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Denzel Washington Talks Tackling Diversity In Shakespeare’s ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’

There are more than 30 film versions of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, and all but one of them have white leads. The Scottish Macbeth is almost always played on the big screen in a manner that is authentic to the original 17th-century casting, a white European man. However, with his new project “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Denzel Washington has flipped the typecasting on its ear, expanding the way that people see the tragic hero.

In a new interview with NBCBLK, Washington urged fans to check out the movie, not only because he, a Black man, is starring as the protagonist in the film adaptation of the play, but because the gifted cast is special.

Denzel Washington attends a press conference for the 59th New York Film Festival opening night screening of The Tragedy Of Macbeth at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theatre on September 24, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images)

“Obviously we are diverse, so I think that’s a great thing,” Washington said. “You know, in my humble opinion, we ought to be at a place where diversity shouldn’t even be mentioned like it’s something special. These young kids — Black, white, blue, green, or whatever — are highly talented and qualified. So that’s why they’re there.”

Shot entirely in black and white, the cinematic masterpiece is special for a few reasons, namely the cast. In addition to Washington, the movie that premiered on Apple TV on Friday, Jan. 21 after a limited run in theaters, also stars the “highly talented and qualified” Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, Corey Hawkins as Macduff, Moses Ingram as Lady Macduff, and Kathryn Hunter as the witches.

Another reason why this production is special is that it allowed Washington to return to his Shakespearean roots. In his 20s, he played Othello as a student at Fordham University on the Lincoln Center campus in 1977. The Academy Award winner said that back then it was all “memorization.” 

“I didn’t know what I was saying,” Washington tells Hoda Kotb in the interview. 

The actor has grown since those days, learning to master Shakespeare’s tone. In 1990, he did Shakespeare in the Park and played Richard Duke of Gloucester in “The Tragedy of Richard III.” In 2005, he starred in the Broadway revival of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in the leading role of Marcus Brutus.

He said in an interview with ABC News that he had to travel a creative distance to get into Shakespeare.

 “You have to meet Shakespeare where he is,” he offered. “You can’t bring Shakespeare down to your level — you have to come up to this level. It’s a standard that your ordinary chops ain’t enough to get you over!”

Washington proves that with “Macbeth,” which is actually not the first Shakespearean work that Washington has done on screen. In 1993, he was cast in “Much Ado About Nothing” as Don Pedro.

One additional reason why this film might be special to Denzel is that his daughter Olivia had a brief cameo. 

“If you blink you will miss it,” he joked. “She has a small part in it and it was a lot of fun for me to be there with her. I don’t know if it was as much fun for her. Joel and Fran had the actors reading different parts, so when we were sitting around the table you never knew which part you were going to read.”

“She never knew either,” he said with pride, noting that both she and his son John David are both professionals when it comes down to acting.

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