John David Washington, star of the new movie Tenet, may have inherited more than acting talent from dad Denzel — he also has his father’s sense of proportion when it comes to show business and social justice.
The younger Washington, who rose to prominence via his title role in Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated BlacKkKlansman, was in the middle of a press blitz for Tenet when the Jacob Blake shooting occurred, and he joined NBA players and others by taking a professional pause to focus attention on the incident, and on the wider movement of Black Lives Matter.
We talked to the 36-year-old Washington about that decision, about his career, and about his new movie. The Zoom conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I really thought the NBA showed leadership. You know we serve our purpose in what we do, through our occupations, but seeing what they did, and thinking about it, I thought personally that I wanted to follow suit. That this wasn’t the time to celebrate. And doing press these last couple weeks has been an occasion of celebration and positivity. We were celebrating a return of the event film, a return to theaters. And again, that wasn’t the time to celebrate.
Yes. I may be a bit biased because I’m in the movie business, because I wanted to be an actor my entire life, because I have a special relationship with seeing movies in theaters — being a kid, seeing these movies projected on the big screen, and thinking I wanted to be just like (those actors).
I loved being totally lost, suspending reality because I’m just absorbed into the story. I think if I have that experience, many other kids and young adults and adults can as well, especially because of the times and what we’re living through.
I think Chris and Spike are obviously different in terms of their styles but they are both provocateurs. They really challenge audiences, each in his own way. Spike might have a more direct approach, and you always know exactly who and what he’s challenging. But what you see right away is that they both absolutely love movies. They love what they do, love the craft, the production, creating something from the ground up.
What did he say?
Well this is very difficult to discuss without getting into spoilers, but I’ll put it this way: It’s about how point of view can change, how time changes motivation. How time can put you on the wrong side of history. How time can make you the antagonist, not the protagonist, even if you think you are the protagonist.
(Laughs) Yes! Thank you. That’s a great compliment. Unfortunately we can’t really get into specifics, but I didn’t realize how heavily Chris leans on that — performances and chemistry — to help take the audience along, even if they are not understanding the rules of inversion or the intricacies of the sci-fi element. They can be entertained by the explosions and the big set pieces, which is why we are all there and eating our popcorn, but ultimately we have to invest in the characters in order to care about the other stuff.
It’s worth seeing more than once just to see Kenneth Branagh speak backwards in a Russian accent. The movie is definitely intended to be viewed more than one time. And the fact that it’s being released now may be a blessing. It’s the kind of movie people can sit in a theater and enjoy on a second and third viewing, because there will be discussions, and they will be a lot of fun.