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BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Why heartthrob Denzel Washington is still raising the roof at 66 


Denzel Washington said he’s not worried about getting older. Nor is he envious of the leading men lining up behind him (his son John David Washington is in the queue).

And he doesn’t care if he no longer cuts the svelte figure he did when Geena Davis handed him his first Oscar statuette three decades ago.

He is happy, he said, to be the ‘over-the-hill fat guy’.

When I mentioned to my son’s girlfriend that I was interviewing the 66-year-old Hollywood legend about his new film, psychological thriller The Little Things, her reaction was not what you’d expect for a chat with an over-the-hill fat guy.

Denzel Washington said he’s not worried about getting older. Nor is he envious of the leading men lining up behind him (his son John David Washington is in the queue)

Denzel Washington said he’s not worried about getting older. Nor is he envious of the leading men lining up behind him (his son John David Washington is in the queue)

Did she, I wondered, still consider him … hot? ‘Oh yeah!’ came back the response. More so, she added, now he’s older.

I relayed that sentiment back to Washington. ‘She means from what she remembers of me in the earlier films, right?’ he asked.

No, I said. She saw you in August Wilson’s Fences, opposite Viola Davis. ‘Really?’ he mused. ‘I was overweight in Fences.’

And then he cracked up. ‘I’ve finally made it as an over-the-hill fat guy…and they still love me!’ He paused. ‘Either that, or they just feel sorry for me.’

I seriously doubt it. In a career stretching back nearly 50 years, Washington has pretty much done it all —from starring in medical drama St. Elsewhere on television to Tony Award wins on Broadway and two Academy Awards.

'She means from what she remembers of me in the earlier films, right?' he asked. No, I said. She saw you in August Wilson's Fences, opposite Viola Davis (above). 'Really?' he mused. 'I was overweight in Fences.' And then he cracked up

‘She means from what she remembers of me in the earlier films, right?’ he asked. No, I said. She saw you in August Wilson’s Fences, opposite Viola Davis (above). ‘Really?’ he mused. ‘I was overweight in Fences.’ And then he cracked up

In a career stretching back nearly 50 years, Washington has pretty much done it all. He is pictured above playing Frank Lucas in American Gangster (2007) with Lymari Nadal as Eva

In a career stretching back nearly 50 years, Washington has pretty much done it all. He is pictured above playing Frank Lucas in American Gangster (2007) with Lymari Nadal as Eva

The first was for Glory, in which he played a former slave who joins the ranks of the first black infantry regiment fighting for the Union side in the Civil War; the second for his utterly corrupt detective in Training Day.

And in John Lee Hancock’s neo-noir psychological crime thriller The Little Things, he’s on top form again, playing Joe Deacon (‘Deke’), a uniformed policeman with, as Hancock put it, ‘a lot of haunting darkness that follows him like a cloud’.

Elsewhere on television to Tony Award wins on Broadway and two Academy Awards, including the second for his utterly corrupt detective in Training Day

Elsewhere on television to Tony Award wins on Broadway and two Academy Awards, including the second for his utterly corrupt detective in Training Day

On a routine official visit to his old police station, Deke becomes caught up in a series of killings being investigated by a detective played by Rami Malek. Another important role is taken by Jared Leto.

‘It absolutely energised me, having those two on the film,’ Washington said of his younger co-stars (both Oscar winners themselves). 

‘I’m like: ‘Uh-oh. I’d better read the script,’ he quipped, quickly adding: ‘Obviously joking!’ 

Washington seems to take genuine delight in the success of the next generation — he said he found it ‘inspiring’ — and he is clearly proud of his son, John David (so good in Tenet, BlacKkKlansman and scorching upcoming Netflix film Malcolm & Marie, with Zendaya).

But he saved special praise for the late Chadwick Boseman, whom he worked with when he produced Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — Boseman’s last film.

He was, Washington said, a ‘brave man’ for keeping details of his illness secret when they filmed. 

‘He kept it to himself, and didn’t complain,’ he told me. Even though, by that stage, ‘he knew he wasn’t going to make it’.

In The Little Things, Washington demonstrates that he’s still got that Denzel magic. In one scene, he has to clamber up a drainpipe and run across a rooftop.

When I dared to suggest that he might be past doing that kind of thing, he agreed. 

‘There comes a time in one’s life where you’re just not the guy running across the rooftop.

‘I said to Rami: ‘You go run across the rooftop!’ ‘

Denzel Washington is pictured above playing Malcolm X in the 1992 film. These days he also produces and directs. In fact, he was calling from the set of a new film he's directing called A Journal For Jordan

Denzel Washington is pictured above playing Malcolm X in the 1992 film. These days he also produces and directs. In fact, he was calling from the set of a new film he’s directing called A Journal For Jordan

Denzel Washington is pictured above with Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (1993)

Denzel Washington is pictured above with Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (1993)

And yet, he did the scene. Director Hancock said: ‘I kept expecting Denzel to say we’re doing the scene in a different way.’

Stunt co-ordinators were on standby, prepared to have a safe rooftop built in the studio for him to stagger over. But no. Washington got up onto a real roof (a stunt double did the long shots). 

‘Hopefully it was age-appropriately awkward,’ Hancock said. ‘Because he’s not 25-year-old Joe Deacon — or 25-year-old Denzel Washington. So he had to be seen to struggle up there.’

Washington laughed and said though maybe not so nimble, he’s still capable of delivering ‘the good stuff’. And not just in front of the cameras.

These days he also produces and directs. In fact, he was calling from the set of a new film he’s directing called A Journal For Jordan, based on an article by Dana Canedy called From Father To Son, Last Words To Live By, about letters her soldier husband wrote for his son.

That film stars Michael B. Jordan, who was villain Erik Killmonger in Black Panther alongside Boseman. He’s 33 ‘and he’s incredible’, Washington said.

The Little Things will be released in the UK this spring. (It will be shown on HBO Max and in U.S. cinemas from January 29.)

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