You know what’s surprising? Denzel Washington’s complete lack of an Oscar campaign this year. Denzel was nominated for Best Actor this year for his performance as a substance-abusing airline pilot in Flight, his first Oscar nomination since he won his second Oscar in 2002 for Training Day. Eleven years without a nomination… you’d think that Denzel would be engaged in at least an undercover Oscar campaign, but it’s almost like he’s been sitting this one out. Maybe he just thinks it’s time for the other actors to do the hustlin’. Maybe he doesn’t need the accolades at this point. I don’t know. What I do know is that he has a new interview in The Guardian, and it’s pretty much the first thing I’ve read about him in two months. It’s actually a really good piece – The Guardian can be kind of judgy and patronizing, especially towards American celebrities, but I think the interviewer liked Denzel, and Denzel was in the mood to talk. And talk and talk. Some highlights:
The first & last time he drank on the job: “I did a movie in London in the 80s, For Queen and Country, and there was a scene where we had to drink. So me and this other young actor said: ‘Man, let’s really drink.’ We had some scotch and thought we were playing it pretty cool. And the director said: ‘What’s wrong with you guys?’ We thought we were wild but we were really just dull. The director was pissed off and it taught me a lesson. That was the last time I ever drank while working. Because it doesn’t work. I’ve worked with actors who’ve crossed that line and it’s just not worth it. You think you’re giving 100%, but all the while your level is dropping.”
He became an actor by prophecy: “Acting was my calling,” he says today. “The year I started acting there was a woman in my mother’s beauty shop, a kind of seer if you like, who kept looking at me in the mirror. Finally she got a piece of paper and wrote ‘prophecy’ at the top. She said: ‘You are going to travel the world and preach to millions of people.’ Now, bear in mind that I’d just been kicked out of school. I said: ‘You see anything there about me being let back into school?’” He chuckles. “That was March 75 and September 75 I started acting. I still got that piece of paper too.”
His father was a Pentecostal preacher, and Denzel has returned to the Pentecostal church: The actor was raised in a religious household, strayed briefly in his youth and is now firmly back on side. In 1995 he donated $2.5m to help build a Pentecostal cathedral near his Los Angeles home. Regular attendees include Magic Johnson, Stevie Wonder and Washington himself.
He wonders if he should preach: “I remember some years ago asking my pastor: ‘Do you think I’m supposed to be a preacher?’ And he said: ‘Well, you are. You have a pulpit of your own.’ That’s not to say that I’m preaching, necessarily. I don’t want to tell you what you need to do. I mean, I’m not turning it up to 10 when it comes to being correct, I’m not that guy, I like my wine.”
Playing a character in Flight who calls on God for help: “That’s right,” says Washington. “But by that point he’s got nowhere to hide. It’s like what’s going on with this Lance Armstrong stuff now. The jig is up. And that line ‘God help me’ was very important to me. As an arc as much as anything. You see this butt-naked, coke-sniffing, weed-smoking guy finally get to the point where he can say: ‘God help me.’ He gets his life back.”
He doesn’t have friends within the industry: An upright, Christian movie star must be something of a rarity in the modern-day Gomorrah of Beverly Hills and he shrugs and frowns and insists that I’m confusing the town of Los Angeles with the industry itself. “But actually, even within the industry, I don’t have any actor friends,” he concedes. “My friends are old friends. One’s an ex-music guy, the other’s a restaurant owner and the other’s an ex-pro ballplayer.” Why hasn’t he made any actor friends? Washington chortles. “Because I don’t make friends! Maybe I’m not a butt-kisser, maybe I’m not a schmoozer. I’m not about to go to a party to try to get a job. And then when you have children, the other friends become other parents. We’d coach baseball or basketball. My wife and I were raised right. I don’t want movie-star friends. And… being African American, there were no big movie stars to hang out with anyway, not when I was starting out, they were just the third guy from the back! For whatever reason, I never befriended any white actors.”
He’s a working actor, not a celebrity: “I had one six-month period in 1982 when I couldn’t get a job. I had done a movie called Carbon Copy and then I did a play and then I had these six months where nothing happened, where I started looking at the department of recreation and thinking: ‘Acting’s not for me.’ And then I caught a play about Malcolm X, off-off-Broadway in New York and I haven’t been unemployed ever since. I’m a working actor! What’s a celebrity anyway? Paris Hilton’s a celebrity. I’m just a working actor.”
See? Denzel was really talkative and not grumpy at all, which seems unusual these days. I guess we should talk about “For whatever reason, I never befriended any white actors”…? I don’t know, I feel like he was just shooting the sh-t and he might not have meant that at face value. Denzel has a lot of “professional friends” and work acquaintances who adore him. Tom Hanks thinks he’s the bee’s knees. Julia Roberts is crazy about him. He’s tight with Spike Lee too. See? He has friends in the industry. But I understand what he’s saying about “when you have children, the other friends become other parents.”
Photos courtesy of WENN.