The 34-year-old Washington is doing just fine in his second career. The “BlacKkKlansman” and “Ballers” star played college football at Morehouse and made the St. Louis Rams practice squad before being knocked out of the game by a series of injuries. He came to acting late in his 20s, but the talent runs in his blood.
“I come from a family of artists,” he says. “My grandfather and uncle and aunties used to roast peanuts and just tell stories. They made the kids do variety shows. I was around performance all the time.” Also: his father is named Denzel.
As a kid, watching his dad develop into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Washington says: “I became protective of my feelings and I became resentful of it. I wanted to find myself and find my identity; I wanted my own name. Football was a serendipitous opportunity because I started getting the love for me and what I was doing on the field and it had nothing to do with my father.”
The actor’s most recent big break arrived via text message. Spike Lee “is very direct when it comes to text messaging,” he says. The legendary filmmaker told Washington there was a book he wanted to send him, about an African-American police officer who, in the 1970s, infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. “When I read it, I was blown away and I called him back and said, this is amazing. And he’s like, ‘yeah, uh, I’ll see you this summer.’ It was almost like I had no choice. There was no way I could say no.”
Washington also stars as a conflicted cop in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Sundance favorite “Monsters and Men,” and appears in David Lowery’s “The Old Man and the Gun.” Of the latter, he says, “If you blink, you’ll miss me in that one. But the process of making it was legendary. On my days off, it was like going to an acting master class, seeing Tom Waits and Danny Glover and Robert Redford go at it.”
Next up, he says he’s looking to do some theater, to “work on certain aspects of my game.”
Is he going back to football anytime soon? “That’s a wrap, sir. It’s over.”
— Akiva Gottlieb
Influences: Professionally: Alfre Woodard, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Benicio del Toro, Amiri Baraka, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Zwick, Tony Scott. Personally: Rochelle Oliver [HB Studio teacher], John McClain [who helped start Interscope], Stephen
Manager: Murphy & Kress
Lawyer: Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush & Kaller