not all that far removed from his Academy Award-winning turn as corrupt cop Alonzo Harris from Training Day. But Tobin Frost is a different animal altogether, and Washington took a fresh approach to developing this character. To start with, he didn’t model his behavior based on anything to do with the CIA. “I didn’t want to do a lot of CIA research because Tobin Frost wasn’t CIA anymore,” Washington explains. “He hated everything about the CIA, and I wanted to discover his dark side. [Producer] Scott [Stuber] gave me some great books to read, one of which was The Sociopath Next Door, which became my bible that I would refer to in developing the character.
“I felt Tobin was a sociopath,” Washington continues, describing the framework on which he built his character. “When you think ‘sociopath,’ you think violence, and the majority of sociopaths aren’t violent, but they want to win and manipulate. I thought he was a great liar, a great manipulator and perfect for the CIA.”
And of course, Washington and the rest of the crew had another reference point — an on-set consultant in the form of former CIA officer Luis Falcon. According to Falcon, the Tobin Frosts of the world are very real. “One of the scariest things for us [in the CIA] is that a character like Frost can happen,” Falcon says. “We have to walk a very fine line as a case officer. We’re trained to lie, cheat and steal secrets from an organization. But our intent is to use that only against our enemies. We can’t use it either for private gain or to manipulate personal relationships. … I could see somebody, for revenge or avarice, violating that trust. Fortunately, I can count on one hand the number of traitors who have surfaced, at least since I’ve been around. It’s rare, but when somebody goes bad … it’s usually for money.”
Safe House is available starting June 5 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2012 Universal Studios