WRITINGS > Back On Track: Denzel Washington  

Denzel Washington doesn’t want to be a spokesman for his race. The multi-award winning actor who has played distinguished roles in many politicial movies such as Malcolm X and Glory is really happy about the Obama presidency, but says it’s really no big deal.

“ I’m glad that all the weight and significance of his election has sort of worn off,” he says, appearing slightly bored at the question. “He was the best man for the job and I don’t know if race was even an issue.”

It’s clear that race is about the last thing Washington wants to talk about and although it’s the least talked about hot button issue in the US, it’s maybe not altogether surprising that he himself appears colourblind. Since he emerged as a leading man twenty years ago in “Glory”, his beauty and charisma have made him the huge box office draw that he is, blurring colour boundaries for audiences around the world.

When Julia Roberts starred opposite him in the Pelican Brief she told People magazine, “It was like working with the Beatles. Referring to Denzel Washington as simply sexy is like saying Ernest Hemingway was a good fisherman.”

While Denzel does not see himself or is seen as a “black actor”, neither does he see himself as sexy. When he walks into the room at the Four Seasons, this beautiful high rise of a man has the most seductive way of looking at you, while playing cat and mouse with questions he just doesn’t want to answer or isn’t interested in.

Starring in the Tony Scott directed remake of “The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 opposite John Travolta, it is clear he had the time of his life playing a complicated cop in a hostage/shoot-em-up.

“ I liked the fact that this cop I play is overweight, spills coffee on himself and can’t really handle guns – that was more appealing to me than playing just another cop,” he said. That’s not say of course, that he wasn’t a bit jealous of the bad guy role which Travolta got to revel in.

“ On the first day of shooting, I was like “I’m playing the wrong part, the bad guy’s always the good part””. It’s definitely a lot more fun playing the baddie, you have a lot more freedom,” he laughs.

The taking of Pelham 1,2,3 all takes place in the New York subway, which he rode for many years when he grew up there. It’s been over 25 years since he’s had to take any kind of public transport and he has no regrets.

“ I took the subway since I was two and it was a two hour ride everyday. It was like my second home, I ate on it, slept on it, did almost everything on it . So when I was about 10 I said, if I ever got two dollars to rub together, I’d never take the subway again.”

He’s just finished a movie produced by his eldest son, John David Washington called “The Book of Eli” in which he also plays a good guy, with whom Gary Oldman wipes the floor. All of his children now work in the film business and he admits that he’s dead proud of them all and got a great kick out of working with his son.

“ I’m proud of all my children and I just always tell them, do what you feel passionate about. Don’t go into something just for the money, unless of course you’re passionate about making money!

Married to the actress Pauletta Pearson for the past 26 years, the couple are among the most stable in the film business and even renewed their wedding vows in South Africa with Archbishop Desmond Tutu officiating.

“ I was raised very differently to the way we’re raising our children, but we taught them what we know. The rooms might be bigger that they’re sitting in, but they’re still learning in it. My wife’s parents have lived with us for many years and they’re also great educators.”

The rich and famous are very different from the rest of us, and when I ask Denzel if he’s ever been in Ireland, his unselfconscious response speaks volumes.

“ No, and it’s one of my regrets. My plane stopped at Shannon once to get gas, but I didn’t get out. My daughter toured Ireland last year with her acapella group and she loved it,, but I didn’t get to see her perform there, sadly.”

His other daughter is an aspiring actress and he is funny when he describes dreading having to tell her she was no good/had no future in the business.

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