Actress Kimberly Elise, who stars alongside Denzel in The Great Debaters, has worked with him on past films, but this time was different. She told Oprah she's never known Denzel to be so euphoric about a project. "She said that she had never seen you more on fire," Oprah says. "That there was a kind of light, she said, that she saw in your eyes and that you were like a kid in a candy store every day."
"I have a passion," Denzel says. "I love seeing other people do well. Nothing gives me greater joy than watching."
Working with the young actors he cast in the film was also a thrill for Denzel. "I grew up in the Boys & Girls Club, and I worked with children," he says. "That was my life's work before acting—helping kids. I've coached all of my children as I've said many times, and I enjoy that."
Denzel says the demands of directing didn't leave him much time to prepare for his own scenes, so he relied on an acting technique he's used for years. "I just take breaths to sort of relax," he says. "I would just take 40 breaths and that was my preparation. I'm like, 'Okay, Mel Tolson. Mel Tolson.'"