John David Washington is currently one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. He used the pandemic to argue with Zendaya about love, gender roles and racism in the two-person play “Malcolm & Marie”.
John David Washington, thanks to Malcolm & Marie, are you arguing better now?
Malcolm says things I would never say. But Marie also incites him. You both have good arguments and are masters of manipulation. So if I have internalized something even more clearly through the film, it is this: There is a difference between an answer and a return coach.
Are you successfully applying this insight in your relationships?
I’ve been single for a long time now. I wasn’t mature enough to be in relationships. At least now I know what I don’t want. In love you have to be able to take honesty and share it, but decency is part of it.
In ‹Malcolm & Marie› you play a director who comes home with his girlfriend (Zendaya) from the successful premiere of his last film. Instead of a celebration, however, there is suddenly a dispute. The relationship is questioned, gender roles and racism are passionately discussed. How does Malcolm’s Hollywood experience reflect your own?
There are, of course, many topics that I know as a black American in Hollywood. We talked a lot about our experiences and our drive during the rehearsals before the shoot. That flowed into the script. But I’m generally interested in the universal.
What do you mean?
For example, that Malcolm doesn’t want to be put in a drawer. Who would want that? He doesn’t want to be told what kind of films he can make as a black man. If he wants to make a ‘Lego’ film, you don’t need to make a political statement out of it, because it’s black. In my case that means: If I play a cowboy, I should be measured with the same yardstick as Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays a cowboy.
Did you know Zendaya before?
No, not personally. And before “Euphoria”, her series with our “Malcolm & Marie” director Sam Levinson, I had no idea what a good actress she was. In this film she can show how much adult woman there is in her. She has a lot more experience in the film industry than me. I always had to make sure that I didn’t lose touch.
In fact, you haven’t devoted yourself fully to acting for long. Now you are already playing the leading roles in such important films as ‘BlakKkKlansman’, ‘Tenet’ and ‘Malcolm & Marie’. How does it work?
That didn’t happen all over night. I was on the TV series ‘Ballers’ and didn’t get some small roles that I auditioned for. But of course, I feel very privileged.
Your father is Denzel Washington too. What is the most important piece of advice he has given you?
Always tell the truth Generally in life, but above all in our job, in performance. Make the art the priority, surrender to the role. These tips helped me a lot.
When did you realize your father was a star?
For me he was always a star. He was a magician who could transform himself into another person on stage. I realized he was famous when ‘Malcolm X’ came to the cinema. I was eight years old. Suddenly we needed more bodyguards. People were wearing ‘Malcolm X’ t-shirts and hats – it was a movement and my father was in the middle of it. During this time I was also in Europe for the first time, on the Amalfi Coast. We ate pizza and the waiters recognized him. They didn’t speak English, but they had a connection with him. I found that very special.
Did he never want to stop you from acting?
No, he never has. He has always supported me and is a fan. From all of his children, not just me. I wanted to be an actor when I was five when I played Richard III. saw – a character that had nothing to do with my father.
But then you turned to the sport and became a footballer. Why?
Because I had to find my own identity first. I chose football because people couldn’t say that my father opened the doors for me. There was no vitamin B involved. All the injuries, concussions, broken ribs, torn meniscus and Achilles tendon, I suffered in the name of independence.
Did you benefit from your experience as an athlete later as an actor?
Yes, the thick skin gave me what you need as an actor in certain situations. If I go to a casting and don’t get the role, I can cope with it quite well because I’m used to defeat in sports.
How critical are you towards yourself?
Very. I cannot watch my films. I take the whole performance apart, go from the hundredth to the thousandth and in the end I think my career is over. That’s why I always ask my mother what she means, because she knows exactly when I’m not being honest in front of the camera.
Your grandfather was a pastor and your father is a godly man. How do you feel about religion?
I pray every day and thank God. He’s the reason I’m here and why I do what I do. I ask God to make me the vessel that carries the role’s message to the audience. Whether it likes my performance or not: It will feel this spiritual connection, my devotion to faith.
“Malcolm & Marie” is available on Netflix.
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