*Born in the Bronx on January 31, 1977, Kerry Washington attended the Spence School and graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from George Washington University. After making an impressive film debut in Our Song in 2000, she went on to win the NAACP Image Award just five years later for playing Ray Charles’ wife, Della, opposite Jamie Foxx in Ray. She will again be paired with Jamie as his spouse in Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s revenge flick about slavery in the ante bellum South.
Over the course of her meteoric rise in Hollywood, Kerry has proved to be a versatile thespian by virtue of an impressive list of credits that includes memorable performances in Mother and Child, Night Catches Us, For Colored Girls, The Last King of Scotland, The Dead Girl and Lakeview Terrace. She has also co-starred in Fantastic Four and its sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, Miracle at St. Anna, I Think I Love My Wife, Little Man, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, She Hate Me, Against the Ropes, The Human Stain and Save the Last Dance.
On the small screen, Kerry is set to play the lead role of Olivia Pope on Scandal, a dramatic TV-series premiering on ABC in April. Here, she talks about her latest film, A Thousand Words, a comedy co-starring Eddie Murphy.
Kam Williams: Hi Kerry, thanks for the interview.
Kerry Washington: Thank you, Kam. How are you?
KW: Great! And you?
Kerry: Fine, thanks.
KW: What interested you in A Thousand Words?
Kerry: I really liked the message of the film, as well as the opportunity to work with Eddie Murphy.
KW: What was it like working with Eddie?
Kerry: It was great! It was particularly fun for me because I had worked with so many people who looked up to Eddie who had been inspired to go into the business by him, from Chris Rock to Jamie Foxx to the Wayans Brothers. So, it was like finally going to the source.
KW: Did you every have trouble keeping a straight face on the set?
Kerry: Yeah, he’s very funny. But he’s also incredibly focused, and takes comedy very seriously, if that makes any sense. [Chuckles]
KW: Of course it does. What message do you think people will take away from the movie?
Kerry: It’s kind of about valuing your words, understanding that what you say has consequences, and that you can’t just B.S. your way through life.
KW: I have a lot of questions for you from fans.
Kerry: Oh, fun!
KW: Larry Greenberg says: The name of your character in A Thousand Words seems to be double top secret. I can’t find it anywhere at the usual online sources. You’re just credited everywhere as “Jack McCall’s wife.” Will you tell us her name?
Kerry: Oh, that’s weird. I have no idea why that is. Her name is Caroline. I hope the studio didn’t have a reason for concealing it because I just let the cat out of the bag.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: if you could go back in time and give yourself at 18 a piece of advice, what would that be?
Kerry: It would be: Relax and enjoy the ride. It gets easier.
KW: Bernadette also asks: What is your favorite charity?
Kerry: Well, I’m on the board of V-Day, which is a global movement to end violence against women. I’m very passionate about that. We have a new campaign called one billion rising.
KW: Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: How can our stars and idols avoid the pressure that celebrity brings in order to prevent the kind of tragedy we all witnessed recently when we mourned the passing of Whitney Houston?
Kerry: I’m reluctant to comment about preventing that specifically, since we don’t yet know all the details, and because I didn’t know Whitney well enough. So, I can’t say how we can avoid repeating that particular tragedy. But I will say that, for me, it is important to have friends and family around that I love and trust and who love and trust me. And having a great therapist also helps.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: What is the next challenge you’re taking on in life and as an artist?
Kerry: Well, right now, I’m shooting a feature with Quentin Tarantino which is very challenging.
KW: Speaking of Django Unchained, Marcia Evans says: Continue making us proud, Sister Kerry. I can’t wait to see you in Quentin Tarantino‘s upcoming film. What can you tell us about the production at this point?
Kerry: Unfortunately, I’m not really at liberty to talk about it much. But I will say that it’s great to be working with Jamie again.
KW: Marcia also says: I loved you in Mother and Child and I enjoyed the cover story about you in the March issue of Essence Magazine in which you discuss your future acting projects. Do you have an interest in playing any heroic ancestors, such as Harriet Tubman?
Kerry: I do, eventually, although I haven’t settled on any specific people yet. There are so many untold stories when it comes to great women of color. Harriet Tubman’s definitely a shero, for sure. And I just heard that Regina King is doing Shirley Chisholm, perfect casting, which is another story that has to be told.
KW: What would be your dream role?
Kerry: Right now my dream role would be to have another season on Scandal, which will be debuting on ABC on April 5th, because that has just been a tremendously fulfilling experience, artistically, which I’d love to be able to continue. It’s been phenomenal to work with quality of writers I’ve been exposed to on that project.
KW: Marcia is wondering, whether you would consider organizing a legends luncheon, like Oprah did, so elders can share their life lessons with aspiring young sisters?
Kerry: I’m not sure that organizing such a function is my role in the community right now, but I’m always happy to participate when somebody else can. [Chuckles] If others weren’t already doing it, I might feel the need to fill the void. But, today, for example, I’ll be attending Essence Magazine’s fantastic “Women in Hollywood” event. I look forward to that every year. And Alfre Woodard hosts a big dinner every year during awards season. So, there are already a number of gatherings centered around women of color who are doing inspiring work.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
Kerry: Sunshine, swimming and home-cooked meals. I’m going to tell Sanaa you asked me her excellent question when I see her later today
KW: Can you come up with a good generic question I can use in future interviews? I’ll call it the Kerry Washington question.
Kerry: Oh, what fun! I love that! How about: If you were an animal, what animal would you be? [Laughs]
KW: That’s great. That’ll be the Kerry Washington question. Now, the Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
Kerry: Oh, I love Mel. She’s such a smart woman. I think my first big heartbreak made me more compassionate about other people’s heartaches. It enabled me to feel more for others when they are in moments of pain.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
Kerry: I really don’t know whether there is only one, actually. There are many different types of success, so, I don’t think the formula can be reduced to just one key quality.
KW: Let me finish with four questions from Pastor Alex Kendrick: When do you feel the most content?
Kerry: When I’m taking care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually.
KW: What do you wish other people would note about you?
Kerry: Nothing. [LOL]
KW: What motivates you?
Kerry: Wanting to be of service. Not wanting to waste this life that I’ve been blessed to have.
KW: What defines who you are?
Kerry: Oh, that changes all the time.
KW: Well, thanks again for the time, Kerry, and best of luck with A Thousand Words and with the new TV show.
Kerry: It’s been nice speaking with you again, Kam.
Watch the trailer for “A Thusand Words”: