Denzel Washington is a Hollywood legend. With a career that’s spanned decades, he’s been given the opportunity to star in generation-defining films, most notably Malcolm X, Philadelphia, Fences, and Training Day. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t watched something he’s starred in, meaning the following 10 facts are sure to impress.
Dr. Denzel Washington
Before Denzel Washington knew he wanted to be an actor, he aspired to become a doctor. When he realized he wouldn’t do well in his college biology class, he tried other options, including political science and journalism, before settling on acting. He graduated from Fordham University in 1977 with a BA in Drama and Journalism.
Washington didn’t fully leave his medical aspirations in the past. His first major role was as Dr. Philip Chandler in the Emmy-winning series, St. Elsewhere, alongside television legend, Betty White. The show ran from 1982 to 1988.
Someone always knew he’d be a star
Growing up, Denzel Washington’s mother owned a beauty parlor. One day, a woman from his church was getting her hair done when she saw him and asked for a piece of paper. On it, she wrote the word “Prophecy” and the numbers “1975” and “28.”
She told Washington he would travel the world and one day speak to millions of people. He kept that piece of paper in his wallet. As it turns out, she was spot on with her prediction, as his films have been viewed by moviegoers across the world!
High praise from Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks is a Hollywood legend, having appeared in such films as Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan. He also starred alongside Denzel Washington in Philadelphia. The movie follows Andrew Beckett, a former lawyer who was terminated from his practice after his bosses discovered he was HIV-positive. He sues his former employers for discrimination with the help of Joe Miller.
According to Hanks, watching Washington work was “like going to film school.” He claims to have learned more from working on Philadelphia than on any other film. He later went on to win his first Oscar for his portrayal of Beckett.
Denzel Washington is known for ad-libbing some of his lines, but did you know he made up his most famous? In the film Training Day, he plays crooked cop Alonzo Harris, alongside Ethan Hawke’s Jake Hoyt. The most memorable line from the film is when Washington exclaims, “King Kong ain’t got s**t on me,” and it turns out it was thought up on the spot!
According to an interview he did with GQ back in 2012, he ad-libbed the line to match his character’s ego. “I made that up,” he said. “The character’s ego, he just did not think he could lose. That was his problem.”
A military academy changed his life
Denzel Washington’s parents divorced when he was 14 years old. Not long after, his mother sent him to Oakland Military Academy, a private preparatory school. He has since credited it with helping him to turn his life around.
“That decision changed my life, because I wouldn’t have survived in the direction I was going,” he said. “The guys I was hanging out with at the time, my running buddies, have now done maybe 40 years combined in the penitentiary. They were nice guys, but the streets got them.”
He regrets turning down a specific role
Fans of detective movies have likely seen Se7en. It stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as two detectives hunting a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as the motive for his crimes. While it’s hard to imagine anyone but Pitt playing David Mills, the role was initially slated for another actor.
Denzel Washington was approached for the film, but turned it down because he felt the script was too “dark and evil.” He opted instead to appear in another detective movie, Devil in a Blue Dress, and has since gone on to admit he regrets turning down the role in Se7en.
He was the first actor to film in Mecca
Spike Lee is known for wanting his movies to be as realistic as possible, so it’s no surprise he’d want to film a portion of 1992’s Malcolm X in Mecca. The film is noted for how seriously it takes Malcolm X‘s Muslim faith, documenting the political awakening he experiences after meeting a member of the Nation of Islam in prison.
Mecca forbids anyone who isn’t Muslim from visiting, so to ensure he was able to film his scenes, Denzel Washington worked with an all-Muslim film crew. To this day, he and his co-stars remain the only actors to film in the holy city.
Denzel Washington is no stranger to receiving accolades, but did you know he was the first Black actor to win two Academy Awards? He received his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory, and he won the award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Detective Harris in Training Day.
Presently, Washington has been nominated for a total of 96 awards and won another 39. These include three Golden Globes, including the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award, and a Tony Award for his acting in 2016’s Fences.
He underwent military training for a role
To prepare for his role as Lieutenant Colonel Nate Serling in Courage Under Fire, Denzel Washington met with two combat veterans from the Gulf War. During their meeting, he asked about their experiences and if there were any memories that stuck out to them. He also visited with the Bravo 1st Battalion 12th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood.
Even more impressive is that he actually trained at the National Training Center at California’s Fort Irwin. While there, he qualified on the 120MM gun and the M1A1 tank, listened to audiotapes of tank battles from Desert Storm, and participated in battle games.
He helped Chadwick Boseman become Black Panther
The late Chadwick Boseman has Denzel Washington and Phylicia Rashād to thank for helping him proceed with his acting career. The actor attended the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer Program, and his tuition was paid for by Washington after he was approached by Rashād in the 1990s. The Cosby Show star was working as a drama teacher and noticed many students couldn’t afford tuition.
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Boseman revealed his and Washington’s connection in June 2019, when he presented the actor with the 47th AFI Live Achievement Award:
“Imagine receiving the letter that your tuition that summer is paid for, and that your benefactor was none other than the dopest actor on the planet. I have no doubt that there are similar stories in Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs and theaters and churches across the country… There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington.”