While filming his starring role in the new movie "Flight," which opens November 2, actor Denzel Washington plays a pilot who's lauded for landing a crashing flight, but then comes under fire when it's discovered that he had alcohol in his system at the time of the incident. His character, Whip Whitaker, is considered by many to be an alcoholic. So this would've been the perfect opportunity for Washington, who revealed in a 1986 interview with Essence that he was giving up alcohol, to hit the bottle hard — but that's not what happened. Instead, Washington, who now says he only "semi-quit" alcohol back in the ‘80s, gave up booze for all 45 days of filming.
"We've all tied one on,” the 57-year-old says in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “But if I had been drinking while I was shooting, it’d be harder to stay disciplined, just to get up in the morning. You are a little more hung over, grouchier. I knew this was an excellent opportunity, and a really good story. So it was something I wanted to do right." Still, Washington is quick to note that his teetotaling policy wasn't permanent. "But I haven't given it up forever."
Washington, who reveals he packed on 20 pounds for his role in “Flight,” is incredibly disciplined any time he's on a set. He even occasionally takes a method approach to his acting. "In [2012 hit] 'Safe House,' I played what I thought was a sociopath, and I wasn't in a chitchatting mood unless I could manipulate you, unless I could win. That’s what a sociopath is," says Washington, who's been married to Pauletta since 1983. "It just goes back to the way I've worked for a very long time: stay with what I am doing. Nobody goes, 'Man, he sucked in that picture, but I bet he was nice to everybody!’"
By now, after hits like "Philadelphia," "Fallen," "Remember the Titans," and "Training Day," Washington can do just about any project he wants in Hollywood. But he's very aware of the fact that many other black actors, particularly women, have a tough time in Hollywood. "And the darker the woman, definitely," he notes. "But then it's all relative: The 40-year-old whatever-color woman says, 'Well, you know, the 30-year-old is getting all the jobs.'"
Someone Washington has chosen to work with on five films, including 1995's "Crimson Tide" and 2004's "Man on Fire," is the late director and producer Tony Scott. So when Scott committed suicide by jumping off an L.A. bridge on August 19, Washington was left reeling. The two didn't talk regularly, Washington says, but they obviously respected one another. "I was shocked by his death. I'm still shocked. If you had given me a list of 25 people, I don’t think I’d have picked him," Washington says. "You don’t know. You just don't know. You don’t know what's inside a man's head."
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