The Real LAPD Detective Behind TV’s ‘Training Day’ Series

 


Will Beall was a working cop when he went to see Antoine Fuqua’s gritty crime neo-noir Training Day in the theater. He recognized the streets Denzel Washington’s character Alonzo cruised through, and eventually was shot dead in, because it was his same beat.

“It was a bit surreal to see those neighborhoods I patrolled on screen like that,” says Beall. 

During those years in the LAPD, Beall started to write a book about his experience working in South Central. The book started out as a memoir, but evolved into a fictional novel titled L.A. Rex. His expectations were modest, but it was good enough to get published by Penguin, and optioned by producer Scott Rudin. Since then he has penned the scripts for Gangster Squad starring Josh Brolin and the upcoming Aquaman with Jason Momoa.

So when Fuqua was looking for a co-creator for his new television series based on Training Day, there was no question that Beall had all the right credentials. We spoke with Beall about the show, his career as an officer, and whether we can expect an appearance from Ethan Hawke, a.k.a. Jake.

How did Antoine bring you into this project?
I have known Antoine Fuqua for years now, and we had always wanted to work together. He called me about doing Training Day as a series. I think my reaction was probably the same as a lot of fans would be, hearing that news: “Why the fuck would anybody do that?” But at the same time somebody was going to do it, and the more I thought about it, the more I started to see there would be a way to tell the master-apprentice angle and present it in a different way.

Did you get to use anecdotes that you had actually experienced working as a detective in the show?
I have a lot of stories. I worked looking into gang activity and homicide. I was part of a Violent Crime Intervention Task Force, with a group of guys that I am still friends with actually. We ran informants. That was some of the most fun I have had in any job. They are paying you to play outside the rulebook. I think your experience will always come into your writing. But we aren’t necessarily a ripped-from-the-headlines kind of show. This is meant to be a ride. The fact that Jerry Bruckheimer is attached, you get movie-quality production design. Every week you get to see one of those action movies they don’t make anymore.

How was the transition from living these stories to telling them?
The jobs are not that different. Both jobs are about people and relationships, and really at the heart of it getting to the truth, even when it is imaginary. Even in these crazy circumstances you are trying to find the motives in your characters, and in the real world you are trying to find that out for real. Currently I get to decide what should happen. Back in the day there were situations that turned out shitty. Now I get to make sure that the right guys win.

Did you bring in your friends from the force to help out?
There is a guy from SIS [special investigations selection] that I knew through my work, and he came in to talk to our writers. He ended up getting a story credit on one of the earlier episodes actually. His name is Rob Berke. Then there is another guy I was in the academy with who I am very close to, who is godfather to my kid, named Rob Smith. He is still on the job. He has walked a foot beat in Nickerson Gardens, which is a pretty notorious one. That guy has done everything, and he was on set almost every day.

Did you discuss how you would tie it to the 2001 film?
From the start we considered the movie sacred ground. That is where Alonzo is buried. Denzel’s performance is one of the great bad guy performances of all time. The movie in its own way is heightened. Alonzo is a larger than life character who you are catching on a day of his life. There is no way to sustain that in a television series. But part of what we did was incorporate The Warriors and Escape From New York, stories that exist in their own realities.

It doesn’t hurt that you have Bill Paxton playing the Alonzo-inspired character. (Justin Cornwell plays a role similar to Jake in the movie version.)
Listen, it is just fun. Bill Paxton is just a kick to work with. Bill was really committed. He went on ride-alongs with the officers that work those streets in South Los Angeles. He got to pick up on the way that these guys hunt and the way that these guys talk. Listen, Paxton has been in the game for a long time. He knows how to handle weaponry. I mean we even got the guy on a horse for an episode, and the guy can ride.

Did he especially enjoy using any of the weapons?
His first day on set he had to blow up a house with a Molotov cocktail, and it is one of my favorite moments in the series. Once he throws it in the house, and it blows up, it is obvious he did not expect the blast to be that big. The moment when he turns around you can see the sheer delight that he got from that. It was a look that only Paxton could pull off.

Have you heard what Denzel and Ethan think of there being a show?
Antoine is still in touch with those guys. He was cutting The Magnificent Seven while we were developing this. I am sure those guys are interested to see what we came up with. They understand that it exists in its own separate world. It doesn’t tread on the movie anywhere.

I think Alonzo is out of the picture, given the end of the movie, but any chance for an appearance from Jake?
You know we have talked about that down the road. There is very little of the movie that comes into the series. But in the last couple episodes of Season 1 we run into the three wise men again. So there is room for Jake to come into the fold.

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