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Biography: Denzel Washington

Two-time Academy Award®-winning actor Denzel Washington is a an constantly on the move. Never comfortable repeating himself or his successes, Washington is always in search of new challenges and his numerous and varied film and stage portrayals bear this out.

From Trip, an embittered runaway slave in Glory, to South African freedom fighter Steve Biko in Cry Freedom; from Shakespeare’s tragic historical figure Richard III to the rogue detective, Alonzo Harris, in Training Day, Washington has amazed and entertained us with a rich array of characters distinctly his own.

In 2010, moviegoers were treated to two very different sides of Washington when he starred in Tony Scott’s fast- paced thriller Unstoppable, and in the Hughes brothers’ dystopian vision, The Book of Eli, which Washington also produced. The Book of Eli grossed more than $38 million in its opening weekend.

In 2009, Washington was directed by Tony Scott in the respected remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, also starring John Travolta.

In late December 2007, Washington directed and co-starred with Academy Award®-winning actor Forest Whitaker in The Great Debaters, a drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College in Texas who in 1935, inspired students from the school’s debate team to challenge Harvard in the national championship. In November 2007, Washington starred alongside Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. The film grossed $43.6 million in its first weekend and earned Washington his largest opening weekend to date.

In March 2006, Washington starred in Spike Lee’s Inside Man. The film, co-starring Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, took in $29 million in its opening weekend and marked Washington’s second-biggest opening to date.

As 2006 came to an end, Washington reteamed with director Tony Scott and thrilled audiences in Touchstone Pictures’ Déjà Vu. In this flashback romantic thriller, Washington plays an ATF agent who travels back in time to save a woman from being murdered and falls in love with her during the process.

In 2004, Washington collaborated with director Tony Scott on Man on Fire, in which Washington plays an ex-marine who has been hired to protect a young girl, played by Dakota Fanning, from kidnappers. That same year, Washington was also seen in The Manchurian Candidate, a modern-day remake of the 1962 classic film for Paramount Pictures, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber. In the film, Washington stars in the part that Frank Sinatra made famous.

Washington was honored with the Academy Award® for his acclaimed performance in Training Day, directed by Antoine Fuqua. The film was only one of two in 2001 that spent two weeks at the No. 1 spot at the box office.

In 2003, Washington was seen in Out of Time, directed by Carl Franklin and co-starring Eva Mendes and Sanaa Lathan, in the murder-mystery thriller for MGM.

December 2002 marked Washington’s feature-film directorial debut with Antwone Fisher. The film, based on a true-life story and inspired by the best-selling autobiography “Finding Fish,” follows Fisher, a troubled young sailor played by newcomer Derek Luke, as he comes to terms with his past. The film won critical praise, was awarded the Stanley Kramer Award from the Producers Guild of America, and won NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Motion Picture and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for Washington. Also in 2002, Washington was seen in John Q, a story about a down-on-his-luck father whose son is in need of a heart transplant. The film established an opening-day record for Presidents’ Day weekend, grossing $24.1 million. The film garnered Washington an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.

In September 2000, he starred in Jerry Bruckheimer’s box-office sensation Remember the Titans, which took in $115 million at the domestic box office. Earlier that year, he starred in Universal Pictures’ The Hurricane, reteaming with director Norman Jewison. Washington received a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture—Drama and his fourth Academy Award® nomination for his performance.

In November 1999, he starred in Universal’s The Bone Collector, an adaptation of Jeffery Deaver’s novel about the search for a serial killer, co-starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Phillip Noyce.

In 1998, he starred in Warner Bros.’ crime thriller Fallen, for director Gregory Hoblit, and in Touchstone’s He Got Game, directed by Spike Lee. He also reteamed with director Edward Zwick on the 20th Century Fox terrorist thriller The Siege, co-starring Annette Bening and Bruce Willis.

In summer 1996, Washington starred in the critically acclaimed military drama Courage Under Fire, for his Glory director, Edward Zwick. Later that year, Washington starred opposite Whitney Houston in Penny Marshall’s romantic comedy The Preacher’s Wife.

In 1995, Washington starred as Navy Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter opposite Gene Hackman in Tony Scott’s underwater action adventure Crimson Tide; as an ex-cop released from prison to track down a computer-generated criminal in the futuristic thriller Virtuosity; and as World War II veteran “Easy” Rawlins in the 1940s romantic thriller Devil in a Blue Dress (which Washington’s Mundy Lane Entertainment produced with Jonathan Demme’s Clinica Estetico). Another critically acclaimed performance was his portrayal of Malcolm X in director Spike Lee’s biographical epic Malcolm X. For his portrayal, Washington received a number of accolades, including an Academy Award® nomination for Best Actor.

In addition to his accomplishments on screen, Washington took on a very different type of role in 2000. He produced the HBO documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks, which was nominated for two Emmys. He also served as executive producer on Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream, a biographical documentary for TBS, which was nominated for an Emmy Award. Additionally, Washington’s narration of the legend of John Henry was nominated for a 1996 Grammy Award in the category of Best Spoken Word Album for Children, and he was awarded a 1996 NAACP Image Award for his performance in the animated children’s special Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child.

A native of Mt. Vernon, New York, Washington had his career sights set on medicine when he attended Fordham University. During a stint as a summer camp counselor, he appeared in one of its theater productions. Washington was bitten by the acting bug and returned to Fordham that year, seeking the tutelage of Robinson Stone, one of the school’s leading professors. Upon graduation from Fordham, Washington was accepted into San Francisco’s prestigious American Conservatory Theater. Following an intensive year of study in its theater program, he returned to New York after a brief stop in Los Angeles.

Washington’s professional New York theater career began with Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park and was quickly followed by numerous off-Broadway productions, including Ceremonies in Dark Old Men; When the Chickens Came Home to Roost, in which he portrayed Malcolm X; One Tiger to a Hill; Man and Superman; Othello; and A Soldier’s Play, for which he won an Obie Award.

In 2010, Washington starred as Troy Maxson in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences, at the Cort Theatre. The record-breaking run received the most Tony Award nominations ever for a revival of a play, and Washington won his first Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. Washington’s other recent stage appearances include the Broadway production of Checkmates and Richard III, which was produced as part of the 1990 free Shakespeare in the Park series hosted by Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York City.

Washington was discovered by Hollywood when he was cast in 1979 in the television film Flesh & Blood.

But it was Washington’s award-winning performance on stage in A Soldier’s Play that captured the attention of the producers of the NBC television series St. Elsewhere, and he was soon cast in that long-running hit series as Dr. Philip Chandler. His other television credits include The George McKenna Story, License to Kill and Wilma.

In 1982, Washington re-created his role from A Soldier’s Play for Norman Jewison’s film version retitled A Soldier’s Story. Washington’s portrayal of Private Peterson in the film was critically well received. Washington went on to star in Sidney Lumet’s Power, Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom, for which he received his first Oscar® nomination; For Queen & Country; The Mighty Quinn; Heart Condition; Glory, for which he won the Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor; and Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues. Washington also starred in the action-adventure film Ricochet and in Mira Nair’s bittersweet comedy Mississippi Masala.

His additional film credits include Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing; Jonathan Demme’s controversial Philadelphia, with Tom Hanks; and The Pelican Brief, based on the John Grisham novel.

Up next for Washington is the dramatic thriller Flight, for director Robert Zemeckis.

Biography courtesy of Universal Studios in conjunction with the film, Safe House.

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