Admired for the meticulous preparation he brings to his roles and the seriousness with which he approaches his craft, Denzel Washington was summed up well by fellow actor Kenneth Branagh in an interview with Vanity Fair: “(He is a man with) intellectual weight, spiritual gravity, and a powerful sexual and romantic presence.”
Denzel was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., to a father who was a Pentecostal minister and a mother who worked in a beauty salon. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at New York’s Fordham University and soon began acting in student drama productions, including Othello, that inspired his professor Robinson Stone to comment: “He was easily the best Othello I had ever seen, and I had seen Paul Robeson play it” (Boston Globe).
When Denzel graduated in 1977, he moved to San Francisco to study at the American Conservatory Theater, where he had won a scholarship, but he left after a year to launch his professional career. Soon he landed a part in the CBS movie Wilma, on the set of which he met his future wife, Pauletta Pearson. He enjoyed success on the New York stage, particularly as a member of the OBIE-winning cast of A Soldier’s Play.
His career took off in 1982, when he landed a role on the successful NBC hospital drama St. Elsewhere, which brought him to the attention of an admiring public and helped him land big-screen roles. He gained international recognition for his Oscar-winning performance in Glory. He can switch easily between the action of movies like The Equaliser or Two Guns to the dramatic intensity of Fences (2016) for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
Full name: Denzel Washington Jr.
Date of Birth: December 28, 1954
Place of Birth: Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Education: Graduated from Fordham University in New York City with a B.A. in Journalism. Attended the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco for one year.
Big break: In 1982, Denzel landed the role of debonair Doctor Philip Chandler on the well-regarded NBC drama St. Elsewhere.
Defining role: His moving and intense portrayal of a proudly defiant slave-turned-soldier in the Civil War epic Glory earned him an Academy Award and a reputation as a first-tier actor.
“My mother’s decision to send me to private school in high school, getting me out of New York, probably changed my life because I would not have survived in the direction I was headed.” – Los Angeles Sentinel, 11/18/98
“My idea of a great night is going to pick the kids up from their day at the mall and listening to them talk about their day.” – The London Free Press, 11/6/99