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The Diva's interview with Kerry Washington

The Diva's interview with
Kerry Washington
One of the stars of
Ray (2004)

The Diva's Ray Movie review

Copyright Kamal Larsuel, 2004
The Discussion

Question:
I understand you got a chance to meet with the real Miss Robinson. What did you two talk about and what of that did you bring to the screen?

Kerry Washington:
That’s a really good question. We literally talked about everything from cooking to love to raising kids to wearing long sleeves in church. We talked about it all. I spent quite a bit of time with her, and she’s one of my favorite people. She’s just really a lovely, lovely woman. So I was able to bring a lot of her with me. The time I spent with her was like a little jewel that I just sort of carried with me on set all the time. But I didn’t talk to her while I was shooting because I like her so much that I didn’t want my fear of wanting to make her happy with the film get in the way of me playing a person with vulnerability and humility and all that.

Question:
This has been a pretty good year for you and you’re proving to have a remarkable range. What is it do you find about being able to do these characters that you find in yourself that makes it work for you, that you’re able to do really distinct renditions and is it something that you find in yourself or by good research? What makes it work for you?

Kerry Washington:
Wow! I think a lot of it I don’t understand totally. I know that I just love to act so I work really hard because it’s important to me. That’s the best answer, I think. But I think there are probably a couple factors. One is that I love to do research. It’s my favorite part of acting. And also that I’m an only child, so I spent a lot of time making believe when I was a kid, and I think that contributes a lot to my ability to expand my imagination. I had lots of imaginary friends so I still do.

Question:
Family first, personal sacrifice. What were you concerned about in the performance?

Kerry Washington:
What was I concerned about? Ah. The thing that was most important to me in my portrayal of Della, was her sense of spirituality actually. Her sense of divine good. That was really what I got most from her. That she just always wanted to do God’s will, and for her, that has a lot to do with love. So she believed in the power of love and I think that’s why for so long one could say that she enabled his behavior. She wanted to love Ray in a way that Ray needed to be loved for as long as she could. And she basically did that until it meant not loving herself and not loving her kids.

Question:
Having talked to Della, what did you think about Della in her character later allowed her to stand up to Ray when other women weren’t able to? And what happened to her singing career after meeting Ray?

Kerry Washington:
Her singing career did not exist when she started dating Ray. Like many women of her time and still today, she really wanted to place her family as a priority so her career was no longer really important. She certainly didn’t have to work once Ray became the huge success that he was. She had the ring. Nobody else had the ring. She was the wife. She really was. I think that was part of it. I think the other part, again, was her relationship with God. I think when she felt she could no longer be doing God’s will by standing by and watching him destroy his life, that’s when she did something about it. When she felt like his relationship with drugs was getting in the way of her ability to raise her children, that was when she did something about it.

Question:
Was she still with Ray when she went into the rehab?

Kerry Washington:
Yes.

Question:
What was the breaking point when she finally decided to go her own way?

Kerry Washington:
Gosh! A lot of people don’t even know that she eventually went her own way. They divorced like ten, fifteen years ago, really recently, and I think a lot of that again had to do with the kids. The kids were finally grown up and out of the house.

Question:
Did she talk to you about what finally …after all the stuff she went through, why did she finally leave him?

Kerry Washington:
You know, it’s really delicate answering these questions, because Ms. Robinson herself never did an interview with the press. Ever, Ever ever, ever. It was really important to her that her private life remain private. When she met with Jimmy White, one of the writers on the film, it was the first time that she had ever done an interview. And I mean, you can imagine, she was like the black Jackie O. Everybody wanted to talk to her. Ebony wanted her on the cover. Jet wanted her on the cover in her time and she never did it. It’s delicate for me. I have to be careful about what I share and don’t share. I will tell you thought that to this day she calls Ray Charles his soulmate.

Question:
Based on what you just stated, in the film, as the character, you were stating “don’t bring that life into my house”. Is that what that meant? Why she wouldn’t do interviews, because that was Ray?

Kerry Washington:
I think it had a lot to do with protecting the home life as the home. There was really a difference—as you can kind of see in the film—there was really a difference between Ray Charles Robinson and Ray Charles. It was really important to her that in the home, he had a safe space to just be Ray Charles Robinson, and that the road was the road and the home was the home.

Question:
Having worked with both, who was funnier, Jamie Foxx or Chris Rock?

Kerry Washington:
Wow. They’re funny in very different ways. They’re both hilarious, and I adore them both very much and I would work with them both in a heartbeat.

Question:
What’s next for you?

Kerry Washington:
What’s next for me? Lots of things! I’m in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt film that comes out probably this summer…next summer? Spring? And then I’m shooting Fantastic Four right now in Vancouver.

Question:
Why don’t you think people got She Hate Me?

Kerry Washington:
Hm…. Did people not get it? (laughs) Why do I think….That’s a really complicated question. I mean, one of the things that attracted to the film…at some point I remember a friend of mine saying, “Oh, wow, you’re doing that movie. Is it offensive? Are you scared? Is it offensive?” And I said, “of course, it’s offensive! Why would I do a Spike Lee movie that wasn’t offensive? That would sort of be a waste of time.” I think one of the things that attracted me to the project was that it was really old school Spike Lee. It’s been a long time since Spike has made a film to piss people off, and I think that he was really trying to rile…er…rally people and give people something to talk about, and I think that had a lot to do with it. I think also the politics of the film were very challenging for people and I think stood in the way of the film being seen in the way it probably should have.

Question:
Do you have plans besides acting to direct or politics?

Kerry Washington:
I’m leaving the White House for another Kerry right now, but… I am very, very interested in eventually directing. I’ve hired a writer that I’ve commissioned to write a piece for me that I’m working with right now. I’m co-producing another piece with a writer, which I was at Tribeca Film Festival developing. I have a lot of little projects under the table, but I think I have a lot to learn as an actor. I still have a lot of growing to do before I direct. But you know, as a woman, it would be silly for me to think that I would not pick up directing, producing or writing and not still have a career after a certain age. But it’s definitely something that I’m interested in doing.

Question:
Who are you playing in the Fantastic Four movie?

Kerry Washington:
Are you a fan of the comic book? I’m playing Alicia, who for those of you who are not fans, she is the blind girl that is in love with The Thing, which is really exciting for me because it’s not a character that is black. In the comic book, historically, she’s always been blonde haired and blue eyed, and the studio was really willing to go with us on this one, and I’m really, really excited to be doing it and I’ve signed in for sequels and all of that so it’s pretty exciting.

Question:
How does the Oscar buzz for this film make you feel?

Kerry Washington:
There’s a lot of Oscar buzz..yeah..it makes me feel proud. It makes me feel honored. That’s the word that keeps coming to mind for me. I’m really so honored to be a part of this film. It’s really so special. And I just feel really grateful that I have the opportunity to even be associated with this film.

Question:
As the character of Ray’s wife, what do you think he will say about this film?

Kerry Washington:
He actually did have a chance to experience the film before he passed, and he was really, really pleased with it, so that makes me very happy.

Question:
You just talked about Jamie being a very funny man. Could you talk about watching him make the transformation into this character?

Kerry Washington:
Yeah…Jamie is magical. He’s literally magical. If you spend five minutes in a conversation with Jamie, he will do you better than you do yourself. It’s scary. Really scary and sometimes very embarrassing, actually. He’s just like a sponge and he soaks it up. He has a real gift, and I don’t say that to take away from his craft, because he also takes his craft very seriously. And he works very hard at his craft, but he also has this very magical gift to just embody characters. When I came in for my audition, I was blown away and it was very early in his process of developing the character and I remember my agent and manager saying “What do you think? Do you think Jamie is going to be able to pull this off?” and I was like “Are you kidding me? He’s already got it..he’s got it down!”

Question:
Did you get a chance to talk to Ray Charles’ wife? Did that change your perception of him having heard from her eyes what she had to go through? (STOP COUGHING, SILLY PRESS PERSON IN THE AUDIENCE!!!)

Kerry Washington:
Yes! Having talked to Miss Robinson about her relationship with Ray…[[[flips someone’s tape over]]…okay…having talked to Miss Robinson about her relationship with Ray, I understood that the key element in making this character and this relationship work was love. Because she loved him... and still does love him…so thoroughly, so wholeheartedly…every choice that she makes in this film comes from her love of Ray. To tell him the truth, to not tell him the truth. To be hard on him, to comfort him. Every single choice comes from her absolute love of him. Yeah, and how many women do you know could be touched by the passing of their husband’s other woman. Because she loves him so much, it pains her when this other woman dies. It’s really so much about love, I think, and I got that from her, because she’s just this beautiful ball of love.

Question:
Do you think she recognized the Regina King character as her counterpart in Ray’s life?

Kerry Washington:
You know, In Ray’s life, in reality, there was more than just Margie, so …..you know, she really…the road was the road. And she was the wife and she had her home and she had a husband and the road was the road.

 

 

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