October 2002
Ghost Ship : Q& A with Isaiah Washington

Interviewed by Niambi Sims

Ghost Ship : Q& A with Isaiah Washington

Since his performances in acclaimed Spike Lee films: Clocker’s, Get on the Bus, Girl 6 and Crooklyn, Isaiah Washington has been a busy man! He delivered a stellar performance in the classic Love Jones, starred with Aaliyah and Jet Li in Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die and was featured in Warren Beatty’s Bulworth and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. Washington was recently nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor for his performance in HBO’s Dancing In September and can currently be seen alongside Sam Rockwell and William H. Macy in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Welcome to Collinwood. Niambi Sims of blackfilm.com talks with him about his latest film Ghost Ship and discovers what really scares him!

NS: Tell us about the challenges of filming in water.

IW: Sharks man! Sharks! Literally! Particularly where they shot Juliana there was a shark net around her because there was a phenomenon of like a thousand sharks that rolled on chasing the bullet fish up north.

NS: What was it like working in Australia?

IW: It was too easy! No worries! I’m convinced that Australia is the last innocent country. There is some research done that says that when it is all said and done India and Australia will be the last countries left. I enjoyed Australia! I sipped wine and played golf and learned to surf. I had a ball! It was fabulous! I was the only African American in town and I didn’t play basketball and they didn’t know who I was. They were just open and generous and very innocent. The people were kind that’s all I can really say.

NS: You’ve worked with directors like Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood who are very grounded in reality in their movies yet you’re in this movie with very heavy CTI scenes. What was it like for you not to see what’s going on around you?

IW: It was hard! It was extraordinarily difficult. I will never ever take for granted those actors who worked on Star Wars, the Liam Neeson’s and Ewan Macgregor’s who had to perform with nothing but an X and a green screen. You just feel like a complete idiot performing. To be in a room surrounded by a green screen and having a voice scream to you “Ok, chandelier! OK table to the left” and try to feel like I’m actually in the moment, was very difficult.

NS: Was your character originally written for an African American?

IW: Always. Actually, when it was called Kimera, he still was the first mate, the guy who took over the ship. He was the leader of the ship but that changed by the time we got to Australia

NS: Does it feel good not to die first?

IW: I think I framed the page. I think it was page 74. Today the black man is always the first to go and in the first 30 minutes. In this film it was a Latino so Hollywood is getting progressive.

NS: Are you a fan of horror movies?

IW: I always have been. I’m not a hardcore fan but I like Freddie Kruger, Halloween and I own Scream.

NS: What scares you?

IW: I just like good pacing. I think the editing of any horror film is very important. If I get a startle or jolt than that’s good but usually their using some kind of affect. I think the only movie that scared me and still scares me is The Exorcist because there’s just something that’s just evil as heck about that movie.

NS: So what process did you use, as an actor, to achieve fear?

IW: That was very hard for me because Steve kept saying “Buck your eyes man be more afraid widen your eyes look more scared!” I said “Look man, I’m not widening my eyes to look scared. Black men don’t widen their eyes to show fear. I can’t look more scared” I don’t understand what that means because as an African American man in the year 2002 We’ve seen it all. What am I afraid of when I’ve been terrorized in a country just for being who I am. So we had to move away from being afraid and more towards disbelief and I think all of us had to do that because if we played “scared” I don’t think it would have worked.

NS: It seemed your character was more motivated by his libido than he was scared.

IW: You mean Francesca? Oh she was beautiful. A lot was removed that explained the characters and their struggles. Thank God for Gabriel Byrnes there were so many traps and clichés that we could have fallen into that we didn’t because of Gabriel Byrne not only being the captain of the ship but being the captain of the ensemble and saying” were not going to play scared were going to keep dealing with our flaws. His character was dealing with alcoholism, mine was dealing with fidelity.

NS: Why did you choose this film?

IW: I’ve had a relationship with Joel [Silver] he was kind enough to call me and asked me what my availability was and offered me the job. I didn’t have to audition.

NS: You just had your second child. What’s scarier being on a haunted ship or changing diapers?

IW: What’s scary is being in Australia and figuring out if I can get back to LA for the birth of my child March 29, the day I got off the plane he was born 8 hours later. The thought of not being able to make it that was pretty intense. The flight was about 17 hours but I flew on everybody’s prayers and got here just in the nick of time. As a matter of fact I named him “Time Baraka”.