John David Washington Is Not Taking His Career, Or Your Praise, For Granted

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In a business filled with a good number of, well, let’s say, phonies, it’s hard not to be immediately won over by John David Washington’s (as he puts it) “gosh, gee willy, gee whiz” answers. There’s something very human and appealing about someone who loves their job this much and someone who appreciates his job as much as Washington does. There are probably obvious reasons for that. Washington tried his hand in the NFL, making the Rams practice squad, then played in the now-defunct United Football League. So maybe this stems from him knowing what it’s like to shoot for something and not quite get to the level he was hoping. But, good gosh, that is not the case with acting. John David Washington is a movie star, but there’s a good chance he doesn’t quite realize that yet. Or, more likely, isn’t allowing himself to realize that.

Washington’s new film is Beckett (which will be on Netflix later this week). It was, kind of surprisingly, filmed before Tenet and filmed just after BlacKkKlansman had its debut at Cannes. (But with every release thrown into flux, this probably shouldn’t be that surprising anymore.) Directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, Beckett is kind of a ’70s throwback as Washington’s Beckett, just a guy on vacation in Greece, is thrown into a world of government conspiracies and a whole lot of danger.

In interviews, John David Washington often brings up his father, as he does here, which almost feels like a defense mechanism. Like a way to cut off that aspect before it’s asked. The more I think about it, in his position I’d probably do the same thing. I’d be worried that’s what people were thinking. This is also very human (which, as said earlier, is endearing). So I do ask him about this, but only because he brings it up so much himself. And, again, his answer kind of feels like he’s worried someone is going to take this job that he loves so much away from him. (I feel pretty confident saying that John David Washington isn’t going anywhere.)

With release schedules all messed up, I’m assuming Beckett was filmed after Tenet? But I don’t know if it was or not.

No, no. This was way before Tenet‘s time.

Really?

Yeah, it was right after we had gone to Cannes for BlacKkKlansman. It was 2018. No, actually, technically I knew I was going to do it in 2018. We started in ’19. So yeah, it was months before I started Tenet.

So you film Tenet, it comes out. And then you film this before Tenet, and now you’re doing press for it…

I mean, it worked out the way it did. But, I mean, I just shot another movie, Malcolm & Marie, and that came out before this as well. So, you never know. I’m still learning the business and learning the process of rolling the film out and what the best months are for a film and all that stuff. But the stuff I can control is the work and the approach to the film – and that’s what I remember the most. And it feels good to be able to work, I’ll say that. It feels good to be able to even talk about a film that I was able to do. So that’s good. That’s a positive.

So my first question is ruined. Because I’m watching this thinking, “Oh, he did this because after Tenet, which is such a concept movie and the driving force of an action film, you wanted a character that’s a little more a guy on vacation.” But, that’s not what happened.

[Laughs] Well, I mean, I did want to play a guy on vacation. I mean, it was interesting because I had one more season of Ballers left. I did BlacKkKlansman. I played two cops…

The Old Man and a Gun, too.

The Old Man and the Gun… so three cops. Well, I mean, if you blink you miss me, but yeah, you’re right. So three cops and an obnoxious wide receiver. So I was looking for something different and Beckett was different than all those guys.

You just said you’re happy to be working and figuring stuff out. I’m sure like everyone my whole concept of time is so screwed up, but I think of you as someone who has been doing this a while now and is a huge movie star and it’s weird to still hear you being like, “Ah, I’m just figuring this crazy business out.”

Well, I appreciate it. Look, I mean, I am lucky. I’m sorry to give you these, “gosh, gee willy, gee whiz,” answers, but it’s true. I am so lucky. You know why I probably talk like that and feel this way? Because I wanted to do it my whole life. You know what I’m saying?

I do.

And what am I talking about? Just acting. I wanted to perform. My parents are performers. The business of it, I’m learning now and I learned later through my folks. But just the pureness of taking something, creating something with other people from different backgrounds, and saying something that you both agree on is really cool. And it’s really interesting and it’s invigorating. It really gives me life. And so I look at it as every time I get to step on set, I’m lucky. It’s a blessing. I don’t take this job for granted at all. And so I’m just looking to continue that feeling. And that might be a boring answer, but it is the truth because I really love what I do. It doesn’t feel like a job.

Look, even my job, I feel the same way. I get to sit here and talk to you and I still, to this day, don’t take that for granted. What you just said, I think, is important. Because once you start taking it for granted, I don’t know if you’re enjoying it anymore, right?

Right, right. And everybody does what we do for different reasons, you know? And God bless them. I’m not saying my reasons are different or more pure or more righteous than any other, I should say. But it is the source of my happiness and probably why you get some of these golly, gee whiz answers from me.

Well, the thing I’m curious about, and the obvious answer is probably, “Because I was good at it,” but why did you even go and try to play professional football before you went into acting? Since acting’s something you obviously wanted to do from the get-go immediately? What if you were still in the NFL, would you be happy?

[Laughs] Ohhhhhhh, now we’re getting to it. Well, what I was saying to you before about performance is that’s what I love. I didn’t realize that people’s reactions to the performances sometimes could dictate how you can live your life for the rest of your life.

Okay.

And when it becomes the business, fame, and all that – that’s what was unattractive to me at the time, you know? And it was very intimidating. So I felt like I saw my relationship to the world becoming different because my dad’s relationship to the world was becoming different based off of what I love and what I think he’s very special at doing, which is acting. And so I wanted to protect myself. And football was that protection. I felt like I could be my own person. People are literally wearing a helmet, so they’re not going to know what I look like. I can’t be seen. They won’t know I’m related to him because I’m just another African-American playing football. They won’t know, you know what I’m saying? And that’s what drove me. But, I ultimately wanted to be an actor. I wanted to do that my whole life. But I had to bury that because of my father’s popularity. That’s what shifted. But knowing that when I was able to feel comfortable about really doing what I wanted to do, I went for it.

You’ve mentioned your family a few times. When I first saw BlacKkKlansman, I didn’t know that. For me, it was like, what’s a good example? Like maybe Matt Damon does The Rainmaker and then Good Will Hunting. And I had seen him in some stuff before, like you were in Ballers, and it’s like, “Ah, wow, he’s breaking through.” And it was only later when I read an interview you did where you mentioned your dad. I honestly think people know you for your own stuff now and don’t think about who your dad is.

Well, I appreciate that. Yeah, it’s not a big deal or anything. It’s just, you guys understand my relation to the world, just me. Just sometimes when I encounter people, it’s usually that a lot of times. So it’s nice to hear you say, “No, actually, John David, the real world’s telling you that it’s all good.” So you saying that is great and I appreciate it. That’s the goal. Just like, oh, if I’m that guy from that movie that I liked, then that’s cool, too. You know what I mean? I’m just trying to show different sides of my craft.

So the David O. Russell movie you’re in is moving to 2022. How does that work for you? Do they call you? Are you in the loop? Because now you have to wait another year for something I’m sure you’re anxious for it to come out…

Right. Well, it depends on the relationship I have to the director or the studio or whatever. There are some movies I’m kept in the loop, some not. This is one of those I’m not in the loop. I have no idea what they’re doing. I know nothing. They yelled, “Wrap. That’s a wrap on John David.” And that was it. So I think that must be good. They have their reasons. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but they have their reasons. Actually, honestly, I didn’t think we were going to come out this year anyway. I mean, it’s a huge film and it’s an all-star weekend cast, so it’s like, there are so many performances. It’s all your favorite actors killing it and they’re at their best in this. And so I’m like, that’s going to take time to make sure they get all that right, I know. So I anticipated this already. But I have no idea.

To be fair, after last year’s situation with Tenet, you have to be the king of “I don’t know when my movie is coming out.”

[Laughs] Facts! True. That is true. Well, that and Malcolm & Marie too, I never knew. I was out of the loop. You’re right. That seems to be the way my career is right now. I don’t know. I just do the movie.

‘Beckett’ begins streaming via Netflix on August 13th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.