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“I Guess I was Protecting Myself”: John David Washington on Why He Used to Hide His Famous Father’s Identity

Having famous parents isn’t easy, especially when you are trying to get into show business — a problem actor John David Washington knows very well. The “Monsters and Men” star revealed during an interview with The Journal, part of the MR PORTER brand, that in the pursuit to earn his own opportunities as an actor, he used to lie about the identity of his famed father, Denzel Washington

At one point, young Washington admitted that he even went as far as telling people his father was in jail. “I used to lie, saying he was a construction worker or in jail. Just to have some sense of normalcy,” Washington told the outlet. 

The “BlacKkKlansman” star said he saw “how people changed” when they discovered who his father was. “I felt like there was no way people would take me seriously, even if I was good,” the actor expressed. He added, “They would always judge me. So I hid who my father was. I guess I was protecting myself.” However, thanks to a collection of credits in acclaimed performances in both television and film, Washington has managed to creep out from under his father’s shadow. 

Actor John David Washington reveals that he used to lie about his father’s identity so that those he was auditioning before would take his acting seriously. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

In 2019, the actor earned a Golden Globes nomination for his leading performance in the critically acclaimed film, “BlacKkKlansman.” The movie was directed by Spike Lee, a longtime Denzel Washington collaborator. 

Still, despite having an actor as a father, Washington’s journey to the big screen wasn’t a straight shot. The 36 year old’s career saw him starting as an NFL running back.  

Before his breakout roll on the HBO series “Ballers,” Washington, who’d played football on a football scholarship while at Morehouse College and became the college’s leading rusher at the time, signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Rams and was part of the team’s practice squad. He had a brief stint in the now defunct UFL, with the then California Redwoods. Washington continued training with hopes to return to the NFL, but suffered from a severe Achilles tendon injury in 2013. He’d ultimately find his way to acting, a dream Washington says he had since he was a child. 

During his interview, Washington also spoke on the topic of the Black Lives Matter protests and admits that he is optimistic about its efforts. 

“As an African American, what gives me hope about where we are going is the amount of people that don’t look like me on the front lines,” Washington explained. He added, “I think they do actually have an understanding, a real understanding of what the problems are, the systemic issues. And they’re paying attention.”

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