Kerry Washington: Woman on Top

Kerry Washington: Woman on Top

With roles on the breakout TV series Scandal and in the controversial film DjangoUnchained on her résumé, Kerry Washington is a force to reckon with in Hollywood—and that's just the way she likes it

by Kevin Powell, May 09, 2013

Kerry Washington: Woman on Top

Kerry Washington, our Scandalous March 2013 cover story

I see Kerry Washington standing, back slightly turned, at the appointed place for our interview, Glow BIO Juice Bar on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Jet-black hair sleek and straight, shiny black blouse, tightly fitted blue jeans and black pumps with monster heels. She possesses a beauty and sexiness that electrifies arteries in the heart. She is honey-brown skin, delicately painted by God. She is that ancestor’s gaze through almond-shaped eyes rooted in her Black American-Jamaican-British-Scottish bloodlines.

She suddenly swings around and greets me: “Hi, I’m Kerry.” There’s no entourage, no assistant, no attitude, even though she’s starring on a must-see TV drama that has spawned a cult following since its debut last April. It’s just the actress, at the location she chose because she is extremely health-conscious and because her nutritionist happens to own Glow BIO. As I would learn while spending time with her at the restaurant, at this magazine’s photo shoot and on the set of Scandal, this falls in line with who Kerry Washington is at her core: unbelievably supportive of friends, strangers, cast mates, production assistants or anyone within reach of her kindness. She is someone whose gratitude and humility comes through with every “thank you” she goes out of her way to extend for any kindness shown her.

Something About Kerry

“I’m an only child. That’s why I pretend all the time,” the actress, 36, offers in response to my query about what growing up Kerry was like before laughing mischievously and purposely slurping her protein drink. “I have a very strong imagination and spent a lot of time daydreaming.”

She then gets lost in just such a daydream about herself, starring little Kerry. Dig if you will the picture: Like the hip-hop culture also born in the Bronx, Kerry is a product of her environment: “I grew up in Jamie Towers, sort of working middle class. We weren’t in the projects, but we were across the street from the projects and on the other side were single- and double-family homes. Same Castle Hill neighborhood where Jennifer Lopez grew up.”

Chris Rock, who starred with Kerry in the film I Think I Love My Wife, shares this: “All you have to do is meet Kerry’s parents and witness her relationship with them and you’ll realize why she’s not your typical psycho actress.” Her dad’s family has roots in South Carolina and Brooklyn; her mother’s, in Jamaica and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. And one of her grandmothers worked as a maid (or “the help,” as Kerry often says) for years on Park Avenue. But it’s the influence of her mother on Kerry that may be the most profound. “I was really lucky to be raised by a woman who taught me that what was inside was much more important than what was outside.” So the energy, athleticism, creativity and artistic cravings that raged beneath the surface of the admittedly precocious young Kerry were carefully nurtured and funneled through positive outlets.

Power to me has always been about choices. So I never thought of myself as not having power.

Ask, and you shall receive rememberances from the girl who excelled at acting, dancing and singing. You’ll learn about the young lady who grew up discussing big issues with her parents while digesting the news and PBS. “My mom saw this very active, imaginative, talkative child and just tried to find ways to channel that energy, whether it was the children’s theater company or ballet class or trips to the library. Whatever it was, she was supportive of my brain activity,” the actress says. Tap deeper into her roots, and you get the girl shipped from her ’hood to attend the elite, all-girls Spence School on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side. While there, the seeds of Kerry Washington the actress and the advocate took root; she fell in love with “pretending” and being a cultural bridge builder. But a glimpse of her then would have borne little resemblance to the fashionista she’s become. She admits of her high school days, “ I wore, like, pajamas to school every day. I was not that girl.”

Fast-forward a few years, and you get the George Washington University Phi Beta Kappa graduate who chose to pursue a degree in liberal arts rather than study acting in a conservatory program. “I have always felt like if my job as an actor is to tell the stories about the human experience, then I was going to be better off studying history, anthropology, psychology and sociology, so I would be able to understand the human experience.”

Years of community and grassroots theater training followed. And there were the eight months spent in India after college; stints as a substitute teacher, a yoga instructor and an East Village vegan restaurant hostess; an engagement to actor David Moscow that was broken after two years, all the while fine-tuning her acting. Suddenly, her name came to be interchangeable with her roles,

More great reads from Kevin Powell


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