Director Antoine Fuqua says he's "going to miss" Denzel Washington's character Robert McCall
Denzel Washington's Equalizer days might be behind him for now.
The third entry in the big-screen action franchise proved to be a hit, scoring the second-highest box office of all time for Labor Day weekend releases. Washington reprises his role as retired government assassin Robert McCall, this time sharing the screen with Dakota Fanning, his costar from Man on Fire back in 2004.
Director Antoine Fuqua, who also made the 2014 and 2018 installments, tells PEOPLE this latest entry is intended to be the conclusion of a trilogy. (Washington, 68, previously teased that this marks the "end" of his Equalizer tenure.)
"Never say never. I'm going to miss Robert McCall. I think it was a great character, my hero," says Fuqua, 57. "But it feels like it's the last one."
Could audiences see a spinoff or prequel of sorts someday? "That will be up to the studio," he says. "But that would be very cool, I think."
Of all of Fuqua's films, Equalizer is the one he frequently hears the most about from fans.
"People come up to me all the time. They love Robert McCall. I think it has to do with justice. People want justice, and obviously in a movie you get to see that happen," Fuqua says. "He's a everyday-person hero."
Fuqua says he and Washington established a strong working bond ever since 2001's Training Day, for which Washington won an Oscar.
"We have our rhythm and our process," he says, adding, "That doesn't really change. It gets better along the way, I think. Easier in a sense that we have a shorthand. We do a lot of work beforehand, just getting together and talking over some dinner or lunch. By the time we get to the set, me and Denzel, we already know where we're going, at least the basic intention, and then we develop it from there."
"We leave room for creativity," says Fuqua, "but that's been our relationship since the beginning."
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In Equalizer 3, Robert McCall recovers from an injury in a small town in Italy, where he quickly feels at home. His quiet new life there is threatened, however, when a mafia family tries to take over. McCall, the vigilante, fights back to defend the locals.
Fuqua says Washington was, again, up for the challenge and demands of an intense action film.
"Denzel boxes every day, and he's always in great shape," the director says. "He was ready for almost anything. Both of our knees were killing us though, because of all the cobblestone. I would come down, he'd be like, 'You got some ice? I got some Advil here.' It was like two athletes almost, older athletes sitting on the sideline with ice on their knees."
"But, you adjust, obviously, because we all age," adds Fuqua, "but there wasn't anything he couldn't do that I asked him to do."
The Equalizer 3 is in theaters now.
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