In Focus

Denzel Washington, Keeping His Cool

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006

Want to know how to tick off Denzel Washington?

Think about it for a second -- because, honestly, why is that something you really feel the need to do?

The guy is a paragon of decency, for goodness sakes, a cat who wears virtue like an exquisite Armani tux, and all he has ever done is love his wife and his God, help a bunch of poor kids and make a slew of fine movies for your viewing pleasure.

But, okay, if you must know, here's the rub: Get him on the phone toward the end of a long day of junket interviews with hack reporters and ask the man, two Oscars in and age 51, what's left for him.

"She says, 'What's left for you now?' " he'll exclaim to some publicist/assistant type in the background. "Life is left! How old are you?"

Uh-oh.

Probably it'll wash right over, though, in a shower of that decency, when you explain that the question didn't come out quite as intended, that what you really wanted to know is what hasn't he done that he'd still like to do and that you were just caught off guard when, after 18 minutes of conversation that felt like a preamble to an introduction, he said he needed to wrap it up.

Denzel Washington is laughing, anyway -- and, Lord, that's a laugh. Deep and easy and authentic. And somehow at odds with the adjectives tossed his way every time his face appears in the spotlight. "Handsome" and "sexy" always show up first, of course, but then come words such as "guarded, "aloof," "deeply private."

And maybe he is. Maybe that's exactly the way Washington, who has taken the opportunity to chat with us about his new high-tech thriller "Deja Vu," which opens Wednesday, should be described. There is, however, one other, slightly uncomfortable possibility: We no longer know what to make of celebrities who refuse to offer us deranged antics to analyze.

Washington doesn't go club-hopping with starlets. He doesn't launch into drunken, anti-Semitic tirades. There aren't any on-set temper tantrums. Glaringly absent: repeated stints in rehab, illegitimate offspring, legal feuds with Beverly Hills neighbors, Internet sex tapes, rumored eating disorders, sordid strip club escapades. And where, oh, where is that reality show needed to illuminate the more mundane dysfunction surely percolating inside "Denzel's House"?

Except maybe the dysfunction doesn't exist. The man doesn't even wade into that most pedestrian source of celebrity gossip fodder -- politics. Asked about the social commentary underlying the plot of "Deja Vu," in which his character tries to stop an Oklahoma City-style bomber using secret government surveillance technology that can see inside any building in the world, Washington concedes that it's an interesting debate. "We say to our government, 'Yes, catch the bad guys, but don't come into our house to do it.' It is tricky, the times that we live in."

But he goes no further.


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