Two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington sits down with scene before his Master’s Tea yesterday in Silliman College.
Q: Finals are coming up in about a week. Do you remember your last exams at Fordham [University]?
A: My last two years at Fordham, I had already transferred within the university [to the theater program], and I had started working in the theater. So by that time, I was well on my way. In fact, I was auditioning for films and stuff like that, so it was almost like, well I’m already a professional. I actually ended up with decent grades. But I don’t remember the pressure, because it was pressure now in the real world.
Q: And it was in Connecticut that you discovered your passion for acting [as a counselor] at a YMCA camp?
A: In Lakeville, CT. We did little skits for the kids, and someone said to me, “You’ve got a real knack for that.” I’d already dabbled in a couple of classes, so that fall, I changed my major. As I told my daughter, and all my kids, don’t feel too much pressure [to pick a major]. Even if it is a life decision, it’s not a life decision. You know I studied biology, I moved to political science, then I moved to journalism, then I moved to theater. I was finding my way… When I started college, I never thought about being an actor. Sometimes it takes a little time to find your way.
Q: For “The Great Debaters,” your last movie, you acted, produced, and directed.
A: The only reason I acted in the movie was to get enough money to make it. Because without me in the film, the budget would have been cut in half. It is a business, and I understand the business side of it. I don’t particularly care for acting in a film I direct.
Q: And you think you can see more directing in your future?
A: I like it. [But] it’s hard work, so I’ll be careful about when I’ll do it again. And it’s also really time-consuming… I have seventeen-year-old twins who are juniors [in high school], so I know I won’t direct before they finish school next summer, because I can’t get home. I’m in a movie in New York now, I’ll be on a plane in about four hours, I’ll fly home. But when you’re directing, there’s just no time. You work seven days a week.
Q: And now you’re working on…?
A: A remake of an old ’70s film with myself, John Travolta, John Turturro and James Gandolfini. We all star in it together. Travolta’s playing the bad guy… that’s the good part.
Q: In “Training Day” you played a bad guy, right? Was that fun?
A: A bad guy’s fun. A bad guy can get away with anything.
Q: Is it more difficult than playing a good guy?
A: No, it’s easier. At this point in my life, yes, it’s easier.
Q: You’ve played a lot of historical characters and characters based on true stories. Do you find it more difficult to play real people than fictional characters?
A: No, not necessarily. In the case of Malcolm X, probably, because everybody thought they knew him… It was like, “You better get this right.” It’s probably more pressure when the person’s still alive. It’s been interesting, I never set out to play all these real people. I’ve actually only done about six, I think. But they’ve all been strong films. It’s a great job because I get involved in all these different worlds. Now, I’m a subway guy. I’m a guy who minds the subway lines. We had to take safety courses and walk between stations in the subway… every job is like an adventure.
Q: What was it like dropping your daughter off for her first day at Yale?
A: It’s just as interesting today, just being able to walk around with her, just she and I. I’m not as wide-eyed [now, but] I was more excited than she was in the tour — “She’s going to Yale! That’s unbelievable!” Just to see the difference in her now… You know how it goes… I told my son and I told Katia, embrace this. This is the best time of your life. Rent is due in six months.
Q: What kind of college parents are you? Do you worry at all? Are you hands-off?
A: You know, I’ve been sort of hands-off-ish. I mean, I talk to Katia, I leave her messages and all that kind of stuff. I work in New York, I’m not far away. If there’s any problems, you know, I’d be here in a flash, but I wanted to be left alone [in college] and I want all of my children to learn to fend for themselves, ’cause that’s what they’re going to have to do in this world. I’m not going to be there every time. So I was pleased that my oldest son and my daughter wanted to get 3000 miles away from home. I wanted them to experience winter. [Katia] had never seen snow hit the ground before — she’s seen it big time since.