As I enter the room, John David Washington is near the window seated comfortably on a lounger, and he’s quiet. The breakout star is staring introspectively out of the window onto the sunny street overlooking Central Park. As I step through the threshold of the room, Washington smiles and stands. Ever the gentleman, he greets me and gestures toward another chair waiting for me to be seated before he takes his seat once more. For someone who grew up on the sidelines of the entertainment industry, there’s no air of Hollywood entitlement about him.
At 34, Washington is ready to step into the spotlight; this is what he’s been working toward his entire life. In his role in the latest Spike Lee joint, BlacKkKlansman, the Morehouse College alum stars as Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan and thwarts a deadly attack on the city’s black community. The moment Lee called Washington for the role, the actor knew he would be in good hands. “Working with Spike definitely exceeded my expectations,” he said. “How inclusive he was as a director; how sharing he was; how much he trusted me — this is Spike Lee. He wants what he wants, but he also wants what you got. If he wants what you got, then he allows you to give it to him, and that kind of trust from a legend like that, I’ve never had before on set. That was super encouraging for me and made me feel so much more comfortable and confident to deliver for him. I was calling him Mr. Lee for a couple of weeks; he’s like, ‘Stop calling me that. I’m Spike.’ I was like, ‘Alright Mr. Lee. I’ll call you Spike, Mr. Lee. Sorry, Mr. Lee.'”
The pressure that came with working with Lee along with continually comparing Washington to his very famous father, another muse of the Do the Right Thing director, were just two aspects of this job with which the Ballers actor had to contend. Washington was also stepping into someone’s life. Ron Stallworth is real and very much alive. “The table read was when we really got to talk, and passed around his KKK membership card,” Washington remembered. “We talked a lot there, but then every week we were on the phone. I was hounding him. He began telling me about what it’s like being a cop—what to look for, where to stand, how to know where the exits are, just all that tactical stuff. Then we started talking about the motivations and what he experienced in his life. We discussed where his beliefs came from, the foundation of who he was, and his family. I also shared some stuff about me with him, too. It became this counseling relationship between the two of us.”
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