The Acting Life As Kerry Washington's
Golden Lakeview

Kerry Washington poses before a poster for her latest film "Lakeview Terrace", which features the watchful eyes of Samuel L. Jackson.  The film opens in the U.S. and Canada on September 19 and also features Patrick Wilson.  (Photo: Omar P.L. Moore/

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

September 15, 2008


"I love the stunts, I love the fight scenes, I just -- I love that stuff", says Kerry Washington to a trio of journalists on a late August midweek morning here at the Ritz Carlton.

Ms. Washington's zeal and enthusiasm about the craft of acting is evident as she speaks.  She certainly had no complaints about what she does for a living, something that only a select few in the world get to do full time.  But it's not solely the quantity of Kerry Washington's work on the big screen, it's the quality.  After playing Ray Charles' wife in the Oscar-winning "Ray" in 2004, the same year in which she appeared as a lesbian organizing a baby-making business in "She Hate Me", the 24-year-old Bronx, New York-born has starred in endless films, including the "Fantastic Four" films and "The Dead Girl" and played a one-time Mrs. Ray Charles opposite Jamie Foxx in "Ray".  Ms. Washington has plied her trade impressively over the last three or four years, making her mark quietly but memorably, whether as a temptress to Chris Rock in Mr. Rock's "I Think I Love My Wife" or as a troubled wife to Patrick Wilson's character in "Lakeview Terrace", a new film by Neil LaBute which opens in the U.S. and Canada on Friday (September 19).

"Lakeview Terrace", about an at-best shady cop (Samuel L. Jackson) whom Ms. Washington recently described as a character "who's got some issues", among them his profound dislike of the black woman and white man (Mr. Wilson) -- the married couple who have just moved into a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood not far from the San Fernando Valley.  Jay Hernandez also stars in the drama-thriller, which is distributed by Sony Pictures' Screen Gems division. 

Kerry Washington acknowledged that Mr. LaBute's new film is about numerous things: race, the proprietary treatment of women by men, parenting or lack thereof, family values, etc., but for her the film most of all "is about what happens when the people in our society that are supposed to protect and serve us wind up being the people who intimidate and harass us.  Where do we go?"  The actress anecdotally illustrates a contrast in feelings when talking about a friend of hers.  "One of my best girlfriends from college grew up in Vermont.  She always says when she saw the cops she always felt relieved and safe.  But for me growing up in the Bronx -- when I saw the cops you didn't know which way it was going to go.  It could have gone either way.  You know, for me from a very young age my parents taught me what to do when you're pulled over by a cop, or what to do when you're questioned by a cop because it could be a really dangerous situation."

Ms. Washington, who now lives in Los Angeles, speaks of her New York experiences regarding education about the police not as nostalgia, but as a guide informing her clear awareness that some of the authority figures Americans have been taught to trust and confide in can be malicious in their intentions.  ("It's not like the L.A.P.D. has a benevolent reputation," she remarks.)  The actress, who is a board member of the non-partisan non-profit group The Creative Coalition (she was in Denver and St. Paul at both of the major political party national conventions on the organization's behalf), holds resolute opinions about the last eight years of the U.S.A.'s course under the stewardship of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  "Here we have this president who we -- not me -- but who we as a country voted in to be our commander-in-chief, and what did he do? -- he put us into a war for no good reason where innocent people are dying every single day.  And . . . that is a huge misuse of power.  And that's what strikes me about the film."

Earlier this month Kerry Washington could be seen mixing it up on HBO cable television with Maryland's former lieutenant governor Michael Steele, chairman  of GOPAC, a Republican political action committee, on the political talk show Real Time With Bill Maher.  Things got so heated between the two that at one point Mr. Maher said jokingly, "I hate to see black-on-black fighting."  

Kerry Washington as Lisa Mattson in "Lakeview Terrace", directed by Neil LaBute, opening on Friday in the U.S. and Canada.  Ms. Washington has a small role in Spike Lee's new film "Miracle At St. Anna", which opens on September 26.  "I really fell in love with the jewelry (Lisa) wears," says Ms. Washington of her character in "Lakeview Terrace".  (Photo: Sony Pictures/Screen Gems)

In the story, which is set not far from the San Fernando Valley there are several verbal tussles for Ms. Washington's "Lakeview" character Lisa Mattson, but the actress had her share of physical encounters.

"People were like, 'oh, this movie must have been so hard!'  I was like, 'Are you kidding?  This movie was so fun!'  Getting thrown across the bed, falling off the bed, the running in the street, the car crashing!"  Ms. Washington disappears into her roles from time to time (especially in "Ray" and "The Dead Girl") and among some actors it is agreed that a piece of them is left in every character they have ever played.  While the opportunity to ask the actress (who has just finished filming "A Thousand Words") what her thoughts were on this went begging, she cited that she has a habit of collecting items from each film she's participated in.  (On "A Thousand Words", Ms. Washington said, it was a lamp from a hotel room in a scene she called her hardest that went home with her.)

On "Lakeview Terrace", Ms. Washington said "that I actually kept or purchased a lot of her jewelry." 

And as far as preparing for the development of characters Lisa and Chris, Ms. Washington said that she and co-star Patrick Wilson decided together that "we really wanted to play upon the idea of these kind of you know, socially responsive, progressive, organic-style Berkeley kids who, you know, they're left-of-Democratic-Green Party, you know . . . conscious living people.  We both decided no diamonds, because we'd never had blood diamonds." 

Similarly, both Ms. Washington and Mr. Wilson developed the internal stories for their characters.  "How we met in college, what we dealt with in college.  As a couple (onscreen) there are difficult conversations that come up within our relationship about race.  And you know, you have to decide as a couple, how much have we talked about this already?  What was the response of my black friends at Berkeley?  Did I pledge?  Was I in a black sorority?  Probably not.  Did I live in an African-American house?  You know, what, who were we?  We had to kind of really figure out culturally how much we shared, how much we knew about each other.  All of that stuff is really -- 'cause you deal with that in a relationship.  And we needed to know kind of -- on the path of racial understanding -- where were we?"  The actress pointed out that race was an important part of the characters' backgrounds and histories but not a variable that separated them in "Lakeview Terrace". 

Ms. Washington probed her character right down to the intimate details of whether or not Lisa was on the pill when she met Chris.  She also relished the challenge of switching between Hollywood and independent films.  She talks of the necessity to flow within both environments.  "I'm like your typical Aquarian.  I have this natural need for diversity in my life, you know, and so I like to keep changing it up.  I like to do -- go back from drama to comedy, from big to small, you know, just kind of, keep challenging myself and you know, not getting pigeon-holed or stuck or comfortable.  Like, I think if I get too comfortable as an artist I feel like I'll lose my chops.  You know, I'll just -- I'll get lazy.  I don't ever want to be lazy as an actor.  I do that by doing different kinds of work."

Different kinds of work includes Ms. Washington's cameo in Spike Lee's upcoming World War Two epic drama "Miracle At St. Anna", which opens in the U.S. and Canada on September 26.  Said the actress: "It's a very small role.  I worked for like one day . . . Spike called me and said, 'there's only one woman in the movie and I think it should be you,' and I was like, 'alright.'  And I literally came to New York and like played a lawyer for a day.  But I'm very honored to be in the film because it's such an important film.  And I just -- you know, whenever Spike calls me I'm like, 'what, what do you need? -- I'm there.'  I'm very aware that I would not have the career I have today if it hadn't been for him as a pioneer.  You know, I mean -- and if you look at so many of the people who have careers today.  I mean, everybody owes a little something to Spike.  Not just black actors.  And so, yeah, I mean I just -- he could tell me that he needed me to run craft service one day on the set.  And I'd be like, 'yeah, alright -- I'm there'.  I'm thrilled to be a part of this film."

First on the horizon though is "Lakeview Terrace" and Kerry Washington keeps playing along, challenging herself, swimming upstream in a tough business, more than keeping her head above water, making movie audiences take notice with every new adventure.

"Lakeview Terrace" opens in the U.S. and Canada on Friday.  "Miracle At St. Anna" opens on September 26 in both countries, while "A Thousand Words" is scheduled for release in the U.S. and Canada in 2009.
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