Denzel Washington has one of the most celebrated careers in Hollywood. His notable roles include playing real-life figures such as boxer Robin “Hurricane” Carter for The Hurricane, as well as drug kingpin Frank Lucas in Ridley Scott‘s 2007 biographical film American Gangster. His upcoming movie, The Magnificent Seven, sees the talented actor starring alongside an ensemble cast that includes Chris Pratt and Vincent D’ Onofrio.
There are a lot of upcoming actors who look forward to finding the same success as Denzel Washington in the acting industry. After all, he already has a Tony Award and two Academy Awards under his belt. But like many, he struggled to find his place at first. Washington began his entire career performing on stage before landing his very first role in a television movie. From then on, he rose to create numerous award-winning films as well as receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award during the 73rd Golden Globe Awards.
What Does Denzel Washington Want Young Actors to Know?
In an interview with Denzel Washington conducted by The Talks back in 2012, the actor provides the best acting tips for budding performers out there. Here are the most notable quotes from the session.
Question: Mr. Washington, do you enjoy playing the bad guy?
As an actor in the theater, you’re taught that you never play a bad guy. You have to love who you are. You can’t say, “Oh, I’m a bad guy.” How do you play that?
Creating a great villain is a rare commodity. It is easy to have audiences hate the bad guy, but it is difficult to really have audiences see the character as someone more than just a man with a rotten attitude.
Denzel Washington has been known to play a number of “anti-heroes” that veer toward actual villainous roles in his films. The most notable one had to be as corrupt police officer Alonzo Harris for Training Day, which won him his very first Academy Award for Best Actor. According to Washington himself, the key to really nailing a bad guy role is to assume that you are more than just the bad guy. So don’t hesitate to dig deep into the character’s motivations, and treat them like they’re the hero of their own story.
Another topic tackled during the interview was racism in Hollywood. As a black actor, Denzel Washington shared how easy it is for producers to typecast him in certain roles.
Question: Do you often have to turn down roles because they typecast you?
Absolutely. My career is based on saying no. Sidney Poitier told me many, many years ago that the first four or five movies that you do will determine how you’re perceived in the business. So I was very blessed that the second movie I did was with Norman Jewison, the third movie I did was with Sidney Lumet, and the fourth movie I did was Cry Freedom with Richard Attenborough, for which I was nominated for the first time. I was off to the races. There were other movies that I could have done and I didn’t do.
Washington highlighted an important point when it comes to taking charge of your career. He mentioned that actors do not need to risk their career by taking any role they’re offered just because the market is dry for the moment. Budding actors can always resort to theater. That way, you can direct your career toward the path you want to take.
Lastly, the name Denzel Washington is synonymous to Hollywood stardom, but Mr. Washington always makes it a point to always keep his feet on the ground. When asked by the interviewer about his early start in theater, he had this to say:
Well, I’m not a big Hollywood star. I’m an actor. I’m called a star. That’s not what I am. First of all I’m a human being; my profession is acting. People give you titles. They say you’re an up-and-coming star, then they say you’re a star, then they say you’re a washed-up star. (Laughs) So I don’t get caught up in what I’m called. My job, my profession, is acting.