Reviews are calling “Blue Caprice,” the new thriller about the D.C. Snipers, “the most frightening monster movie of the year,” (New York Observer). And the praise for the film’s star, Isaiah Washington, is even more rapturous, praising his “mesmerizing authority and conviction” as John Allen Muhammad, the teacher, father-figure and monster who created a monster.
And more than a few critics and journalists are calling it “a comeback” for the former “Grey’s Anatomy” star.
“I don’t know what I’m coming back to,” Washington, pretty much out of the spotlight since his firing from that show. “Hey, if it works in a headline, I’m down with that. I;m a producer on this movie, too. If it gets them to come and see it…”
Washington, 50, knows his work will still be filtered, by some, through the memory of how he handled a heated argument and a homophobic slur on the “Grey’s” set half a dozen years ago. Since then, he’s continued to work — a one-off TV appearance here, an indie film there. And now he’s in one that’s gaining attention and making people remember how good he is.
“I’m wiser, stronger, a little faster,” he says, keeping it light. “I didn’t NEED this part. I made no money on it. What I took from the experience was useful, to my career. But I didn’t do it for that. I didn’t have Hollywood in mind. No disrespect. A studio wouldn’t have rolled on a film like that and they certainly wouldn’t have cast me in it.
“I did it because I’m a character actor, and this guy — he was a challenge. I had nothing to hold onto, nothing to work with, other than R.L. Porto’s script, Alexandre Moor’s direction and John Muhammad’s wife Mildred’s book (“Scared Silent”). I had to infuse him with some form of humanity, that you could feel even if you couldn’t see it.”
As luck would have it, Washington was reluctant to take on a role that has already led to numerous other opportunities — including a return to episodic TV (“The Hundred”) this fall. Washington recoiled at the memory of this weeks-long shooting spree and the boy and man who carried it out.
“Oh man, you know, in MY community, whenever something (messed) up happens, we’re always hoping ‘Please don’t let it be a black guy.’ When it came out, after three weeks of insanity and terror, that the killer was NOT a Caucasian male with a lot of guns, that this ‘In Cold Blood’ character did NOT look like Robert Blake, but like me, I was not happy. It would be easier for my psyche to handle it if he looked like Timothy McVeigh,” as experts and profilers at the time of the shootings (fall, 2002) predicted. And he wasn’t flattered when unproven director Moors, known for music videos, sent him a letter.
“My knee-jerk reaction to (producer) Isen Robbins was ‘Ooooh, no no no no.’ My humanity resisted this character’s inhumanity. But Isen’s very smooth and sharp and talked me into taking a phone call with Alexandre. We had no script, bro. Just a letter and a phone conversation.”
The actor sensed the opportunity, and the risks in a role that people might start to associate with him.
“You guys write, ‘Isaiah’s prickle reputation makes him PERFECT for this part.’ But that’s not how I played him…If I don’t do my job right, people will say ‘He was a psychopath,’ and not give Muhammad another thought. He has characters flaws — infidelity, arrested development. What does that look like? He walks around with a little teenager named Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond who thinks he’s The Man. Because he needs that. Muhammad was a very flawed, horrible human being who needs to be respected by someone or something.”
And Washington accepted his own trial by media as preparation for this role, and others he has planned for the near future.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that these films are coming to me. I went through a media thing where I was painted this way and was supposed to be that way. Have you heard anything of that (homophobic) nature in six years? I’ve been going on with my life. Hopefully, people will realize ‘That’s not who he is.’
“So if nothing else, dealing with that means that I’m attracting these stories that suggest we have to give a little more thought to the way we label somebody and the sorts of things.”
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