(LOS ANGELES) — Before John David Washington, his father, Denzel Washington, rightfully held the title as Hollywood’s leading man.

The former athlete tells The Wall Street Journal he always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his two-time Oscar-winning dad, even if he couldn’t admit it. 

“I always wanted to do what he did, always wanted to be an artist,” says John David. “I jumped in and hid in this football persona, this athlete, literally putting on a helmet to hide my face, hide my identity.”

While attending Morehouse College as a football star, Washington suffered a leg injury in 2013, which prevented him from pursing a professional football career. A year later, he auditioned and landed for a role as NFL wide receiver Ricky Jerret on the HBO series, Ballers, which he secretly held back from his father. 

“I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” John David continues. “I’ll never forget how he expressed how proud he was of me. That was a great moment for me.”

Following 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, John David starred in 2020’s Tenet, which earned over $363 million worldwide, even during the pandemic.

Washington recalls entering a “dramatic” place for his next role in the upcoming film, Malcolm & Marie, alongside Zendaya. Shot under strict COVID-19 safety protocols last June, the film follows Washington and Zendaya as a not-so-perfect couple who return home after a movie premiere. As he eagerly awaits what the critics have to say, the two are left in their house alone, to discuss their relationship.

“I went from the biggest-budget film in my career [Tenet] to the lowest-budget film within a six-month time frame,” he adds. “I was like, ‘this is survival,’ but hey, if this is the last thing I get to do, I truly believe in it.”

Malcolm & Marie premieres on Netflix February 5.

By Rachel George
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