When I’d heard there was a film about the D.C. snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo being made, I was skeptical. As a senior in high school living in Manassas, Virginia and frequenting the gas station where one of the snipers’ victims was killed, I was not anxious to relive the terror I’d felt back in 2002 when my friends and I ran in zigzag patterns to our cars after school.
But while the fear I felt as a kid did return as I watched Blue Caprice, I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t disrespected or abused by the film; it was simply explained. The film focuses less on what this makeshift father-son duo did and more on who they were and why they chose to kill. It’s a sad story of two sick individuals looking for love and belonging that doesn’t excuse them, but allows us to see and better understand the impact fatherlessness can have.
EBONY.com caught up with Isaiah Washington, the star and executive producer of Blue Caprice, to talk about the messages in this film and what he’ll never do again as a father.
EBONY: Being a bit out of favor in real life a few years ago, why take on the role of this serious villain, this public enemy number one?
Isaiah Washington: It was a calculated guess, a calculated decision on my part. Once I realized that this was not a sensationalized story about a public enemy number one, like Jesse James, and making it cool, I just trusted [director] Alexandre Moors, knowing his work, that he could handle it. I said, “if we get it wrong, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ll be that crazy guy,” blah, blah, blah. But what I know in my heart and what I think I know about Hollywood and the public at large and morbid curiosity, I thought maybe we can educate the world [with this film] and start a real conversation about our culture of violence and humanity.
EBONY: You’ve that you were afraid of playing this character, and Moors had to snap you out of it. How were you able to get into the mind of this man who blamed everyone around him for his situation and became a killer? Was there anything you connected with on a person level?
IW: That’s a fair question, but I think it’s an obvious one. No. I wanted to do Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy. [Laughs] I wanted to show the world I could be a hero. So that was my wrestle with myself. But ultimately, I gave in to the very vision that I had agreed to. But when you talk about [the vision with the director], it’s all academic. When you have a fellow actor who you like and respect and you have to tie him to a tree and be beyond mean and straight out cruel, I was like, this is no longer academic.
So to be this guy, you have to feel these things. That was the most emotional thing for me, trying to keep Isaiah out of the way. Because I am very protective by nature. I’m a father. That’s what gets me in trouble, trying to protect everybody. I’m a full-on Leo. But I agreed to do it, and I’m executive producer on it, so you’ve got to get it done.
EBONY: Many actors talk about the psychological issues they had portraying really heinous characters. What kept you sane during this process?
IW: I had to sit on the couch afterwards. I’ve had my psyche harmed. And I’ve been vilified before. So all of those feelings don’t just go away, that trauma doesn’t go away. But I had to deal with that trauma and put that aside because there is a message that’s important for humanity. My feelings on African-Americans and how we only come to the forefront unless it’s about abuse or being disempowered, I had to get past all of that in my mind and be a servant to this cause.
EBONY: Coming off a project like this, where you’ve said Moors gave you an opportunity to return to the kind of complex, multi-faceted characters characters you were playing at the beginning of your career, what are you doing next?
IW: The next movie I’m producing with Patrik-Ian Polk, called Blackbird. And then after that, I’m going to bring you a documentary directed by Peres Owino [African vs. African American: Silent Sibling Rivalry]. She’s a beast. I’m participating in that project on the taboo conversations that should be happening but are not happening between Africans and African-Americans. So that documentary is going straight to Sundance.
Another project I’m producing with Marc Lamont Hill called For Colored Boys with some serious players, talking about the syndrome of prison and what it’s like for these boys when they try to come back into the community while suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from a place where they were supposed to be rehabilitated. It looks like The Corner, it looks like The Wire, but it’s full of compassion and love, because it’s written by an African-American woman. I’m all about that project right now.
EBONY: You’ve said that some of these artists, and even your involvement in Blue Caprice, you got through Facebook?
IW: Yep! Facebook’s been my agent, girl! [When you’re feeling like people are out to get you,] someone told me, “Take your ass to Facebook! There are people out there who love you and want to give you money.” ’Cause I can’t give them another headline. I can’t afford to go crazy. I can’t afford to be the homophobic train wreck that they said I am or I was, it’s a lie. Please. They’re feeling me now.
But all it did was just make me go back to the lab, figure out the mistakes I’ve made, heal myself, know that I have to grow up a little bit more, can’t make that mistake again. I didn’t know I was as big as I was. But now that I know and the rest of the world knows I am, I’m going to give you something so the rest of the world knows. I’m a human being first and foremost, and I have something to say that I think is worthwhile. Blue Caprice is just the second installment of so much more coming.
I just got involved with a script by R. Preston Clark called God Gave Us Tomorrow, which I am convinced will be Love Jones, part two.
EBONY: How so?
IW: This is a leak for you! It’s updated, set in Chicago, which now, it’s different. Motherf*ckers are running around about getting shot and heroin addicts and all of that serves as the backdrop, but the love, the love is still there. I can’t let that go. I don’t care what you say, even when you were mad at me. ’Cause you were mad at me too, look at your mouth! “Messed up my show [Grey’s Anatomy]!” Look at you! [Laughs]
EBONY: It meant something to have a Black male doctor that people came from all over the world to be treated by.
IW: And we take that personal. Just like when John Allen Mohammed turned out to be Black. We were mad! When a person in our community is knocked off, we all feel it. Because we know how hard it is to make a name for ourselves. And we never got our 40 acres and a mule. But I don’t need that anymore. I closed the door on that. I’ve got citizenship. [Pulls out two different passports and puts them on the table.] I’ve got 6,000 acres and some goats over in Africa. So it’s not arrogance that you see, it’s the fact that I know I have the support of an entire African nation behind me. Because they showed me love over there over the past six years when I showed them love and nobody here wanted to show me love. So I’m good. They said, “I’m giving you this citizenship, I’m giving you this power so that you’ll never be touched like that [in America] again.”
EBONY: Wow. So during your time in Africa, what were the changes you made? How did you grow?
IW: The whole time I was on Grey’s, I’m still reconciling myself to my 11-year-old son, because he never saw me during that time. By the time he got up, he’d see a dent in his pillow, but by the time I got home, he was already asleep. So for three years, he had a daddy that he never saw because I had to work. So I’m still working on my son because he’s hurt. Now that I’m off the show, I can pick him up from school and he’d be crying and I’d ask what’s wrong and he said, “I’ve been telling them for years I had a daddy.”
Here I am on the number one show in America, all the money I’m comfortable with, put my kids in private school, and it all comes back to he just needs his daddy to be there. And I wasn’t. That’s not ever going to happen again. I’ve got to be a better husband, and I damn sure have to be a better father to my children.