This weekend, a sizable chunk of America took a brief reprieve from the hellish heat and hellish world with a trip to the cinema to see some manner of sequel, be it superhero, dinosaur, or Abba in theme. The film follow-up leading the pack was, much to the surprise of pretty much everyone, The Equalizer 2, netting a respectable $35.8 million at the box office despite lackluster reviews.
Equalizer 2 marks Denzel’s first-ever [!?] role reprisal, presumably in an attempt to carve a nice little slice of Liam Neeson’s aging-action-hero pie for himself. The film continues the saga of retired CIA operative Robert McCall (Washington) as he uses his special ops skillset to do nice things for nice people and bad things to bad people. Oh, and now he moonlights as a Lyft driver, too.
To prepare for the role, Washington sourced some tutelage in the ways of the gig economy from an actual Lyft driver.
Markel Wade, who claims to be Boston’s first official Lyft driver, has been driving for the Pepsi of the ride-share game to varying degrees since 2013, still doing it today as an occasional side hustle from his day job as a cop.
“They called me and said they had ‘an opportunity’ available,” recalled Wade during a recent phone interview. “I’m all about working and helping out where I can. And they went on to say ‘we have an A-list celebrity who we would want you to work with.’”
Lyft eventually revealed that the celeb in question was Denzel. Unfazed, Wade followed up by immediately asking how long the whole thing would take as he had work later that day.
“I don’t really get star-struck,” said Wade. “I just look at it as business."
Wade carried that nonchalance to his time training Denzel, the duo more preoccupied with their clashing Red Sox and Yankees caps than snagging selfies for social media.
Washington had never used a ride share service before, so Wade had to meet with him multiple times to get him acclimated with the platform. He said he worked with the production several times over the course of two weeks to train Wade and work with the production team on getting details like “the placement of the Lyft logos on the car” as close to real life as possible.
Initially assuming he'd be surrounded by Washington's handlers during his time with the star, Wade was surprised to learn that his time with Lyft's latest trainee would be one-on-one.
“He writes down everything,” Wade said, complimenting the Oscar-winning actor’s research process. “If it’s a role he signed on to do, he’s 100 percent dedicated to it.”
After their time working together, Wade said he felt that, even outside of the role, Washington would make a great Lyft driver, suggesting that Washington might even be the sort of driver to use inspirational quote Post-it notes or cards with icebreaker questions on them as his car’s over-the-top gimmick.
“I look at him as more like a motivational speaker,” said Wade, before recounting Washington's famous "do what you gotta do so you can do what you wanna do” quote. “That’s something he said years ago and I never thought I’d get a chance to meet him and tell him how much those words changed me and the way I live my life now," said Wade.
Wade told me he enjoyed the final cut of the film and appreciated that it kept pretty true to his experience as a driver, though he did comment that the lack of notoriously bad Boston traffic was a bit Hollywood. When I questioned whether McCall’s one-bedroom apartment from the film seemed realistically affordable with Lyft earnings, Wade chuckled and said “probably not,” acknowledging that a driver would “probably have to work maybe 40 or 50 hours a week” to make enough for such a living a situation in the country’s seventh most expensive city.
When asked if he, a police officer, and Washington, a dues paying member of multiple Hollywood unions, ever discussed some Lyft driver's ongoing efforts to form unions, a PR rep for Lyft hopped on to the call to steer the conversation back to the magic of cinema.
Wade did reveal that he’d received no payment from either Lyft or the makers of the film for his work on the project.
Wade said he was happy to have donated his labor to the Silicon Valley giant now valued at $15.1 billion after its latest round of VC funding.
“The compensation’s not all that important to me,” he said. “I looked at it more like me helping a company that I was a part of here in Boston and helped grow. I don’t look at money as a big issue. I just do it because it’s something I’m passionate about.”
Wade didn’t leave the experience empty handed, however. Besides an invite to the film’s premiere, he also received a brand new Yankees cap as a troll-y gift from his pupil.
Appreciative but loyal through and through, Wade said that “as soon as I put it on, I had to take it off and put back on my Red Sox.”
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