John David Washington
Denzel Washington’s son about fear of heights, skin color – and his role in “Tenet”
The son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington is now making a career himself – as the hero of the action thriller “Tenet”. A conversation with John David Washington, 36, about his failed career as a professional athlete and the differences to James Bond.
Mr. Washington, we’re calling from Hamburg.
Supposedly you once played American football here in the Volksparkstadion.
Yes, but that was a great many moons ago. I was in the NFL Europe and first played for Hamburg’s “Sea Devils”, later in Düsseldorf for “Rhein Fire”. Feels like a different life.
Has your experience in professional sport rubbed off on your career as an artist?
Absolutely, there are a lot of things in common that I took with me into acting. On the one hand, in football you learn to deal with rejections and rejections. That sounds negative, but it is helpful in the end. One hears the word “no” very often in the film industry. Or teamwork. Even with film, it’s not about your ego, but about collaboration.
Her current film “Tenet” is teeming with action scenes. Extremely exhausting physically. Is that why you got the lead role?
Might be. I don’t know if director Christopher Nolan knew that I was basically a failed athlete. I had to end my career prematurely after tearing my Achilles tendon. Filming was harder than football, though. The film is about time and its reversal, and I’ve never learned how to run backwards with a football or touchdown backwards.
Does the physical work rub off on your psyche, your feelings?
You are making a good point. I usually develop my figure from the inside out. But the intensive training – fight choreographies, stunt work, three daily workouts a day for over a month – all of this also does something to your head.
Which scene was the most difficult?
Let’s put it this way: I didn’t have such a good relationship with height before. In Mumbai, Robert Pattinson and I had to jump off a high-rise balcony. I first had to muster up the courage to do so.
Didn’t you mention your fear of heights beforehand?
You know, every actor will, when asked, “Can you ride?” answer: “Of course I can ride!” You say yes – and then take care of the implementation later.
In “Tenet” you jet around the globe, fight against a megalomaniac Russian and have to save humanity. You’d better apologize to Idris Elba. Everyone always thought he was the first black James Bond …
Ha. I think Idris would be a wonderful James Bond. But of course it would be crazy to turn down such a role.
Does “Tenet” feel like a 007 movie to you?
More like a Christopher Nolan movie. “Tenet” is different, very mature. In any case, I didn’t feel like James Bond.
How did you feel?
Sometimes like a superhero. Then again like a vulnerable, broken man.
And you don’t have any Bond girls.
We have other talented and attractive women with us such as Elizabeth Debicki or Clémence Poésy.
We are currently experiencing a major social change. The corona pandemic, the demonstrations for Black Lives Matter. Now the only big Hollywood movie of the summer has a black hero. Perfect timing?
These are your words. If you feel this is a good thing, you already have an answer to your question. For me, a new Nolan film always comes at the right time, no matter what state the world is in. To see his films on a big screen is like a promise of salvation, like medicine. When you see this film you will understand why it is important for cinema to live on and thrive.
But doesn’t the world still need more black heroes on screen?
Positive pictures are always a good thing. But the script didn’t say “black, 30-year-old man” for my role, just “The protagonist”. I play the character the best I can, I never had to worry about the color of his skin.
Her father Denzel once said in an interview: “The only color Hollywood is interested in is green.” The color of the dollar bills.
He’s a very wise man and one of my favorite actors. So I’m not going to contradict him – at least not in public.