Esquire/Dominic Miller(LOS ANGELES) — Back in 2013, Tenet star John David Washington was getting a professional football career off the ground…but then he was grounded for good.
During a workout with the New York Giants, Washington — the son of Oscar-winner Denzel and accomplished actress and musician Pauletta — blew out his Achilles tendon, he tells Esquire. With his sports career over, Washington was forced to lean into his other love: the family business.
“A part of me felt like it got shot and killed, it got assassinated,” he says. “All of that was fear-based, of not knowing if what I thought was my destiny, if I’m even worthy enough to claim it. It was time to go up onstage.”
He kept his auditioning secret, he tells the magazine, until he landed a role the HBO series Ballers.
The influence of John David Washington’s dad looms large in his life, from Denzel’s cribbing his Malcom X speech to psych up JD’s youth football teams, to the elder actor literally looking down on his son when he auditioned for what became his star-making turn in Spike Lee’s Oscar winning period film BlackKkKlansman. It seems JD sat in the same chair his father did decades earlier while discussing Mo’ Better Blues with Lee; a poster of Denzel hung over the chair.
“That’s when it hit me: ‘O.K., if I mess this up, my career is basically over’…The pressure hit for a moment, for those two hours, and then I was back,” JD recalls. “I was O.K. after.”
It certainly worked out: BlackKkKlansman turned JD into a much sought-after leading man, and he’s now poised to star in one of the most anticipated films of the year: Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller Tenet, which opens July 17.
By Stephen Iervolino
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