Denzel Washington: “Until this Macbeth, I had never been satisfied with my interpretation of Shakespeare”

INTERVIEW – Nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Joel Coen’s version, Hollywood’s most successful African-American comedian opens up about awards season and his tormented relationship with the British playwright.

What still keeps Denzel Washington running? With two Oscars and ten nominations, he is Hollywood’s most successful actor and followed in the footsteps of his idol, the legendary Sidney Poitier. Supported by the co-director of Fargo Joel Coen and his wife Frances McDormand, he tackled for Apple TV+ the Shakespearean myth of Macbeth.

In the running for two other statuettes, this hypnotic and icy adaptation in black and white offers, on March 27, the 67-year-old actor a new chance to walk away with an Oscar if he manages to supplant the favorites Will Smith (The Williams Method) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power Of The Dog). As the awards season enters its home stretch – the Oscar voting period closes on March 22 – Denzel Washington is rolling up his sleeves. Le Figaro was able to speak with the star of Training Day and Maccolm X, gone on promotion.

LE FIGARO. – Did you know the play well before accepting the role?

Denzel WASHINGTON. – Not at all. I had never read the text, nor watched the previous adaptations. This ignorance has been a blessing. I was able to arrive free of any expectations and fully immerse myself in reading the play with Joel and Frances. We listened to the text for about a year. Something to reflect on how we interpret it in this transposition. I really liked Joel’s idea of ​​casting a Lady Macbeth and her elderly husband. This makes their desperation even more palpable. This is their last chance to seize power. Especially in their time, when life expectancy was around 40-50 years. This sixty-something Macbeth already has one foot in the grave. The reading of Joel insists on the fact that he shares the dark side of his wife, he is a killer. He followed his own evil desires. It wasn’t just his wife who pushed him to assassinate his king and seize the throne.

How did you approach Shakespeare’s text?

With humility and determination, like when I was a university student and discovered his prose. William Shakespeare is an author who asks us to be on his level. I felt a lot of pressure. Until now, I had never been satisfied with the interpretation I made of his texts. The power that devours Macbeth is a human obsession as old as the Old Testament.

Denzel Washington in The Tragedy Of Macbeth AppleTV+

What does this new Oscar nomination mean to you? How do you view this ceremony to which you have often been invited?

I was very lucky to have been in the running ten times, including as a producer for the Best Picture statuette thanks to Fences. I have known the two sides of such an evening, the one where you are the winner and the one where you are the loser. Which happens much more frequently! At my age and at this stage of my career, the most important thing is to stay consistent, to commit for good. In macbeth, I was able to meet and discuss in depth with young talents: Corey Hawkins, Moses Ingram. They impressed me. I even recognized myself a little, younger, in them.

Your first nomination dates back to 1988 with the drama Cry Freedom . With your experience, what advice would you give to young actors starting out?

Forget the cameras, get on the boards. This is where I learned everything. Do some theater before running the movie castings. The seventh art expresses the vision of a director. On the set of macbeth, I had a lot of fun being directed by Joel but also watching him choose his camera angles. As soon as I had a question of directing, I turned my hat around and went to see him. A piece rests on the shoulders of its performer. As soon as the curtain rises, the stage is yours. If you peel the list of Oscar-winning actors, you will see that they have in common a substantial career in the theater.


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