He's played a cop, a submarine commander, a pilot, an assassin, a civil rights icon and a cowboy (at age of 61) when he starred in The Magnificent Seven. And as for Macbeth, well his 2021 Apple TV portrayal was worth a Golden Globe.
There need be no further proof – Denzel Washington has an enduring power and prowess on the big screen. After a near 50-year career in titles including Cry Freedom, Malcolm X, American Gangster and Man on Fire, he has never strayed far from universal appeal at the box office.
Despite acting in over a hundred celebrated and lauded movies, the actor is still humble enough to admit he has more to learn…
**RSNG Do you ever grow tired of the drama?
DENZEL WASHINGTON, ACTOR** “How can you? Life is drama. No one has a drama-free existence. You just don't hear about it. There's no perfect situation. There's no magic pill. People say, ‘You know about marriages in Hollywood?’ I say, ‘It's the same for marriages anywhere. You have to work at it.’
“People say, ‘My job is killing me’ – a lot of people think like that. What I’ve come to realize over the years is that we’re all going through the same things. It doesn’t matter if we’re living in LA or Lagos, in a mansion or in a slum, it’s pretty much the same for everyone.
“What’s that phrase? ‘Semper in excretia sumus solim profundum variat’… look it up!” [ED: it basically means: ‘we’re always in the shit; only the depth varies’.]
**RSNG But when the effort is there, the rewards are there, right?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “You’re talking about my marriage again aren’t you? Haha! Of course that’s true. Maybe the determination to create a long-lasting marriage stem from his childhood. My parents were divorced. I'm from a broken home, so it wasn't all cheery, that's for sure.”
**RSNG Have you ever done a role just for the money?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “Hahaha! See now… maybe? I haven’t been in that position for a long time, but where I had to for money, when I first started out, I did jobs where I needed the money. We would all do that."
**RSNG Do you have any favorites of your movies?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “Yeah, some more than others, I’ve been making movies a long time. Sometimes someone says to me that they loved this movie and I’m like, ‘Really? That’s the one you go for? Really!’”
Spike gave me the tools to succeed, I learned how to flow and improvise and read the scenario at best – he was a real guide for me
**RSNG What’s yours?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “My next one. That is my answer to that. I’m interested in the choosing, I’m interested in finding the character, I’m interested in the process. I’m interested in my next one. Never look back. I don’t watch my old movies - I just keep looking forward to the next challenge.”
**RSNG You don’t watch your old movies?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “No. No.”
**RSNG Not even if they came on TV late at night?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “No, I don’t. Glory, I did, because my son John David watched and watched and rewatched it. Hours. Not a little kid but young enough and he had me get him the uniform, all that. He knows every line by heart, he can recite the entire story.”
**RSNG Three of your kids have followed in your footsteps and into the acting world. How does that make you feel?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “I’m smiling, I’m always smiling because they’ve all done and will continue to do real good and I’m very proud. I’m very proud. My son graduated from AFI, my daughter did an amazing job at The Taming of the Shrew in Chicago. Real proud.”
**RSNG And John David has worked Spike Lee. That’s amazing considering you worked with Spike earlier on in your career also?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “Spike gave me the tools to succeed, I learned how to flow and improvise and read the scenario at best. He was a real guide for me.”
**RSNG What advice did you get as a young actor that still resonates now?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “The great Sidney Poitier – I don’t know what age I was, real young, we were doing Soldiers Play together – told me ‘keep doing theater.’ And that’s what I say to my kids, ‘never stop doing theater’. And I never stop doing theater because I am always learning. It’s a constant education.
That's the way it should be... I'm just an actor, I'm not a celebrity – my job is to act, and I want to be good at it
“You never learn to act on film, it’s only on stage. I’m learning and there are some people I love to work with. George Wolfe, for instance, is a great director – he’s going to help me grow as an actor, I’m excited about that.”
RSNG Since passing 60, have you experienced a change in your career in the sense that the roles have changed? DENZEL WASHINGTON “Well, hmmm… I don't know. What do you think?”
**RSNG Personally I don't see a huge difference!
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “You know, physically I have to be realistic, I'm aware of my limitations. I don't know how many more I have in me. Physical roles – I may as well pack them in, haha!
“I will keep on doing it while I can, but work comes in many forms. Essentially I like to keep doing good work, with good people, good actors. This ain't no dress rehearsal. I want to work with talented people, I don't want to just sit in the middle and coast on through.
“I don't know how many more movies I have but I want to produce good work because my work is my work, and I'm still learning, after doing this a long time, I'm still learning.”
**RSNG You wanted to quit acting a few years ago. What brought you back?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “Working on Broadway with Viola Davis [in Fences] brought me back. I was tired and a little disillusioned with acting, I'd lost that drive. But then going back to the theater, where I started out, where I cut my teeth, it made me appreciate it all the more. It was a phase I went through and I learned a lot from it.”
**RSNG And you wanted to perhaps be a preacher during this period?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “Haha! I never considered being a preacher, not then, not as a kid out of high school. It was suggested to me [then] but I never thought about it.
“That’s one of those classic Hollywood rumors that’s been allowed to perpetuate for a long time. To be honest I’ve let it go for a while – it makes me smile.”
**RSNG You're one of the most famous stars in Hollywood, and yet, seem to maintain a pretty sensible and quiet life under the radar profile. True or false?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “An old West Indian woman said to me many years ago, 'When you pray for rain, you’ve got to deal with mud too’. That's right. That's what I live by. Everything is a transaction. You do this, you get this, you do this, this might come with it too.
“I don't know. I don't see it. Maybe it's there but I don't care. I'm not talking about putting a baseball hat on and trying to blend in so nobody will see you – you end up missing life. That's not natural, haha. I'm never going to do that.”
**RSNG “You've received so many accolades and honors during your career. How do you look back on your accomplishments?
DENZEL WASHINGTON** “I don't read reviews, but you get a sense of what's going on, and that feels good. You don't want to get ahead of yourself. You stay humble and see what happens.”
RSNG We almost never hear from you except when you're promoting a film? DENZEL WASHINGTON “That's the way it should be... I'm just an actor, I'm not a celebrity. My job is to act, and I want to be good at it. The celebrity stuff? There are a whole lot of other folks that do a whole lot of other things to be famous but I'm not even trying to be famous; I'm just trying to do my work.
“And on that, I think I should be going…”
WHAT NEXT? Read the exclusive RSNG interview with Keanu Reeves to find out what cost him a broken arm, a ruptured spleen, a few broken teeth and a lot of skin…
Photos: Shutterstock/ Rex, MovieStillsDB