I loved talking about acting and craft with John David Washington for Backstage magazine in what I hope will be the first of many cover stories. He’s humble and wise, and I especially appreciate how thoughtful he is regarding process — how important it is to honor yours as an artist. It’s true for actors and true for writers. He’s also excellent as the leading man coming into his own in Black KkKlansman which is one of Spike Lee’s best.
John David Washington has been eyeing the big leagues for years.
First, it was the NFL. At Morehouse College, he received a full athletic scholarship and set records as a running back. Later, he would play for the United Football League and excel as an undrafted free agent for the then–St. Louis Rams. But even after two years of training with the pros, come Sunday game time, he’d still never touched the field. He had the chops, but never managed to move off the practice squad to reach the star-making level of a pro.
To be clear, Washington is not the kind of person who craves undue credit. He’s humble, driven, and, above all, enjoys doing the work. So when an Achilles tendon injury during a New York Giants tryout put an end to his football career—after a number of already ego-crushing rejections from the NFL—Washington decided to take his work ethic elsewhere. Surgery was an option, but the time out of commission had him on the brink of depression, and he had already cleared space in his mind for another industry: Hollywood. After this summer, it seems the switch will have paid off; Washington is on the path to being a bona fide star.