Cheat Sheet: Denzel Washington
Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr.
Date of Birth:
December 28th 1954
Place of birth:
Mount Vernon, NY, USA
Acting, directing, screenwriting, being the original badman
Cry Freedom, Glory, Malcolm X, Training Day, American Gangster, The Book of Eli
What you probably already know:
Denzel Washington, who at 57 looks younger than anyone at Best For Film, is the thinking man’s thriller lead. For twenty years he has bestridden the fairly patchy world of high-concept action like a growly colossus, whether it’s as Tony ‘Top Gun’ Scott’s muse or as the leading man for a slew of other acclaimed directors. Scott and Washington have made five films together, covering themes and scenarios as varied as ‘avert nuclear war’, ‘travel through time’ and ‘stop this fucking train‘, and when he’s not inspiring Tony’s next $100m flight of fancy he’s busy picking up awards. Amazingly, Denzel Washington is the only black actor in history to win multiple Academy Awards (Best Supporting Actor for Glory and Best Actor for Training Day). How’s that for a line to put at the top of your CV?
In the occasional gaps in his diary between trailblazing and so on, Washington also has a matchless reputation as an interpreter of real people for biopics. He’s probably best known in this regard for his memorable and meaningful performances as public figures who had a profound impact on the civil rights battle and other aspects of what is rather euphemistically called ‘the black experience’, most notably Malcolm X and Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko. He has also appeared in more sedate roles with similar themes – in The Great Debaters, which was produced by Oprah Winfrey, Washington played iconic modernist poet (and later Poet Laureate of Liberia) Melvin B. Tolson. He also keeps playing sportspeople, although we don’t pretend to know anything about that.
What you might not know:
An old-school family man who has been repeatedly quoted as saying that his career is insignificant compared to his home life, Denzel Washington has been married for almost thirty years to Pauletta Pearson, a fellow actor who he met on the set of his first ever TV movie. Theirs might be the only Hollywood marriage to actually work – perhaps having your vows renewed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu once in a while helps. Washington is also dizzyingly religious, once commenting that he considered becoming a preacher – when radical Pentecostal movement Church of God in Christ was constructing a new ‘facility’ (*cough*CULT*cough*) in L.A., Denzel slipped them two and a half million dollars.
After pottering on and off the stage quite a bit in the past few years (he has something of a taste for Shakespeare), Washington is back on our screens in earnest at the moment. Unstoppable, his fifth outing with Tony Scott, earnt rave reviews (from us, at least), and even if 2012’s Safe House was a little insipid he was bloody brilliant in it. Other future Washington vehicles to keep an eye on include an adaptation of Robert Ludlam’s classic spy thriller The Matarese Circle and the hotly anticipated Flight, Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action film since 2000’s Cast Away and What Lies Beneath. Denzel will star opposite Kelly Reilly, best known for being Jude Law’s bit of stuff in those awful Sherlock Holmes movies, and he’ll be brilliant. As usual.
Denzel Washington quote:
“I wasn’t allowed to go to movies when I was kid; my father was a minister. 101 Dalmatians and King of Kings, that was the extent of it.”
What to say at a dinner party:
“Washington may never have become a preacher, but through his extraordinary interpretations of the lives of great men he has spread innumerate gospels to the cinemagoers of the world.”
What not to say at a dinner party:
“Pfft, who says grace these days?”
He left twelve years between winning his Oscars, and it’s been eleven years since he picked up #2 – doesn’t that mean a third one is due next year? All of a sudden we’re very excited about The Matarese Circle…
Also, who else wants to see Denzel star in a Dave Benson Phillips biopic?
Just us, then.