Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington

A powerful presence in features since the mid-1980s, Oscar winner Denzel Washington has plumbed the inner depths of such formidable figures as Malcolm X, Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, drug dealer Frank Lucas and Stephen Biko, as well as a slew of heavyweight fictional characters in "Training Day" (2001), "Flight" (2012), "Fences" (2016) and "Roman J. Israel, Esq." (2017). Born Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. in Mount Vernon, New York, he was one of two sons by a Pentecostal minister father and a mother who owned a beauty shop. Though he had appeared in a talent show while in elementary school, performing was not consideration until his college years. Sports dominated his interest while at Oakland Military Academy and later, Mainland High School in Florida. From there, he enrolled at Fordham University, but took a semester off to decide on his future plans. While working as a creative director at a camp in Connecticut, a friend suggested that he might consider acting as a career; Washington then returned to Fordham, where he earned a degree in drama and journalism, and logged a year at the American Conservatory Theater in California before returning to New York to make his way as a professional actor. Roles in Maryland summer stock preceded his television acting debut in "Wilma" (NBC, 1977), about Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph. After making his feature film debuti in the comedy "Carbon Copy" (1981), Washington netted a Ensemble Performance Obie as part of the cast of A Soldier's Play. His breakout role came the following year when he was cast as the determined physician Philip Chandler on "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88). He then reprised his Off-Broadway role in "A Soldier' Story" (1984), and worked steadily in television and features before drawing universal acclaim for his performance as South African activist Stephen Biko in Richard Attenborough's "Cry Freedom" (1987). Washington won an Oscar nomination for his intense performance, and two years later captured the Academy Award as an African-American soldier in the Union Army in "Glory" (1989). Now minted as a bona fide leading man with back-to-back Oscar successes, Washington began a long and fruitful period of screen work, beginning in 1990 with "Mo' Better Blues," a story set in the jazz world by writer/director Spike Lee. The pair would reunite in 1992 for "Malcolm X," an epic biography of the civil rights leader that brought Washington another Oscar nomination for Best Actor. After displaying his theatrical talents as Don Pedro in Kenneth Branagh's colorblind production of "Much Ado About Nothing" (1993), Washington starred as a lawyer defending Tom Hanks, who had lost his job due to the AIDS virus, in Jonathan Demme's critically acclaimed "Philadelphia" (1993). Feature assignments opposite Julia Roberts in "The Pelican Brief" (1996), Gene Hackman in "Crimson Tide" and Whitney Houston in "The Preacher's Wife" (1996) preceded his third collaboration with Lee on "He Got Game" (1998), with Washington as an incarcerated father who hoped to influence his son to sign with a major basketball college. The following year, his powerful turn as wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in "The Hurricane" (1999) made Washington the first African-American actor to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama since 1963. His streak of solid performances in memorable roles continued into the new millennium when he won his second Oscar for "Training Day" (2001), Antone Fuqua's gritty police drama with Washington as a hotwired corrupt Los Angeles detective. He then made his feature directorial debut with "Antwone Fisher" (2002), with Derek Luke as a real-life Navy seaman who fought to overcome a troubled past with the help of a military doctor (played by Washington). A modest but well-reviewed effort, it preceded a long period of minor successes for Washington, including the action-thrillers "Out of Time" (2003) and Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" (2004), Demme's ill-advised remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" (2004) with Washington in Frank Sinatra's role, as well a crime thriller with Lee called "Inside Man" (2006) and a 2009 remake of "The Taking of Pelham 123." More to form was Ridley Scott's "American Gangster" (2007), with Washington as notorious drug trafficker Frank Lucas; he also found time to direct a second feature, "The Great Debaters" in 2007. After the success of "Gangster,"Washington returned to the stage for a Broadway revival of August Wilson's Fences, opposite Viola Davis, which netted him a Tony Award for Best Actor. He then returned to features, though again in minor genre efforts like the post-apocalyptic "Book of Eli" (2010) and "Unstoppable"(2010) for Tony Scott. But "Flight" (2012), about an alcoholic airline pilot who rescued a plane from crashing, brought him an Oscar nomination, and he scored back-to-back box office hits with a pair of remakes for director Antone Fuqua: "The Equalizer" (2014), based on the popular CBS action series, drew substantive box office returns, while his starring role in a remake of "The Magnificent Seven" in 2016. Between these efforts, Washington also scored a stage success with a Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, which won the 2014 Tony. He then returned to the director's chair for a film version of "Fences" (2016), which earned him both the Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. The following year, Washington's performance as an unorthodox lawyer in Dan Gilroy's "Roman J. Israel, Esq." (2017) brought a ninth Oscar nomination and sixth for Best Actor, as well as acting nods from the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild.