5 Facts About Denzel Washington
The greatest African American male actor in the history of American cinema?
(By Jim Webb)
(Denzel Washington in Man on Fire)
Is Denzel Washington the greatest African American male actor in the history of American cinema?
You could make a case for others, including Sydney Poitier, who, while not as accomplished as Washington, helped knock down the racial barriers that made it possible for Washington to thrive.
You could also make a strong case for other actors like Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson and Will Smith.
But, if Washington is not the greatest, he’s certainly the most accomplished black actor ever.
“Do what you have to do, to do what you want to do.”
And, race aside, Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr., is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of his era and an American icon.
Here are 5 basic facts about Denzel Washington:
#1: Denzel Was Practically Kicked Out of School Before Becoming an Actor
Before discovering his true passion for acting, Denzel Washington was a student attempting to find himself at Fordham University.
He bounced around from one major to the next, while his grades suffered. The university politely suggested he take some time off.
While taking a semester off, Washington participated in a staff talent show while working as a creative director of a summer camp at Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut.
Onlookers encouraged Washington to pursue acting. When his hiatus was over, Washington returned to Fordham with a renewed enthusiasm for the performing arts.
“Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship. So, keep moving, keep growing, keep learning!”
He would go on to earn a BA in Drama and performed in plays like Othello. He also studied briefly at a conservatory in San Francisco before returning to New York to pursue his acting career.
#2: Washington’s Big Break Came on St. Elsewhere
Denzel Washington’s big break came in 1982, when he was cast as Dr. Phillip Chandler on NBC’s St. Elsewhere. The show, which ran for six seasons, gave Washington the platform he needed to demonstrate his charm, presence, eloquence and sex appeal.
With his star power on the rise, major film roles began to flow his way. These roles included Steven Biko in Cry Freedom (1987), which earned him his first Oscar nomination. He also played Private Silas Trip in Glory (1989), a performance that earned him his first Academy Award.
#3: Washington Became the Ultimate Leading Man in the 1990’s
(Denzel Washington as Malcolm X)
Although there was early competition from other African American actors, like Wesley Snipes and Lawrence Fishborne, in the end, it was Washington who would go on to become the ultimate leading male and the go-to actor when it came time to cast African American leading man roles.
Washington cemented his place with stellar performances in films like Mo’ Better Blues (1990), Malcolm X (1992), Philadelphia (1993), The Pelican Brief (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), Courage Under Fire (1996) and The Hurricane (1999).
He would continue to put out good work in films like Remember the Titans (2000), John Q (2002), and Training Day (2001), for which he earned his first Academy Award for Best Actor.
#4: Denzel Washington Has Been Nominated for Eight Academy Awards
(Denzel Washington in Training Day)
Denzel Washington has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including:
*Glory – (he won for Best Supporting Actor)
*Training Day (he won for Best Actor)
*Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Additionally, he’s been nominated for numerous other awards including 10 Golden Globes, 2 Tony Awards and 2 Primetime Emmy Awards.
#5: Denzel Washington’s Acting Philosophy Involves Using Multiple Techniques
When it comes to acting techniques, the age-old question is, which is best? Which acting discipline produces the best actors? Is it Method Acting or the Meisner Technique? Is using imagination to build characters better than Affective Memory?
According to Washington, who has found success on-stage and well as on-screen, there is no single approach that works best.
Instead, he favors using them all at various times, drawing a little from all the popular techniques.
“Bruce Lee, you know, studied many martial arts. And he always said, take what’s useful. So, I’ve taken from different styles. There is no one discipline. There is no one gospel, when it comes to acting. So I take a little from this, take a little from that.”
Denzel’s advice to aspiring actors, or any young person going for their dreams, is to reject fear, and to thrust yourself headfirst towards your goals, completely unconcerned about falling backwards.
As he famously told graduating students at the University of Pennsylvania:
“I’m sure people have told you to make sure you have something to fall back on. Make sure you have something to fall back on, honey. But I never understood that concept; having something to fall back on. If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall forward. I figured at least this way I’ll see what I’m going to hit. Fall forward!”
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