John David Washington Has a Message for Black Men During Perilous Times

The Morehouse man discusses his latest blockbuster and Black men achieving success.

In the latest Christopher Nolan espionage thriller, Tenet, John David Washington takes fans on an exhilarating ride in an action-packed brain teaser that jet sets from country to country. John David plays a CIA spy inducted into an underground organization named Tenet, who is on a quest to survive an international journey that tests his limits. 

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The sci-fi film hits movie-watchers with adrenaline and amusement as Washington’s character travels from India, Norway, the UK, Estonia, Italy, Norway and the United States. And by placing himself right in the middle of the action (no stunt double), he became one with his character. sat down with John David Washington to discuss his latest blockbuster, the spiritual connection he made in one particular country during filming and his special message to Black men on achieving success in challenging times. While we continue to live through these unprecedented times and racial divides, the desire for an escape is needed. Plugging into a film can definitely be that temporary getaway, especially for Black men and Black boys that are seeing a different narrative written about them on a daily basis. 

So as a Morehouse alum and a Black Hollywood phenomenon, what would you tell Black men who are pushing to achieve their dreams despite the current climate in America?

John David Washington: Be relentless in your pursuit, be passionate about whatever it is you elect to go for. Do your research. Back that passion up with the hard work, in the actual work that it takes to get whatever you want done. If it's acting then pursue a class, I guess now you have to do it virtually. Pursue a class and get your skills together. I'm constantly trying to work on my skills, keep a Shakespeare monologue on me at all times. It's just the hard work mentality that I’ve always had. 

It's a time for us right now, a great time for African Americans, especially in this industry to shine. More and more of our stories are being told and being greenlit from these studios. There's an opportunity for messages to get out there for great medicine to be injected in our communities through the artwork, through what we do.  Was there one scene that brought your athletic capabilities to new heights where you had to pause and take a moment before they said action?

John David Washington: There's a fight, a fight sequence in the Rotas vault, which was pretty significant. It took about 10 days to shoot all that. Every take, I was like, ‘I can do this,’ like every time.

But the one that sticks out the most is Mumbai, India, when I had to jump off of one of the tallest buildings in the city, had to jump over the balcony. ‘Cause I'm not good with heights, I'm just not. And of course, I'm telling Christopher Nolan, ‘No problem, I’m good with heights, this ain't nothin’, you know, we good.’

 So that took a lot of prayer before the jump.  With Tenet being that international espionage thriller, and you and the cast traveled from country to country, you really took moviegoers on this wild ride. 

But now we know in this coronavirus pandemic, we can't travel as much and really explore but when it becomes safer to travel again internationally, is there one country where you felt a true and unique connection?

John David Washington: So there's a place that I connected as John David, which is Mumbai, India. It was really a spiritual breakthrough there. The people, the environment, the food even, I connected to it. It felt like I had been there before in another life.

As the protagonist though, the character, I really felt like the protagonist when we were in Denmark at the wind farms across the ocean. I'm used to seeing them on land, but never in the middle of the ocean. I feel like we're on another planet. 

Like this is something you would paint and green screen, or like, this is something that they do in post [production] and add the different turbines. But we were actually there, it was all there. And being on the waters and seeing those things, getting to go up in one and shot a scene in one of them was crazy. That made me feel like The Protagonist, very deeply.

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