NEW YORK - "Clint Eastwood's my hero," Denzel Washington says. "That's the model. He's the guy."

At this stage of his career, the two-time Oscar winner is most interested in going the actor-turned-director route, citing George Clooney, Sean Penn and Ben Affleck as examples. He likes the idea of staying behind the camera, rather than pulling double duty as filmmaker and performer, as he did in his 2002 directorial debut

Antwone Fisher

and now

The Great Debaters

.

Washington wanted to stay behind the camera for his latest film, but Harvey Weinstein, whose company put up the money along with Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films, wanted to ensure the movie had the star power of the strikingly handsome, 6-foot leading man - and upped the budget to have him in front of camera too. "I understand the business of it. And I said 'All right, all right,' " Washington says. The director adds that casting himself is "not bad casting."

While he was happy to get a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as a Harlem drug lord in

American Gangster

, Washington sounds tickled by the best-picture Globe bid for

The Great Debaters

. He says it felt like the first time he received a best-actor Academy Award nod 20 years ago, for

Cry Freedom

.

"So, I am excited about it. It's like: 'Wow, OK, I've tried this new career . . .' To be successful in one area and then jump out there, you're really sticking your chin out there," he says. And an Oscar nomination still might be in the offing for his

Gangster

work.

"You never know. . . . It's all gravy at this point," says the five-time nominee, who won for 2001's

Training Day

and 1989's

Glory

.