This page was created on February 11, 2002
This page was last updated on May 29, 2005



Click to enlargeAcademy Award-winner Denzel Washington (Glory), who most recently received accolades for his performance in Training Day, plays John Q. Archibald, a working man on reduced hours at a factory, whose world falls apart when his son Michael collapses during a baseball game. "He finds out in an awful way that his son is very ill," says Washington. "He is in tough financial straits. His car is repossessed the same day. He also finds out that he doesn't have the insurance that he thought he had to cover something of this magnitude."

Says producer Mark Burg, "John Q. takes a hard look at the common man and how far he would push the envelope to save his child. He'll sacrifice his job, his house, his money, and ultimately, he's willing to put his life on the line."

Click to enlargeTen-year-old newcomer Daniel E. Smith plays John's son, Michael, and Kimberly Elise plays his wife, Denise, who stands by her husband after he resorts to drastic actions. "Whether she agrees or not with what John does is irrelevant to her," says Elise. "They're in this terrible situation and she's the last person in the world who will turn her back on her husband. The love in their marriage is so deep and so real, and what he does for his family is just breathtaking."

"When your child is sick, you have tunnel vision. Nothing else matters," says director Nick Cassavetes, for whom the story resonated in light of his own experiences. "My daughter has a congenital heart disease, and I've watched her go through four operations. I know about the runarounds you get from insurance companies, hospitals and doctors."

After exhausting all possibilities for paying for his son's direly-needed heart transplant, John makes an appeal to Dr. Raymond Turner, head of the cardiac unit at the hospital, played by Oscar nominee James Woods. "What I find most moving about this film is the human story of a man who is put in a position to do something that he ordinarily wouldn't do out of his love for his child," says Woods. "Dr. Turner is a fundamentally kind man who is caught up in the system and wants to do the best he can, but in fact, he is hampered by the system itself. The operation Michael needs is going to cost one quarter of a million dollars, there's no insurance and he offers to waive his extraordinary fee. But that's still not enough."

Click to enlargeAnne Heche plays hospital administrator Rebecca Payne, who is forced to take the hard line in representing the hospital. "I'm sure every single person who holds this position would want to get health care to anybody who needs it," says Heche. "But they can't always do that. There are some things you don't like doing - to sit down and say to people in need of help, 'I'm sorry, your insurance doesn't cover this.'"

The pressure on John Q. reaches the breaking point when the hospital informs him they will be sending Michael home. "They're sending his son home because John doesn't have enough money," says Washington. "If they send him home, his son's going to die. He's backed into a corner and makes a critical but wrong decision."

"John's attitude is, 'my son's not dying because I don't have health insurance,'" adds producer Mark Burg.

Click to enlarge"Once John takes the emergency room hostage, the story goes out above the radar, on television, on the radio," says Ray Liotta, who plays Police Chief Gus Monroe, who convenes his SWAT team at the hospital. "There are a lot of people watching this, and it's a political year. Monroe thinks the best thing to do, especially because John has threatened the lives of people, is to just take him out -- insensitively so, to some people. What John Q. does is very heroic, but it's not the right thing to do, and we're not condoning it. We want to end it."

Click to enlargeMonroe brings in hostage negotiator Frank Grimes, played by Academy Award-winner Robert Duvall, to speak to John and attempt to gain his trust. "In the beginning of the process of hostage negotiating, he can't think much about the guy," says Duvall. "He just has to do his job as a professional. I think towards the end, he probably admires John for what he has done. It is a ballsy thing to do."

Says Washington, "Looking at it, how far John is willing to go to save his son is ultimately very heroic, but he's wrong and has to pay the price for his actions, and should. But he's willing to sacrifice everything if it will save his son."

Screenwriter James Kearns wrote the script of John Q. in early 1993, after reading a newspaper article which quoted an older wealthy man, the recipient of a heart transplant. "If I wasn't rich, I'd be dead by now," the man said. "Then I thought about my own kids," recalls Kearns. "What would you do if your child were dying and you were denied access to medical care. The medical insurance companies have become increasingly more powerful and controversial since I first took pen to paper. The health crisis in America and in other parts of the world rages on. It's an extremely complex issue that affects every strata of our society."

The story touched producer Mark Burg, then president of Island Pictures, who first acquired the screenplay in 1993. Years later, Burg reacquired the project with Oren Koules, his partner at Evolution Entertainment, an artists management/production company. By January 2000, Burg had made a deal with New Line Cinema to make the film.

On a tip from a mutual friend, actor Charlie Sheen, Burg sought out Nick Cassavetes to direct the film. The story resonated with Cassevetes, who had experienced similar dilemmas with his own child. "I'm not trying with this movie to offer an explanation on how to fix the American health care system," says the director. "I'm just saying we don't have a set-up for sick people without money to get health care in the United States."

"Nick brings his heart and sensitivity as a human being to this film," says Denzel Washington.

The filmmakers saw Washington as an actor that could bring the humanity and integrity to the role of John Q. "To me, Denzel Washington is the best actor in America today," says Nick Cassavetes. "There's nothing he can't do."

"There were very few actors we thought could do the lead role, and Denzel Washington was at the top of our list," says Burg. Robert Duvall's manager let it be known that Duvall was interested in the picture, and he was signed. The rest of the cast fell in to place, most of whom were Nick Cassavetes' first choice.

The actor at the heart of the film would become Daniel E. Smith, the ten-year-old cast as Michael, John Q.'s son. "He's my new child, my fifth child," says Washington. "He's just alive. There's a light inside of him and Nick recognized it. I read with a few young actors and Nick said, 'Daniel's the one. He's just got that light.' And he does."

To research heart transplants, the filmmakers traveled to New York City where one of the city's foremost heart surgeons and medical advisor on the script, Dr. Mehmet Oz, invited them to see a heart transplant at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. "We witnessed not only several bypass operations, but an actual heart transplant," relates Cassavetes. "It was strange to think that the same heart had been beating in somebody else's chest three hours before."

Click to enlargeJames Woods, who had studied to be an eye surgeon prior to changing paths and becoming an actor, worked with Dr. Oz and the simulated hearts created for the production to perfect the intricate dance of heart surgery. "It's pretty fascinating," says Woods. "You forget you're operating on a human being and a heart when you're doing it. Because we did it the way it's done. Dr. Oz and I would take turns stitching and tying off and so on. At first he lead me through it, and by the time we did it for the cameras, I was the lead surgeon."

"Nick Cassavetes really understands the pace of the operating room," says Dr. Oz When we operate, it is really a choreographed dance. And the chemistry that occurs between the main surgeon and his assistant is difficult to capture on film. I think Nick has done a wonderful job doing this."

Denzel Washington took his own journey to research his character by spending three days at the Babcok & Wilcox factory, teaming up with two machinists, according to their shifts, to study their work habits. The factory, which dates back to the turn of the 19th century, manufactures steam generators and boilers for various utilities and other large industries.

In Ontario, Canada, where the director and producers had toured the factory where Denzel's character works, located in the small Ontario town of Cambridge, Cassavetes observed, "We've gone from that factory at Babcok and Wilson to the operating room of a heart transplant. In essence, we've taken the same journey as John Q."


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