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Denzel stars as a New York City subway dispatcher whose ordinary day is thrown into chaos when, on his watch, a subway train is hijacked.
For the Oscar-winning actor, it was a welcome change to not play a larger-than-life character, but instead a regular guy.
"That's what I liked about it," Denzel said. "He's not a hero, but he becomes one. He starts off with an awful day - been demoted, investigated - and ends up with a half a gallon of milk and people cheering for him."
John Travolta co-stars as the criminal who threatens to execute the train's passengers one by one unless he's paid a large ransom. The film focuses on the two actors having several intense conversations.
While director Tony Scott does utilize plenty of action, it was the quieter scenes with Travolta that Washington enjoyed most.
"Running is cute, but then its take 10, take 11, run up to the bridge again," Denzel said. "So sitting and talking was nice."
Both Denzel and Travolta have been in the movie business for decades, but "Pelham" marks the first time the two stars have worked together.
"I said hello a couple events," Denzel said. "He's better friends with my wife. It just hit me - my idea - John would be great. And I'm glad I did, he's a wonderful person."
"The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" is rated R. It's in theatres Friday.