Speaking with CBS Sunday Morning‘s Kelefa Sanneh, Washington revealed that though he spent many years tryiung to carve out an identity separate from that of his father’s, he soon realized that being tied to him was inevitable no matter what path he chose.
Despite always having a secret interest in acting, Washington says he pursued football at his alma mater Morehouse College and later in the UFL, then the NFL in an attempt to establish his own name.
“It gave me an identity,” he said of football. “What motivated it, really, is independence – my own name. It was being able to carry my own weight in my life, even though I was hiding what I really wanted to do.”
Hiding, he says, was his choice because “it was intimidating” being the son of two such talented individuals – one of whom is easily known to be one of the greatest actors of our time.
“My mother is an extremely talented artist, and my father is one of the greatest of all time. He’s my favorite actor,” Washington said. “When we’re in the comforts of our own home and with the family, I felt comfortable. But then when I get to the outside world, it didn’t seem as simple to just pursue it.”
“I felt football would change that narrative when they saw me play,” he said. But even on the field, he still was known as the son of Denzel.
“I read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I think my freshman year. I had a great game and [read] ‘Denzel’s son runs for this many yards and this many touchdowns,'” he said. “I realized then it was inescapable.”
After suffering a rupture in his Achilles’ tendon in 2013, he finally embraced his true passion – professional acting – and “learned what happiness really is.
Now, with acting credits like BlacKKKlansman, Malcolm & Marie, TENET, and new release Amsterdam under his belt and now making his Broadway debut alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Danielle Brooks in the revival of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, he’s no longer so determined to “prove himself” in order to break free from his father’s shadow.
“I could have the best game, career – the headline is always going to be what it is,” he said. “So, to try to prove something to somebody is a fool’s errand.”
When asked if he ever sees his name surpassing his father’s, Washington simply replies, “Nah.”
“I don’t see it as a reality for me. He’s larger than life. So no, I don’t think of it that way. I can’t.”