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June 2009
An Interview with Kerry Washington

An Interview with Kerry Washington
By Wilson Morales

June 24, 2009

Just when one thinks there aren’t enough quality roles out there for women outside of the conventional wife or girlfriend role, Kerry Washington begs to differ. This Bronx, NY native has done some impressive work over the years, going back and forth between the big production studio films like ‘The Fantastic Four’ and ‘Lakeview Terrace’ to independent films such as ‘Our Song,’ ‘Lift,’ and ‘Dead Girl.’ Her roles are completely different and show how versatile her acting is.

Not only is Washington on the big screen with films, but she’s about to make her Broadway debut in a new David Mamet play opposite James Spader and Richard Thomas called 'Race.' It’s a return to the stage since receiving a degree in theater from George Washington University.

Between films, theater, and being the new spokesperson for L'Oréal, Washington has hands full with work. Coming up next for her is the independent film, ‘Life is Hot in Cracktown,’ which opens on June 26 in Los Angeles.

She plays Marybeth, a pre-op transsexual working as a prostitute and living with her lover, Benny (Desmond Harrington), a small time burglar. In spite of their lines of work, they live a somewhat normal life as a married couple. However, on these streets they’re always under attack for being freaks. Benny insists that he’s not a freak, but that the woman he’s in love with was inadvertently born with a penis. Marybeth works the streets in the hope of saving enough money for her final sex change operation, then she and Benny can be married.

Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, based on his novel of the same name, the film also stars Shannyn Sossamon, Victor Rasuk, Evan Ross, Rza, Brandon Routh, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ten Travis, Ridge Canipe, Illeana Douglas, Edoardo Ballerini, Ariel Winter, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Mark Webber and Tony Plana. It delves into the infiltration of crack cocaine in urban America and shows the gritty realities of street life, as well as the struggling, proud people who attempt to survive them everyday.

In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Washington talks about her role as a transgender, her upcoming projects, and her excitement to being a David Mamet play.

Is this the grittiest film you have done to date?

Kerry Washington: I think so. I think it rivals ‘The Dead Girl.’ It definitely had its unique challenges.

According to the press notes, it states that you were the catalyst to having the film greenlit and others coming on board. What was attraction to doing the film?

KW It’s so funny that’s what it says in there because it’s true in some ways. I was one of the first people cast in the film, but initially was rejected. I still have the email from the director, Buddy Giovinazzo. I handed me down the sweetest rejectionthat I had ever received. He was like, “I don’t think we can about do it. It would be distracting to you in the role and I don’t know if people would buy it.” He and I kept doing research about the trans-community about these women and it was clear that these are authentically women, and so we went for it.

Did you do anything in particular to get into character?

KW: I had a beautiful, amazing woman named Valerie Spencer, who’s a ‘transwoman,’ and she was my authentic consultant. I brought her on very early in the process and spent a lot with her and she was with me almost every day on the set. I did a lot of reading. There’s a wonderful book called ‘Transparent,’ which is about a couple that adopts a transwoman, a teenage transgirl. I just submersed myself in this world because it’s such a different cultural landscape from the one that I live in.

Outside of the voice change in the film, did you and Buddy talk about making any physical changes for your character?

KW: Of course, that’s a big part about developing a character; discussing the hair and color and wardrobe. We did some stuff. The thing to remember is that these are people who born woman, with a part of biology that has betrayed identity. When you meet a lot of transwomen, it’s very clear that they are women and that there are a lot of transwomen that you don’t know were anything other than women. It was important for me to really honor that. We did some work among the unique challenges. I actually found, in doing research, I learned a lot about myself as a woman, because being this post-modern, post-feminist woman, I take my female identity for granted. I’m at the gym trying to work off my ass and these women are paying thousands of dollars for hormone therapy and injections to have the ass that I was given. It makes you think of celebrating what I have. What if I didn’t take it for granted? It was an incredible lesson and journey.

Not only is your character is a transwoman, but she’s also a prostitute and a crack addict. The center of this film is about the addiction to drugs in a low class area and that the film doesn’t present any solutions. What is that attraction to seeing the film?

KW: Part of the reason that I became an actor is because I think there is a lot of power in film to allow us a window into a world that we don’t access to on our own. I think what is special about theater and about film is that we get to tell stories about humanity. I think everybody deserves to see their stories up on the big screen because no human being is better than another intrinsically. For me, I had nights, before doing this film, where I would get off movie sets at 2 and 3 in the morning and go by Santa Monica Boulevard and I would see these women and I would not think about them and not acknowledge them in my heart. I think films allow us to spend some time with people that normal in society we ignore or shut out. It’s important to acknowledge our fellow human beings and the whole spectrum of human identity in the world now.

Although you didn’t work and have scenes with everyone, but how was working with the cast in the film?

KW: I love Evan (Ross). He’s like family to me. His sister Tracey (Ellis Ross) is one of my dearest friends. It was fun to do this fight scene with my “little brother.” That was pretty special. I think he is just ridiculously talented. I was pretty thrilled about that. I though Desmond (Harrington) was incredible.

What’s next for you?

KW: I have a few films coming up this year, including ‘A Thousand Words,’ a DreamWorks comedy with Eddie Murphy. I just wrapped a film called ‘A Mother and Child’ with myself, Naomi Watts and Annette Bening. I’m about to begin production on a film called ‘Stringbean and Marcus,’ with Anthony Mackie. That will shoot in Philadelphia, and I’m about to do a Broadway play.

What’s your role in ‘A Mother and a Child?’

KW: It’s a film about mothers and children and our identities as mothers and daughters. It’s three separate stories on women and their journey about what motherhood means to them. The stories come together in the end in unexpected ways.

Are you excited to do Broadway?

Kerry Washington: I'm thrilled. Being a Bronx girl and growing up in New York, I spent my childhood going to the theater for special occasions, like a birthday or graduation; so it's a really lifelong dream of mine to be on Broadway and I feel so lucky to be doing it with this playwright and this director. He's a man whose work I've admired for a long time. It's almost surreal and kind of exciting. I get to do it in my hometown, which is even better.

Can you give a hint as to the plot of the play?

KW: I don't know how much I'm allowed to say outside of it being a brand new play from David Mamet. It's interesting.

It also should also be a nice reunion with James Spader. I remembered when you worked with him on a few episodes on 'Boston Legal.'

KW: Yes. It will be good. We're actually playing lawyers again, so it will be really fun, and I just adore and admire him.


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