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Real Name: Denzel Washington
Birthday: 12/28/1954 
Place of Birth: Mount Vernon, New York
Education: Fordham University, Bronx, New York, journalism, BA, 1977

 

Biography:

Actor and director Denzel Washington shot onto the movie screen with an Oscar and Golden Globe winning role in the Civil War classic “Glory” (1989). But over the next 10 years, the remarkable actor became the first of his generation's African American movie stars to land evenly on Hollywood's A-list, as likely to be asked to play a heroic lead, as any white actor would have been a perfect fit only a decade before. 

His preparation and driving force was a critical, and audience favorite in historical dramas like “Cry Freedom” (1987), “Malcolm X” with Angela Basset (1992) and “American Gangster” (2007), as well in more action packed adventures like the “The Pelican Brief” (1993), “Remember the Titans” (2000) and “Training Day” (2001). Growing above the “black actor” typecast, the actor not only held an permanent spot as one of Hollywood’s top dramatic actors, he also gained Hollywood's respect for his filmmaking abilities, directing and producing both “Antwone Fisher” (2002) and “The Great Debaters” (2007).

Denzel Washington was born on Dec. 28, 1954, in Mt. Vernon, New York, a typically African American town just north of Manhattan. His father was a reverend at the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ and also worked for the New York's Water Department, while his mother, a Harlem raised Gospel singer, owned and operated a local beauty boutique. 

He started working small jobs from the time he was a student at Grimes Elementary School; also becoming committed in the Boys & Girls Club, which he ascribed for keeping him out of trouble. The club’s adults were helpful after his parents’ divorce, when he lost contact with his father and the irritated young teen ever more found himself hanging out on the streets with kids who would ultimately end up dead or in jail. His mother chose to send him to Oakland Academy boarding school. After graduation, he began college at Fordham University in the Bronx.

At Fordham, he played on the college basketball team and was pursuing a degree in journalism until a summer job in 1975 forever changed his path. It was while working as a counselor at a Boys Club camp that Denzel first took the stage in a camp variety show, where he fell in love with acting. Returning to college that fall, he added drama classes to his schedule and made an moving debut in a Fordham production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones” in the role made well-known by Paul Robeson. The following year, he appeared in “Othello.”

He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 1977 and immediately relocated to San Francisco, CA, where he had a scholarship to study acting at the American Conservatory Theater. In the Bay Area, he was cast in a television drama of Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph, "Wilma" (1977), which also introduced him to his future wife Pauletta Pearson. 

After a year at the Conservatory, he continued to earn a steadfast reputation on the New York stage, appearing in “Coriolanus” with the New York Shakespeare Company; "A Soldier's Play," which gained the ensemble cast an Obie Award and the playwright a Pulitzer; and "When the Chicken Comes Home to Roost," in the role of Malcolm Shabazz (Malcolm X).

While touring in "A Soldier's Play,” Washington was cast in the role of shy young medical resident Dr. Phillip Chandler on the well known television show, "St. Elsewhere" (1982-88). Although one of the smaller players in the cast, he started on his film career during the show’s run, making his introduction  in the bizarre comedy "Carbon Copy" (1981).  He starred in Sidney Lumet's "Power" (1986), playing a role first written for a white man, and then received his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as South African protester Steven Biko in "Cry Freedom" (1987). Having reviewed lots of African American actors for Biko, director Richard Attenborough ultimately found the right combination of personality, muscle and intelligence in the actor, casting him in the first of the actor’s political roles. 

Denzel was asked to play a Falklands war champion down on his luck in Thatcherite London in the adventure movie "For Queen and Country” (1988) before giving an Oscar winning interpretation of a rebellious slave turned fighter in "Glory" (1989). As the psychologically isolated, womanizing trumpet player Bleek Gilliam in Spike Lee's trendy but bumpy "Mo' Better Blues" with Wesley Snipes (1990), he played one of his few roles calling for love scenes. The rising star returned to the New York Shakespeare Festival that year in the lead role of "Richard III" (1991).

After an inadequate role playing an tormented cop on the edge in the crime crime story "Ricochet" (1991), he did better romancing Sarita Choudhury in Mira Nair's romantic "Mississippi Masala" (1992). Joining with Spike Lee at his best on "Malcolm X" (1992), he again got inside the mind of the famous black leader in a outstanding Oscar nominated lead role. 

In 1993, he was cast in the variation of "Much Ado About Nothing," (1993) with Keanu Reeves, and showed he could sell Hollywood pictures, alongside superstar Julia Roberts in the John Grisham legal thriller "The Pelican Brief," and attempt timely issues, such as the calamity of AIDS opposite Tom Hanks in "Philadelphia." Some critics thought his role as a homophobic lawyer who takes on the case of a HIV positive lawyer wrongly fired by his law firm as more difficult than the compassionate central character played by Hanks. In any case, the film was a success and earned Tom a Best Actor Oscar.

In 1995, he starred opposite film guru Gene Hackman in "Crimson Tide,” a nuclear standoff thriller set on a submarine and one of the big movies of the summer season. It was his only box office accomplishment that year, as the vicious sci-fi thriller "Virtuosity" bombed despite its groundwork of indisputably interesting ideas and the casting of a then unfamiliar Aussie actor, Russell Crowe, as his crazy enemy. 

His production company, Mundy Lane Entertainment, started that year with the empathetic, detective film, "Devil in a Blue Dress." The movie failed to find an audience, putting an end to a planned franchise for its star and writer, director Carl Franklin. Later that year Denzel acted as executive producer of the television documentary "Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream" (1995).

On a seemingly never-ending upswing of gigantic roles and exceptional performances, the rising celebrity went on to earn strong critical praise in "Courage Under Fire" (1996) with Meg Ryan and Matt Damon, showing a darker side in his role as an armored tank commander concerned about his part in an incident of friendly fire during the Persian Gulf War. He next co-starred with singer Whitney Houston in a film that might have seemed fitting given his childhood, "The Preacher's Wife" (1996), a Penny Marshall directed adaptation of  "The Bishop's Wife." Not very action packed for the 1990s, this halfhearted holiday movie provided an attractive showcase for its black stars, and did most of its business after the holidays.

He did the best he could in Zwick's "The Siege" with Bruce Willis, which collapsed in a wash of action movie clichés after a decent  beginning. He also joined with Spike Lee for "He Got Game," playing a prison father briefly released to try and encourage his basketball prospect son to enroll at the governor's favorite college. As the paralyzed central character of the serial killer murder mystery "The Bone Collector" (1999), he managed to credibly anchor the film from his high tech world while stunning newcomer Angelina Jolie served as his ears on the street.

In 1999, he lost 40 pounds to play Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, the jailed former middleweight boxing contender, in "The Hurricane.” The film got a ten minute standing ovation when a working copy preview was released at the 1999 Toronto Film Festival. He pulled out his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Movie goers had become used to rooting for Washington as a honest, righteous lead, but with "Training Day" (2001), the actor showed something new when he took the role of quick-witted, harsh and crooked Los Angeles narcotics officer Alonzo Harris, who breaks in a new, optimistic partner (Ethan Hawke) while administering his own kind of street justice. He ripped into the part and won his second Academy Award for Best Actor. 

By the time he picked up that Oscar statue, he had given another first rate role as the father of a gravely ill son determined by circumstances to take heroic actions in the drama "John Q" (2002). The film did only marginally well at the box office.

The actors first directing effort was with  "Antwone Fisher" (2002), the tale of a security guard who found success as a screenwriter and producer after a explosive career in the United States Navy. He returned to the role of leading man in the thriller "Out of Time" with Eva Mendes (2003), playing chief of police of Banyan Key, Florida, who ends up as the prime suspect in a small city double murder. Both "Antwone Fisher" and "Out of Time" did not do as well as expected at the box office, but the new directors capacity to draw an audience with the right combination of script and talent was acknowledged with "Man on Fire" (2004), an action adventure payback drama which cast the actor as a reserved bodyguard who befriends his ten year old client (Dakota Fanning), before going on a blood-spattered trail of revenge when she is kidnapped.

In director Jonathan Demme's recreation of the traditional conspiracy thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" (2004), Denzel took on a tricky role, taking the Frank Sinatra part as a confused military officer attempting to straighten out the mystery behind his terrifying dreams of a mission gone bad. He next starred in “Inside Man” with Jodie Foster (2006), playing a level, even tempered hostage negotiator who is called to the scene of a bank robbery to untangle a crisis situation, but finds himself one step behind the gangs smooth mastermind (Clive Owen).

He once again put his good guy image aside for 2007’s “American Gangster,”  in the true story account of New York’s drug criminal world of the 1970s. In the Ridley Scott directed movie which many compared to the gangster adventures of Scorsese, the actor played a trendy, business minded employee of Harlem’s top drug dealer who steps in to build his own kingdom following the death of his gang boss. 

He would return to his role later in the year with the Christmas release of “The Great Debaters” (2007), playing a stimulating teacher who starts a big league debate team at an all black University during the 1930s. The film marked his second directing role. Filming for a 2009 release is the thriller "The Taking of Pelham 123" (2009) starring John Travolta, a film that pits a transit cop against a group of hijackers, who take over a subway train in order to rake in a hefty ransom. 

 

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