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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Denzel Washington on directing: ‘I’m still learning’

While preparing to direct ‘A Journal for Jordan’, a sweet love story that begins on Christmas Day, Denzel Washington says he took a “master class”.

That master class included acting in the Joel Coen-directed film “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which opens the same day. “I steal from the best,” Washington says with a smile.

The Denzel Washington actor has some 60 movies under his belt, plus two Oscars, and is universally considered one of the all-time greats at 66. Director Denzel Washington has just completed his fourth feature. “I don’t call myself a director,” he said factually in an interview last week. “I’m still learning.”

Before “A Journal for Jordan,” based on the book by former New York Times editor Dana Kennedy, who fought and died in Iraq, and the magazine of the life lessons she left behind her baby son, Washington’s most recent directorial effort was “The Fences.” The 2016 film version of the August Wilson play starring Washington himself and Viola Davis, which won an Oscar.

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Washington also directed himself in two of his other feature outings – “The Great Debators” in 2007 and “Antwon Fischer” in 2002. But he says he will be offscreen when he is on top.

He said, ‘I prefer not to be in films. “Initially, I had to do with being able to raise money to make films. Then ‘Fence’, obviously we had great success on stage, so that could be translated into film. But I kind of like behind the scenes. It’s more fun being a man.”

In addition to his recent collaboration with Coen, whom he calls “one of the greatest directors of all time,” Washington says he sought insight from some of the other directors he admires.

“I had a great day with Paul Thomas Anderson a month or two ago just to hear how he works,” he said. “And Steve McQueen, I’m talking a little bit. I’m learning to do it, so I’m interested in learning from the best. So, I’m talking to the best.”

Michael B. Jordan says he’s also interested in learning from the best—which is why it was so influential for him to be directed by Washington. The actor gives a charismatic performance as Kennedy’s fiancee, First Sergeant. Charles Monroe King, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 at the age of 48. (Kennedy is portrayed by Chantey Adams.)

“It was really important to be able to work so closely with him,” Jordan said in an interview. “It was a master class, honestly.”

“As an actor, you know, growing up, watching all his movies, watching his performances and being curious about his process — like, ‘Man, I wonder how the greatest of times rehearse’ or How does he break down his character,'” Jordan said. “His character’s approach is so layered. You really feel like, ‘Oh, that’s why you’re Denzel, get it! I am doing very well, but then it is the next level.’”

Actor Denzel Washington arrives for the premiere of the film “American Gangster” on October 19, 2007 in New York City. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

And Jordan said working with Washington was particularly important, noting that he’s making his directorial debut, directing — and starring in the upcoming “Creed III.”

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“Knowing I was directing ‘Creed III,’ he made it a point to do a lot of, you know? I was always in his back pocket, watching and asking questions and (him) me.” Used to give small gems,” Jordan said.

The actor told the story of how Washington asked him one day if he had a storyboard artist—he didn’t, and hadn’t been planning for several months—and within moments, Washington was making introductions.

“He was like, ‘No, no, get one now,'” Jordan said. “He picked up his phone and he called this guy, Warren Drummond. And he was like, ‘Warren, it’s D. I got Mike B here, and he’s getting ready to direct ‘Creed III.’ Washington put Jordan on the phone, and a deal was soon struck.

“So it’s something as eclectic as that, he was always advising me on what to look for because there’s another layer to it — there’s not a lot of people who have guided themselves,” Jordan said. “And that’s what’s really challenging for me at this.” Washington, Jordan says, told him that he needed to “identify some of the ideas on which you’re really going to anchor your choices, because you have time to run back to the monitor every now and then and see what’s going on.” Not what you got.”

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Washington stated that the original plan was not for him to direct; He joined the project 12 years ago through longtime producer Todd Black, shortly after Candy wrote his story. It took eight years to develop a script. When Washington saw the screenplay written by Virgil Williams, he exclaimed, “Shoot it, I’ll direct it!” He says he was attracted by the beauty of the love story – sad, but uplifting.

Jordan, who was involved with the project for several years before the film was made, says he found it a lot to identify with a father in journaling for his newborn son.

“I journal a lot, and I think about legacy all the time,” Jordan says. “And being a family one day. And I think about my time on this earth, and what do I do with it?”

But another important reason he stuck to film as it developed and his own dance card rapidly filled in Hollywood was Washington. “Directing Denzel was like a dream come true,” he says.

Washington says mentorship was important to her as well—beginning with Robinson Stone, an English and theater teacher at Fordham University, “one of the first mentors who could see my potential.”

“And over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the greatest filmmakers of all time, so I steal from the best,” he said. “From Spike (Lee) to Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Norman Jewson, Richard Attenborough, Jonathan Demme, trying to learn from the best. I take a little bit from all of them, and try to apply what I’m learning how to do.

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