Denzel Washington

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"It's no coincidence that as the Oscars come around, there are a lot more British actors being nominated than American," Denzel Washington once said.

"I think it's because they get better training. When we did Much Ado About Nothing it was almost embarrassing.

"All the British actors were talking about the theatre work they were off to do. The Americans were doing movies next.

"That was the trouble at the time, the Brits were prepared but had no showcase. We've got the showcase but we're not as prepared."

Denzel was probably being a little hard on himself. On one of the few occasions he has trodden the boards in a 1981 adaptation of A Soldier's Story he won the prestigious Village Voice OBIE award.

While onscreen – in a 25-year career spanning Shakespearean characters, anti-apartheid martyr Steve Biko and Malcolm X – he has received two Golden Globes, two Oscars and four more Oscar nominations. Not only the premiere black actor of his generation, Denzel is simply one of the best actors of his era.

He was born on December 28, 1954, to Pentecostal minister Denzel senior and his wife Lynne, a beautician and gospel singer. Growing up in the middle-class Bronx suburb of Mt Vernon, New York, he later described his childhood as "a good background for somebody in my business. My friends were West Indian, blacks, Irish and Italians, so I learned a lot about different cultures".

At the Bronx's Fordham University in the mid-Seventies, he majored in journalism and took acting classes but there was "no great revelation".

While working as a councillor on a YMCA camp during a summer recess, however, Denzel organised a talent contest only to find his audience telling him he was a natural actor.

As soon as college reopened he hit the boards, winning the lead in Othello – a performance which drama professor and former actor Robinson Stone later called "easily the best Othello I have ever seen" and, after graduating in 1977, landed a part in film Wilma.

Fours years later he played Malcolm X for the first time in a stage production of When The Chicken Comes Home To Roost. His first step onto the small screen came in 1982 as Dr Raymond Chandler in the TV series St Elsewhere, a role he played for five years.

Denzel won his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in 1984, with his portrayal of Steve Biko in the David Attenborough film Cry Freedom. Five years later he took home a statuette for his role as a slave-turned soldier in Glory.

Two more nominations followed in 1993 and 2000. The first was for his big screen portrayal of Malcolm X; the second for yet another biopic, The Hurricane, about the wrongful imprisonment of boxer Rubin Carter.

And in 2002 he was awarded another Oscar. This time it was for Best Actor, recognising his portrayal of a corrupt cop inTraining Day

Ten years later, he played bad again as an alcoholic, drug addict pilot and was once more shortlisted by the Academy.

The man Julia Roberts has called "beyond sexy" remains unfazed, however. He eschews Hollywood glitz for family life with his wife Pauletta and their four children, John, Katia and twins Malcolm and Olivia.

"Acting is not life," he says. "Those children are life. If I didn't have a family, what would I be doing this weekend?"
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