“There were some times I couldn’t get up out of bed,” John David Washington said.
“Even if I break something, I am not going to say nothing to nobody until this thing gets done.” Speaking to Esquire, he described just how physically ravaging the filming for his next project had been.
The upcoming Christopher Nolan thriller, Tenet, required Washington to participate in day after day of physical exertion. It takes a special type of commitment to endure that: “Oh, I will die for this” Washington said.
It comes as a point of interest that only a few years ago, Washington didn’t have any mainstream content or feature films to his name. And even a few years earlier, Washington suffered a career-ending injury that throttled him out of the National Football League.
Given that he was largely living in his parents’ shadow and was trying to make the rare leap as a leading Black actor, the waters seemed murky for Washington.
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None of that stopped him. Today, Washington holds a leading role in an upcoming revolutionary spy thriller, has posed for countless magazine covers, and has earned a Golden Globe nomination for his brilliant work in a Spike Lee historical classic.
He has done this all at the young age of 35. There is more to his story than just a successful breakthrough, though. John David Washington’s life has been an example of perseverance and persistence that few actors have experienced.
Following the failure in other fields, he pursued his true passion in life, regardless of what his parents or society told him.
Furthermore, he serves as a form of representation for African-Americans as leading men on film and has established this as a universal trait. He has done this all through much adversity and is an inspiration for the possibilities that one’s desire can bring them.
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Those who know @JohnDavidWashington know his TV and movie marathons. Within minutes of his first conversation with Esquire’s Kate Storey for our Summer 2020 cover, he offered his take on ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Sex and the City.’ “Charlotte [from SATC], that was my girl. I love her,” he said. “I love what they do with Carmela, Edie Falco’s [Sopranos] character, in the later seasons. I love what they allow her to do and where she goes, especially when . . . I don’t want to give it away, but I just think it’s some of the most brilliant acting I’ve ever seen.” Read the full story at the link in our bio. Photos: @dmillzzz
John David Washington, or “JD” as he went by in school, was raised in Los Angeles by Denzel and Pauletta Washington along with four younger siblings.
According to Esquire, JD was a sports fanatic growing up. He barely even mentioned acting and went on to letter in football, basketball, and track in high school.
Despite the athleticism, Washington had a minor appearance as a student in Spike Lee’s 1992 feature Malcolm X, in which his father starred. This was one of many exposures to the brilliance and talent of his father, something that would discourage many children.
Racism was something that JD encountered in his young life. “Of course I’ve felt racism,” he told Vulture. He had been called the “N-word” while spending summers with his family in North Carolina, among other incidents.
Despite being the son of such a successful and influential man, racism was something that not even John David could escape. It did not discourage him though, and he took pride in his Black heritage in school.
“Man, I had cornrows, and when I picked ’em out, certain people that didn’t look like me always wanted to touch ’em” he said. ““One time, I just said, ‘Yo, hell no.”
Washington was a star athlete while attending Morehouse College. As a senior, he led his football team 1,198 rushing yards, setting a school record in the process. He also holds Morehouse single game and career rushing records.
After going undrafted in the 2006 NFL draft, Washington signed with the St. Louis Rams serving a brief stint as a backup running back. He also played for NFL Europe and the United Football League, never seeming to find the success he wanted with either.
While performing explosive-training work during the 2013 offseason, he suffered a gruesome Achilles injury, instantly ending his athletic career.
“A part of me felt like it got shot and killed, it got assassinated. All of that was fear-based, of not knowing if what I thought was my destiny, if I’m even worthy enough to claim it,” JD told Esquire. “It was time to go up on stage.”
Despite keeping acting as a backup plan for all of these years, Washington was going to make a run for it.
Washington’s first acting gig came in 2015 as a supporting role in HBO drama series Ballers. He played a competitive NFL player alongside Dwayne Johnson and Rob Corddry. The series received generally positive reviews and went on to stream until 2019.
Following his time there, JD had leading roles in the 2017 and 2018 films Love Beats Rhyme and Monsters and Men. Both films were on-demand releases, and while he had not yet blown up, Washington was at least getting some experience.
Then came the infamous call. He was in his hotel room when it happened. “Yo, this is Spike, call me,” said the message on his voicemail.
The director instructed Washington to read the true story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. A few days later, Lee offered him the part, and Washington agreed. “All right, see you this summer,” Lee said.
To be a leading actor in a Spike Lee feature film is pretty much a lottery, much less for somebody who has a limited acting resumé. Yes, Spike knew JD’s father, having worked with him in Malcolm X. However, Lee was taking just as big a risk on JD as it sounded like.
A historical film involving events surrounding the Ku Klux Klan would be controversial in some aspects, to say the absolute least. JD, however, didn’t have to think twice about it.
Not only would he have a chance to star in a hundred-million-dollar film, but he had the chance to tell an important historical story and educate people about the dangers of racism. He would later a Golden Globe nomination for his work.
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Repost from @totalfilm: Christopher Nolan’s time-bending action epic Tenet is on the cover of Total Film’s new issue! The newsstand cover is on sale this Friday, 29 May, and the exclusive subscribers’ cover 👆⬅️ is in the mail this week! Keep your eyes peeled for further updates this week…
Washington will star in Tenet, an upcoming spy thriller direct by Christopher Nolan. The film is an enormous risk for Nolan, whose last film release was 2017’s Dunkirk. The film has an estimated budget of $205 million, making it Nolan’s most expensive non-franchise film, and one of the priciest original films ever made.
Along with this, the film lacks the box-office star power of a Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt, instead helming JD alongside Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh. It doesn’t have the “instant-pull” that many of these box-office stars contain, and because of this, it can be a financial concern.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic limits the number of theaters and seats that can be open at its July 17 release. This is an enormous financial risk for the Warner Bros. studio, but putting their faith in Nolan has proven to be wise in the past, as his films have generated $4.7 billion worldwide and have received 34 Oscar nominations.
Tenet, however, has the potential to do something greater than financial earnings; it can be a success in terms of representation for Washington and a step forwards for equality in America. In terms of universalism, having a Black leading actor is something that Nolan has never done before.
In each of his ten previous films, he has had a white male lead, the majority of them being British like him. With John David Washington starring, the African-American population gains a mode of representation on the big screen across multiple countries.
Nolan’s films are extremely successful in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom, and with Tenet, in particular, India, Estonia, and other several foreign countries will have an incentive to watch since they were all used as film locations.
What Nolan is doing is nothing short of genius, and he had the courage to cast a relatively unknown, young, African-American actor in the leading role. John David Washington has the opportunity to spread the representation and universalism of Black leading actors, and to give America a colored on-screen actor to rally behind in the country’s time of distress.
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“As I was putting this wonderful suit on, I realized it’s not about me, it’s about somebody who looks like me in Kansas or North Carolina, Middle America or in the South, who sees a cover like this and will be inspired to change their environment, to be motivated and say, I can be this, I can do this.” – #BlacKkKlansman’s @johndavidwashington on being featured in this year’s Hollywood Issue of @vanityfair. 📸: @LandonNordeman, @chivexp
Most importantly, though, John David Washington is demonstrating how one can be successful following their own dreams: not those of their parents, nor society, but what they truly want to do. JD did not let his parents pressure him into making a decision; he decided the career path was his own following the athletic setback.
At the same time, society would tell him not to bother being an African-American leading actor, much less to star in a Christopher Nolan film. Once again, JD proved them wrong. This story is so important for those who do not know how to follow their dreams or even those who do not have a place in society.
Through tribulations, hard work, and a bit of risk, John David Washington was able to become a leading figure in Hollywood. His story shows an immense amount of perseverance, passion, and guts.
The next time you are unsure about yourself, realize that whatever you want is possible. It could very well turn into a story that others find inspirational.