Denzel Washington never thought he’d be an actor. A native of Mt. Vernon, New York, the 42-year-old Washington had every intention of entering a career in medicine when he began Fordham University. However, one stint as a summer camp counselor changed his life when he acted in a theatrical production. He did return to Fordham, but this time he sought tutelage from Robinson Stone, one of the school’s leading acting profes-sors.
After graduation, Washington was accepted into San Francisco’s prestigious American Conservatory Theatre. Fol-lowing an intensive year of study in their theater program, he returned to New York after a brief stop in Los Angeles. Washington’s professional New York theater career began with Joseph Papp’s “Shakespeare in the Park” and was followed by numerous Off Broadway productions, including “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” “When the Chickens Came Home to Roost” (in which he portrayed Malcolm X), “Othello” and “Split Soldier’s Play,” for which he won an Obie award.
Washington’s more recent stage appearances include the Broadway production of “Checkmates” and “Richard III,” which was produced as part of the 1990 “Free Shakespeare in the Park” series hosted by Papp’s Public Theatre.
Although Washington’s first screen credit was in 1979 when he appeared in the television film “Flesh & Blood” starring Tom Berenger, he became a household name when he was cast in the NBC television series “St. Else-where” as Dr. Phillip Chandler. Washington’s television credits include “License to Kill,” “Wilma” and “The George McKenna Story.”
Washington’s film credits read like a who’s who of the industry. From Richard Attenborough and Norman Jewison to Jonathan Demme and Spike Lee, Washington has performed with them all.
It was with “Cry Freedom” that he received his first Oscar nomination. Not long after that he racked up an Acad-emy Award for best supporting actor in “Glory.” Other screen credits include “For Queen and Country,” “A Sol-dier’s Story,” “Power,” “The Mighty Quinn,” “Hear Condition,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Ricochet,” “Mississippi Masala,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Philadelphia” and “The Pelican Brief.”
His most recent accomplishments include “Malcolm X” in 1992, in which he had the starring role in the bio-graphical epic directed by Lee.
Filmed over a period of six months in the US and Africa, it was hailed by critics and audiences alike as one of the best films of the year. Washington received an Academy Award nomination for best actor for his perf.
In “Crimson Tide,” Washington starred opposite Gene Hackman in the underwater action adventure directed by Tony Scott. “Virtuosity” found Washington up against a computer-generated criminal, and “Devil in a Blue Dress” saw him as a World War II veteran in the 1940s romantic thriller.
In “Courage Under Fire,” released last summer, Washington played Lt. Col. Nathanial Serline, a tank commander in the Persian Gulf War who is charged with investigating conflicting reports surrounding the first female nominee for a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Most recently, Washington took on a completely different role, playing opposite Whitney Houston in Penny Mar-shall’s romantic comedy “The Preacher’s Wife.” Washington played an angel who comes to the aid of a troubled preacher and his wife.
Due out next is “Fallen,” a crime thriller directed by Greg Hoblit. Filmed on location in Philadelphia, principal photography has finished shooting and the movie is to be released in 1998.
But Washington’s talents are not just in acting. He recently took on a very different type of role — that of executive producer on “Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream,” a biographical documentary for TBS that was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Additionally, Washington’s narration of the legend of John Henry was nominated for a 1996 Grammy Award in the category of spoken world album for children. He also was awarded the 1996 NAACP Image Award for his performance in the animated children’s special “Happily Ever After: Rumpelstiltskin.”