When you’re the child of a superstar aiming to break ground in the same business as your parent, it goes without saying that the experience presents a unique challenge.
In a recent interview with fashion outlet Mr. Porter, actor John David Washington, Denzel Washington’s oldest son, shared his workaround for evading the question of who his famous parent was when he first entered Hollywood.
“I was related to Denzel Washington,” he says. “I saw how people changed when they found out who my father was.”
“I used to lie, saying he was a construction worker or in jail, just to have some sense of normalcy. I felt like there was no way people would take me seriously, even if I was good. They would always judge me. So I hid who my father was. I guess I was protecting myself.”
Washington shared that he fled his Brooklyn home in the early weeks of the pandemic to safely quarantine with his parents in California, where he grew up. The time with his family has been reflective and fun, claiming that on some days he feels more like the parent than the child.
But his road to acting wasn’t a direct journey, he spent time playing in the NFL professionally before he was offered his breakout role on the HBO show Ballers with The Rock. The call came after he retired from professional football due to an Achilles injury.
“It doesn’t even guarantee you will make it, but if you don’t, you can almost guarantee that you won’t,” was his father’s advice when he told him he would be starring in the series.
But his Golden Globe nomination in Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning film BlackkKlansman carved out a lane for Washington where he fought to be held outside of his father’s shadow.
Washington is is slated to star in the upcoming Christopher Nolan film, Tenet, and recently filmed a secret quarantine production with actress Zendaya, titled Malcom & Marie.
In the midst of living as Hollywood royalty, Washington says he understands the impact he has as a Black man with a platform. He hopes to be able to build bridges that have been decayed by racism, racial profiling and lack of understanding.
“As an African American, what gives me hope about where we are going is the amount of people that don’t look like me on the front lines. I think they do actually have an understanding, a real understanding of what the problems are, the systemic issues. And they’re paying attention,” he said.