In a cover story for GQ magazine, Denzel Washington opens up a lot about his father, thoughts on celebrity, and his daughter following in his thespian footsteps. The Academy Award-winning actor also opened up about the late Whitney Houston and sent a message to the Black community when prompted.
In some ways, you’re a cipher. There’s not much you put out there.
But that’s not my job to put stuff out there. Sidney Poitier told me this years ago: "If they see you for free all week, they won’t pay to see you on the weekend, because they feel like they’ve seen you. If you walk by the magazine section in the supermarket and they’ve known you all their life, there’s no mystery. They can’t take the ride." My professional work is being a better actor. I don’t know how to be a celebrity.
So if they want to see you that way—
I’ve got my own things that I will and won’t do, but it’s not because I "carry the weight of the African-American something" or whatever. I can’t. I’m an actor. First of all, I don’t take myself that seriously. I take what I do seriously, and I try to do a good job.
Your father died as you were working on Malcolm X.
I was flying to New York to meet with Spike, and when we landed my brother was there. The first thing I thought was Mom died. And he said, "Dad had a stroke." That was April of ’91, and he died in August. We started shooting around the time that he died. [pauses] I never shed a tear for my father. That sounds like a book or a song. I never did all through the funeral and all that. There was no connection.
What did you feel when Whitney died?
Whitney was my girl, and she had done so well in recovery. And that is the toughest part about addiction.
Were you friends still?
Not "talk every month" friends, but I talked to her from time to time. And that was a monster drug that got ahold of her, it was a mean one. You can’t go back to that one. Nobody beats that. I look at people—and I don’t think I’m speaking out of line—Sam Jackson, I’ve known for thirty-some-odd years, he was down at the bottom. And he came all the way back. And when he cleaned up, he never looked back. But he can’t have that beer, because it might lead to the tough thing.
Whitney was such a sweet, sweet girl and really just a humble girl. You know, they made her this thing. She had a voice, obviously, but they packaged her into this whole whatever, but she was really just this humble, sweet girl. Me and Lenny [Kravitz], we were talking about her yesterday, and it’s more of an example to me or the rest of us to keep it together. I was listening to her song "I Look to You." It’s prophetic. Maybe I’m speaking out of line. Maybe she thought she could have one. And then the next thing you know, her body was betraying her. She didn’t know that her body was aging quickly. She couldn’t take it. Your body can only take so much. Some people survive [Hollywood and fame], and some people don’t.
As for one of his children, “My oldest daughter—I see her digging her independence. She doesn’t like me talking about it, but she’s working with Tarantino.”
On Django Unchained?
Yeah. I can see myself in her.
That’s funny she’s with Tarantino, because you had that feud with him on Crimson Tide over what you called his racist dialogue he added to the script.
Isn’t that interesting how life goes? But I buried that hatchet. I sought him out ten years ago. I told him, "Look, I apologize." You’ve just gotta let that go. You gonna walk around with that the rest of your life? He seemed relieved. And then here we are ten years later, and my daughter’s working with him. Life is something.
If you had one thing to say to African-American readers of GQ, what would you say?
Take responsibility. One of the things that saddens me the most about my people is fathers that don’t take care of their sons and daughters. And you can’t blame that on The Man or getting frisked. Take responsibility. Look in the mirror and say, "What can I do better?" There is opportunity; you can make it. Whatever it is that you choose, be the best at it. You have an African-American president. You can do it. But take responsibility. Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer. Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding. I’m not telling you what religion to be, but work on your spirit. You know, mind, body, and spirit. Imagine—work the brain muscle. Keep the body in tune—it’s your temple. All things in moderation. Continue to search. That’s the best part of life for me—continue to try to be the best man.
You can read the cover story in full over at GQ.
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