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'World champions' Washington, Leto, Malek face off in 'The Little Things'

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Denzel Washington has played some iconic cops over the years, but he doesn't get hung up on things like that. For him, it's all about the script.

So when John Lee Hancock came to him with "The Little Things," a 1990-set crime drama about law enforcement and obsession, he was intrigued. The part was for Joe Deacon, who left city duties for the country after a grueling case years ago but gets pulled back in to help with a new murder.

Then Hancock told him who he wanted for the other leads: Rami Malek for his unlikely counterpart, Sergeant Jim Baxter, and Jared Leto for the certainly suspicious but maybe not guilty loner Albert Sparma.

Washington says he trusted them to be ready to face off with him in the tough and fast-moving shoot.

"Both of these actors are Academy Award winners like myself. We're all three world champions, if you will. So you know you're getting in the ring with two world champions," Washington said. "It wakes you up."

"The Little Things," which opens in theaters and on HBO Max on Jan. 29, is one of Malek's first big roles after his "Bohemian Rhapsody" awards sweep, where he first crossed paths with Washington.

"Denzel and I met at the Golden Globes the year of 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' He was there with John David (Washington) for 'BlacKkKlansman,' and I locked eyes with Denzel for a moment. He locked eyes with me... I saw him start to stand up and I thought, 'Well, you better get up and move towards him much faster than he's moving towards you,'" Malek said. "It was shortly thereafter that I realized he and John Lee had me in mind for the role."

The unlikely trio all had wildly different styles too. Washington was in near constant conversation with Hancock from the moment he was cast, dissecting the character, the choices and the script. Leto, on the other hand, stayed away from his co-stars until the shoot. It wasn't that he wasn't taking it seriously, but he's a method actor and wanted to meet them in costume and in character.

"You don't want to show up and be the person who is not prepared on a set like this," said Leto, who counts Washington as one of his personal heroes.