|January 31, 1977|
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Born in New York City on Jan. 31, 1977, Washington grew up in the Bronx as the only child of her real estate broker father and her professor and educational consultant mother. Following the sixth grade, Washington left public school to attend junior high and high school at the prestigious Spence School for Girls in Manhattan, while also performing with the TADA! Youth Theater group. She later attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she double majored in anthropology and sociology, before continuing to study acting at Michael Howard Studios in New York. While attending college, Washington worked closely with the local theater community and helped create a support system for people of color in the arts called Shades of the Fine Arts. After graduation, Washington spent three months in India to immerse herself in a foreign culture and to touch-up on her yoga skills. Returning to the United States, Washington moved back home with her parents, where she lived while starring in her first feature film, "Our Song" (2000). Though already 22 at the time, Washington convincingly played a wise, but vulnerable 16-year-old from the Crown Heights projects in Brooklyn.
In her first major film, "Save the Last Dance" (2001), Washington delivered a breakthrough performance as a street-smart teenage mom who takes in a suburban white girl (Julia Stiles) who has just transferred to an inner-city school. The surprise hit positioned Washington to play meatier roles, as her stock went up in the casting world. For her next notable project, the made-for-cable crime drama, "Lift" (Showtime, 2002), she played a petty thief forced to give up her way of life to mend a broken relationship with her mother. Critically acclaimed for her performance, the role ended up earning Washington a 2002 Independent Spirit Award nomination. Coming off such critical acclaim, she stumbled a bit with the critical and financial failure, "Bad Company" (2002), a so-called action-comedy starring Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins. But Washington rebounded nicely with a strong performance in "The United States of Leland" (2003), a sullen drama about a suburban teen (Ryan Gosling) who commits a shocking crime. Though Washington's performance was singled out for special praise, the film itself was widely criticized for being another maudlin and self-important independent film.
Reuniting with Hopkins, Washington received a similar reception for "The Human Stain" (2003), a less-than-compelling drama about a university professor hiding his true African-American identity. Despite failures like "Bad Company" and "The Human Stain" on her résumé, Washington continued on her career track with typical charm and good cheer, scoring the lead role in "She Hate Me" (2004), a Spike Lee Joint about a down-and-out biotech executive (Anthony Mackie) who is offered some easy money when his ex-girlfriend-turned-lesbian (Washington) offers cash to impregnate her and her girlfriend. Once again, both critics and audiences failed to appreciate the film. Luckily, Washington managed to score big with her winning performance as Della Bea Robinson in director Taylor Hackford's "Ray" (2004), a biopic about the late genius of soul, Ray Charles (Jaime Foxx). Lauded by critics and frequented by audiences, "Ray" earned Foxx the lion's share of critical and awards attention, though Washington also received kudos for her turn as Charles' resolute second wife who endures his drug abuse and infidelity. Meanwhile, she received another crack at major exposure when she signed on to play Alicia Masters, the blind love interest of the Thing (Michael Chiklis) in the big screen adaptation of the comic book classic, "The Fantastic Four" (2005). Though originally conceived as a blonde-haired and blue-eyed Caucasian in the comic books, director Tim Story re-cast the part to accommodate the talented Washington.
Prior to the comic book adventure, Washington played the only friend and cohort of an assassin (Angelina Jolie) who is married to a seemingly boring husband (Brad Pitt) and trapped in a ho-hum suburban life in the action-thriller, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005). From there, she went on to play an unsuspecting Chicago suburbanite who comes into possession of a stolen diamond, leading three-foot-high jewel thief (Marlon Wayans) to pose as a baby to get his prize in the misbegotten comedy, "Little Man" (2006), another tasteless comedy from the Wayans Brothers. That same year, Washington delivered a dazzling dramatic turn in "The Last King of Scotland" (2006), playing Kay Amin, the out-of-favor wife of ruthless Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), who has a risky affair with her genocidal husband's personal physician (James McAvoy). Turning to television, Washington played hot-tempered attorney Chelina Hall in several recurring episodes of the popular David E. Kelley legal drama, "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), which she soon followed with a supporting turn as the other woman in the romantic comedy "I Think I Love My Wife" (2007), starring Chris Rock.
After reprising Alicia Masters for the critically maligned sequel "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (2007), Washington was wife to Patrick Wilson, both of whom are terrorized by a racist LAPD cop (Samuel L. Jackson) in the Neil LaBute thriller "Lakeview Terrace" (2008). She was next cast by Spike Lee for a supporting turn in the director's controversial war drama, "Miracle at St. Anna" (2008), before playing a tough veteran street cop in the indie crime drama, "Life Is Hot in Cracktown" (2009). Following an episode of the comic detective drama, "Psych" (USA Network, 2006- ), Washington co-starred as a woman who longs for a child, but is unable to have one on her own in "Mother and Child" (2010), which also featured Naomi Watts and Annette Bening. From there, she joined an ensemble cast that included Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg and Thandie Newton for Tyler Perry's inadequately adapted take on Ntozake Shange's acclaimed play "For Colored Girls" (2010)
Following a rather forgettable co-starring turn opposite Eddie Murphy in the failed comedy "A Thousand Words" (2010), Washington memorably portrayed Broomhilda, the wife of an escaped slave (Jamie Foxx) in Quentin Tarantino's lauded neo-spaghetti Western "Django Unchained" (2012). Prior to that film's release, Washington scored big as the star of "Scandal" (ABC, 2012- ), where she played crisis manager Olivia Pope, a fictionalized version of famed Bush administration aide Judy Smith. Never shy about politics in her own life, Washington publicly supported the re-election of President Barack Obama and even delivered a speech during the Democratic National Convention in September 2012. In 2013, Washington co-starred with Craig Robinson in the widely overlooked feature comedy "Peeples" and shortly thereafter married pro football player (and occasional actor) Nnamdi Asomugha.