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John David Washington Recalls Seeing Dad Denzel Act On Stage For The First Time: ‘It Was Like A Magic Trick’

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Following in his father Denzel Washington’s professional footsteps (after a period of rebellion), John David Washington has made quite the name for himself as an actor for nearly a decade, something that the elder Washington didn’t see coming. He made his first big splash on TV playing Ricky Jerret in the HBO series Ballers, and over the last several years, he’s starred in big movies like BlackKkKlansman, Tenet and Amsterdam. Most recently, Washington made the jump to stage performing in a Broadway revival of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, and in the midst of his time on that production, the actor recalled seeing his dad perform on stage for the first time, describing the experience as like watching a “magic trick.”

John David Washington appeared on American Masters: Creative Spark to talk about his North Carolina roots, how he got into acting and what it was like for him working on The Piano Lesson, with his Broadway debut co-starring Samuel L. Jackson and Peacemaker’s Danielle Brooks. Of course, Denzel Washington is no stranger to stage acting, and during the interview, John David Washington revealed the first play he ever saw his famous father perform in, and what that was like for him:

Richard III. I saw my father on stage for the first time. I was a kid. It was like a magic trick because he didn’t talk like that at the house. And then he just got on stage and transformed into another being with these words. I remember he would walk me around the city when he was doing it and cite the lines, and I always used to giggle. He said I used to love the lines. ‘Now is the winter of our discontent.’ I never knew what that meant, but I just knew those words, and I thought it was so cool. I just thought it was magical.

Denzel Washington played The Tragedy of Richard III’s title character at the Joseph Papp Public Theater from August 3 to September 2 of 1990, when John David Washington was just six years old. At that time, not only did Washington’s prior stage experience include productions like Coriolanus and A Soldier’s Play, he was pretty well-known for playing Dr. Phillip Chandler in St. Elsewhere, and had also appeared in movies like Cry Freedom and Glory. He was only a couple years away from delivering his Oscar-nominated turn as Malcolm X (though he’ll never re-watch that, nor any of his older movies), but for John David Washington at that young age, he was amazed by the difference between how his father was with him in their everyday lives versus the character he transformed into while on that stage, or even just while practicing his lines.

Following his extensive movie and TV work, now John David Washington finally has some stage performing under his belt. This production of The Piano Lesson, which wrapped up its run on January 29, saw Washington playing Boy Willie, a sharecropper who wants to sell the family piano so that he can buy the land his enslaved ancestors were forced to work on, while his sister Berniece (Danielle Brooks) wants to keep the piano in the family. Washington drew acclaim for his performance in The Piano Lesson, including The New York Times calling it “a revelatory stage debut.” If Washington ever returns to the stage, and if he has children of his own someday, maybe he’ll end up replicating the experience that he had with Denzel Washington in his early years, i.e. them being transfixed watching him perform a grandiose character in person.

Looking to the future, John David Washington will next be seen in the movie True Love, which co-stars Gemma Chan and Allison Janney, and will arrive in theaters on October 6. If you’d like to watch his latest cinematic performance, Amsterdam can be streamed with an HBO Max subscription, or feel free to get the lay of this year’s cinematic land by looking over the other slated 2023 new movie releases.


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