*Kerry Washington is fast becoming a household name having appeared in a slew of films, starring in the upcoming “Mother and Child,” currently starring in “Race” on Broadway, an active member of the V-Counsel (a group of advisors to V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls), on the board of Voices of a People’s History and in November of 2009 was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, just to name a few of her involvements.
Needless to say, she is a very, very busy lady. But, since this is The Film Strip, I began the interview with questions about her upcoming film.
Kerry, there are a lot of issues covered in ‘Mother and Child,’ but was there one specific that drew you to this project?
Kerry Washington: I just really loved the writing. When I first read the script, I just found it to be so authentic, so real. I felt like I could already see these women and hear these women. That’s kind of a clue for me when I really want to do something, when I’m reading it and I feel like the film already exists for me in my mind’s eye. So the moment that I read it I knew that it was something that I wanted to do.
You did something that might seem transgreesive in this film when it comes to showing it’s not all it’s cracked up to be sometimes?
KW: That’s right. That’s a big taboo in our society, that this doesn’t always work out. But anyway that’s one of the things, again, that I really loved about the film, that it’s just so honest and just so real. I think that parenting, I’m not a parent, but I think that parenting is the most important responsibility that a person can take on ever. I think it has its ups and downs. So, to have the courage to have written about that honestly, I tip my hat to Rodrigo [Garcia] because I know lots of moms who feel overwhelmed, particularly single moms. It’s funny because men will often comment on [one particular scene] and go, ‘Whoa. That scene is a little bit alienating,’ and women all go, ‘Oh my God, I know exactly what that feels like.’
You had some intense scenes with Shareeka Epps. How was that?
KW: Yeah. Shareeka Epps. What a brilliant actress. I feel we are so lucky that Shareeka decided to be an actress. When you look at her work in ‘Half Nelson,’ her work in this film, she is so f@#king badass. She’s just great. I loved working with her. I’m a fan of hers. I respect her immensely. It was so fun to be on set with her and to collaborate with her. It was an honor really. I’m excited about her future.
Do you think Sam Jackson’s character might ever at some point go looking for the child he had with Naomi Watts?
KW: I don’t know. I didn’t really do that actor’s homework but it is an interesting idea, the roles that the fathers play in the film. It is really interesting. To be honest with you, I’m thrilled to see Sam Jackson in a romantic lead. I think he’s amazing.
Your films have dealt with some heavy topics and not much fluff. Is this by design?
KW: Right. Well, ‘Fantastic Four’ is a little fluffy. No offense to my fellow cast-mates.
Are you drawn to the more serious projects at this point in your career?
KW: I think I’ve always been. I don’t think there’s ever been a point in my career where I’ve run away from films that contain complicated social issues. I mean even my first big studio film, ‘Save the Last Dance’, that film was about race relations. I played a teen mom living in inner city Chicago and I played the person who called her out on the race issues and why it was challenging for that community, that this woman was going to date this guy. So from the very beginning of my career I’ve been lucky enough to do work that’s meaty and that is filled with the complications of who we are as human beings.
You really held your own on the Bill Mahr Show.
KW: Yes, often that seat is not represented well on that show, the entertainer’s seat. I don’t come from a showbiz family. I come from a really academic background. My mother is a retired professor of education. I actually didn’t think that this is what I was going to do for a living. I didn’t major in acting in college. I have a liberal arts degree and I studied social sciences and I think that I tend to approach my work, quite honestly, as an anthropologist. The goal is to go native. I immerse myself in the world of the characters and I try to give myself a lot of socio-political background and historical background because for me it’s so important. Take for example maybe my most known work, a film like ‘Ray’; that’s a woman living in the ’60’s who is faced with a husband who’s cheating on her and who has an addiction. A woman of color in the ’60’s who’s faced with that situation has vastly different options than a woman in 2010 who’s faced with that situation. So to me if you’re aware of the socio-political context, the historical context then you can make more informed decisions about the psychology of the character because it’s a different woman who stays in 2010 than a woman who stays in 1963. They stay for different reasons. They live in different worlds. I do think that way. It’s funny, even on ‘Fantastic Four’, that is not a political film in any way but I guess I’m also aware that we live in a world where everything means something even when you may not necessarily want it to. So on a film like ‘Fantastic Four’, that was a comic book that was written in the ’50’s. There were no characters of color then in the comic book. We sort of convinced the studio to be open minded about it and it’s something that I’m very proud of because it means that today in 2010 that cartoon on television has a black character named Alicia Masters because I played the role in the film. It means that kids who watch that cartoon get to see themselves. They’re not alienated from the world of the cartoon because my team had the courage to go, ‘What about going black with that role?’ So I think that we live in a political world. Maybe I’m sort of unfortunately aware of that or fortunately.
Will there be another ‘Fantastic Four’?
KW: I don’t have any news for you on that.
Other than the eight shows a week you’re presently doing on Broadway, what’s next?
KW: I have another film that I finished. It was a film at Sundance this year called ‘Night Catches Us’ which is currently in talks with distributors and another film that I did, a small role in a film called ‘The Details’ that I really love.
Can you give some heads up on ‘Night Catches Us,’ The Black Panther Film?
KW: Actually, the film takes place ten years after the Panther movement. It picks up with two people, myself and Anthony Mackie and it’s sort of how we’re making sense after the movement. He’s been sort of underground and on the run and I’ve been raising a kid from another guy who died in the movement. So we find each other and are trying to make sense of our past, both personal and political.