Denzel charms Silliman students with ‘sexy smile’

Donning tennis shoes and a Silliman College baseball cap, two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington spoke to students about his life as an actor, director, producer and father in a candid — and interactive — Master’s Tea Thursday afternoon.

Washington fielded questions for an hour and a half on topics ranging from his family and career to his favorite food (his wife’s curry, fried or jerk chicken). He shared personal stories and joked with his audience, which was limited to students from Silliman, the home of his eldest daughter, Katia Washington ’10.

Washington’s responses often elicited laughter and applause, although the first question posed to him by a Silliman student perhaps drew the loudest cheers: “I know you probably get this a lot, but how does it feel to be Katia’s father?”

“You have made my day,” Washington replied. “You have made my year, because that’s all I want to be known as … it’s what I live for.”

“I was there to ‘catch’ all four of my children,” he continued. “And with them I realized that that’s life. What I do as an actor, that’s making a living.”

Quoting fellow entertainer Julia Roberts, Washington said he thinks of himself as an ordinary person with an extraordinary job. He said the best thing about his work is the chance he gets to delve into the lives of his many characters.

“You get to dabble in all these different worlds, so it’s a fascinating job,” he said.

Washington offered a behind-the-scenes perspective on many of his movies, including the recent blockbusters “The Great Debaters” and “American Gangster,” as well as earlier films such as “Malcom X” and “The Pelican Brief.” He recalled meeting his wife Pauletta in the late 1970s shortly after shooting his first movie, “Wilma,” in which she also played a role.

When asked to name his favorite film, Washington admitted that he does not watch many movies, including his own. Instead he asked the question to half a dozen audience members, receiving responses from “Forrest Gump” to “Scarface” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the favorite of Silliman Master Judith Krauss.

“Movies belong to the people,” he said. “I’m not a film buff [and] never really have been … Maybe because it’s job-related.”

Washington also spoke about his latest project — a remake of the 1974 film “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” about the hijacking of a New York City subway train — which he is currently shooting with John Travolta and James Gandolfini of the hit HBO show “The Sopranos.” Regarding his future prospects, Washington said he is considering working on an early screenplay of M. Night Shyamalan called “Labor of Love.”

Students questioned Washington on his hobbies (boxing and watching basketball), his professional regrets (turning down Brad Pitt’s role in the hit movie “Seven”) and his experiences with racism.

More than 150 students attended Washington’s talk, and many said they were surprised and delighted by the star’s honest and easygoing demeanor.

“It was hilarious, and he was really laid back,” Amira Valliani ’10 said. “He didn’t feel like a high-powered person. It felt like a fun conversation.”

James Boumil ’09 said Washington handled every question — including one about his views on the death penalty, in light of his role as a wrongly accused prisoner in “The Hurricane” — with ease.

Before the tea, Washington stopped by the Silliman dining hall to meet a few of his fans on the staff. Dining Services employee Esther Bell said he was “down-to-earth” and has a “very sexy smile.”

“He came in here and walked around with us,” Jackie Jefferson, another staff member, said. “It was the coolest thing ever for me.”

Washington said the most talented actors he has ever worked with include Gene Hackman, Angelina Jolie and Dakota Fanning. (“I’m like, that’s got to be a little person,” Washington said of Fanning, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “I mean, she was looking through me.”) He said he would love to work someday with Al Pacino or Robert De Niro.

“My daughter will tell you how silly I got when Bob De Niro came by,” Washington said. “I couldn’t get myself together.”


  • Anonymous

    It should've been open to the rest of yale, too.

    Denzel is Awesome.

  • Yale Mom

    I've had the pleasure of seeing Denzel in the flesh twice. Once when he was working on "X" while filming in my neighborhood with Spike, and once on E. 72nd Street in the City. He does have an incredible smile (rivaled only by Derek Luke's I might add), and I only wish that other Yale kids, mine included, could have had a chance to meet him. Maybe next year!

  • Yale Mama

    It is so nice to read such a positive article about Denzel. I had the pleasure of seeing him in person twice here in NYC.Once on the set of Malcolm X and once on E. 72nd Street near his bldg at the time. He is a gorgeous man. His smile is only rivaled by that of Derek Luke's (who I've also met on Columbus Ave just last Sunday). Washington discovered Luke BTW. I just hope that next year my own Yalie will have the chance to meet him as well. They are really only human too, but it's always nice to see a movie icon in person.

  • YDN Reader

    It is wonderful that Mr. Washington came to Yale to speak. Hopefully, the next time he visits, he will try and squeeze in a visit to the Af-Am Cultural Center, an organization that his child is involved in as well. I am certain that they would have loved to have hosted him and for the Af-American community at Yale that exists beyond Silliman College to have had a chance to meet and greet him as well. He is an outstanding actor and he and his wife are tremendous philanthropists as well. It would just be nice if when time next permits, that he try and squeeze in some time at the Af-Am Center.

  • Anonymous

    Dude, Denzel's talk would have been way too packed… His daughter's in Silliman… It only makes sense. Get over it.

  • Anonymous

    To add on to #5, if they'd opened it up to all Yale students, he would have had to speak in Woolsey, thus defeating the purpose of a Master's Tea.

    This happens in all colleges, not just Silliman. I believe Bette Midler came last week and her talk was only open to Saybrook students as she is a Saybrook parent. It's not the best system, but it's not completely unfair.

  • Moi?

    Denzel's daughter is a part of other organizations at Yale, and particularly she's active in Af-Am house groups. The black community at Yale would have been happy to have hosted him at the Af-Am house. Maybe next year?

  • Anonymous

    I understand that there were logistical concerns, but I do wish that it had been open to a wider audience. Although - while his daughter is in Shades, how active is she with Af-Am house/community? I think a stronger argument would simply be that his work would make him an appropriate guest for that venue.

  • Alum

    Mr. Washington is a fine actor, and probably even a good person. But famous and even important people visit all the time for Master's Teas. They are Master's Teas because the audience and venue are limited to the hosting residential college to create an intimate and candid setting. The purpose is so attendees have the experience of sitting in the same small room and having a conversation with someone of consequence. It's not so you can say "I saw Denzel from 100 yards away and listened to him field prepared questions through a loudspeaker."

    If the Af-Am house wants him to visit, they should invite him.

  • Lynn M. Young

    I find Denzel Washington to be a very loving person, a fine actor and a great father. It pleases me everytime I hear his name. I'm looking forward to spending time with him if God permits. I'm his number 1 fan. God bless you Denzel.