"You could see the love they both have for each other," says director Antoine Fuqua
Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning reunite in The Equalizer 3, nearly 20 years after working together on 2004's Man on Fire, which came out when Fanning was just 10 years old. And while their on-set dynamic has evolved over time, some things remain the same.
Antoine Fuqua, who again directs the latest Equalizer entry, tells PEOPLE that Washington, 68, had a "little bit of a fatherly, mentor relationship" with Fanning, 29, this time around.
"But also, Dakota is very competitive, and, obviously, as a child her first experience with Denzel Washington is very powerful, emotional," says Fuqua. "But you can see how she has grown quite a bit. I think it was more fascinating for Denzel than anyone else."
"Every once in a while when I would yell cut he would just look over and be like, 'I can't believe she's like a grown woman now.' I think it was more fascinating for him than anyone else," the director says.
Fuqua, 57, says that despite the two actors' "different styles," both Washington and Fanning are "both extremely professional and focused — laser-focused."
"With Denzel, we have our rhythm and our process, which has been established since Training Day, so it's quite different than with Dakota," said Fuqua, who directed Washington to a Best Actor Oscar win with 2001's Training Day.
He adds, "But by the end of it, it was very similar rhythm that I had with Dakota where I wouldn't even have to tell her something and she would just adjust. She knew. It's that high-level intelligence and professionalism."
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In Equalizer 3, Washington reprises his role of Robert McCall, a retired government assassin who now uses his brutal set of skills as somewhat of a vigilante. This time, he settles in a small town in Italy, warding off the mafia.
Fanning steps in as a CIA agent named Emma, a young analyst who impresses McCall with her investigative work.
Fuqua says it was "easy" to orchestrate the Washington and Fanning reunion. And he enjoyed sitting back and watching the former costars side by side.
"During rehearsal, just in conversations you could see the repertoire between the two and the love they both have for each other and the respect," he says. "That was fun for me to watch."
The Equalizer 3 is in theaters Friday.
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