Kerry Washington is all grown up. Mainstream audiences came to know the talented actress in 2001’s Save The Last Dance as Chenille, the sweet faced single mom who played fairy godmother to clueless white girl Julia Stiles. Since then, Washington has proved to be one of the hardest working players in the business, jumping between both mainstream and independent features.
Armed with beauty and a fierce intellect, Hollywood has been hard-pressed to marginalize her as just “another black actress.” Whether she’s a power lesbian in She Hate Me or a transgender prostitute in Life is Hot in Crack Town, Washington’s body of work exemplifies her chameleon-like ability to slip into any role and make it uniquely her own.
In her latest project, Kerry teams up with funnyman Eddie Murphy in A Thousand Words. She plays Caroline, wife to fast-talking literary agent Jack McCall (Murphy) who faces the ultimate in karmic justice when his less than honest ways catch up with him.
The Urban Daily chatted with Washington to discuss her racy scene in A Thousand Words, what she learned researching her role in the upcoming ABC series “Scandal” and her on screen reunion with Jamie Foxx in Quentin Tarantino’s slave western Django Unchained (coming to theaters December 25th).
TUD: In A Thousand Words, there’s a scene where you’re wearing some very provocative lingerie. You’ve also had to strip down for I Think I Love My Wife and She Hate Me. What kind of preparation do you undergo to prepare for these scenes?
Kerry Washington: Every role is different. I don’t do it unless it’s something I think it’s something important to the journey of the story. It comes out of the context of whatever I’m working on; but it’s always massively uncomfortable and awkward, I’ll tell you that (laughs).
You have a new series “Scandal” premiering on ABC next month. Your character is based on Judy Smith, a real life crisis management guru. What lessons have you learned in P.R. management?
It’s been really fun to wrap my mind around the way Judy thinks. It’s very strategic; it’s all like a chess game to her, thinking 4-5 steps ahead. So it’s been really fun to try to expand my mind. It’s so exciting to play a character like Olivia Pope who is vastly more intelligent than I am. It’s also made me more aware of things going on in the media when a scandal breaks out. A bunch of us in the cast will e-mail each other and ask “What would we do in this situation?”
You’re quite active on Twitter (@kerrywashington)—have there been times when you sent out a tweet and seconds later thought “Maybe I shouldn’t have sent that out?”
I think there have been times, yes. I try to be very conscious of the tweets I send; I mean, even though it’s a casual medium it does take effort. I also encourage my friends to do the same. We have to understand the impact we have on this new digital social media landscape and the permanence of what we say. I admire people who have complete freedom in what they say on Twitter, but I try not to tweet irresponsibly or insensitively.
In Django Unchained you play Jaime Foxx’s wife, who is being held captive by an evil plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). In light of the backlash Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have experienced portraying maids in The Help, are you anticipating any negative feedback since Django deals with themes of slavery?
The thing about art is that it’s subjective. The goal of art is never to please everyone, the goal is to tell a story. I know there’s always going to be positive and negative feedback. All you can do is make your choices and be as honest as you can in the storytelling and be committed to the creative process.
You are very open on your political views and have been on the road for Obama in 2008 and are campaigning for his re-election this year. Have you ever worried that politics will alienate your fans or jeopardize your career?
I don’t participate in politics as a celebrity; I participate in politics as an American. We’re all very lucky to live in a representational democracy and our job as citizens is to communicate with each other and with our leaders ideas that best represent us. No matter what I did for a living I would always participate in the political process.
You’re one of the most consistently working black actresses in Hollywood. What do you think has been the key to your longevity?
For me, I really like to work, that’s part of it. I’ve also taken a lot of risks in my work. This business is not a meritocracy; some of the most talented people work all the time and other talented actors can’t find work at all. I wish I understood it.
You can follow Kerry on Twitter: @kerrywashington
A Thousand Words opens in theaters March 9th.
Watch the trailer for 1000 Words!