Covering Themselves In 'Glory' Denzel Washington's Wary Of Stereotyping His Career

Posted: January 11, 1990

NEW YORK — Actor Denzel Washington nearly turned down his role in "Glory" - the movie that opens tomorrow about the first black Civil War regiment - because he knows how easy it is to become pigeonholed in the eyes of Hollywood producers.

In fact, he said in a recent interview, one of the toughest aspects of his profession is balancing the desire to do films that deal with black issues against the danger of being typecast.

"It can become like a mold, you know - slave scripts. After a while, you start saying that you're not going to do anymore of those things," Washington said, recalling his thoughts when he was approached for the role of Trip, a former slave who enlists in the Union Army.

"That's probably what the hesitation was." He said that when he sat down with producer Freddie Fields and director Ed Zwick, "the first thing I said was, 'Look, I've done "Cry Freedom" already.' "

Washington, 35, played anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko in "Cry Freedom," and has also appeared in such powerful, race-oriented pictures as ''A Soldier's Story."

"My main concern," he said, "was that the story of the 54th is told.' "

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the first volunteer, all-black fighting unit to see action in the Civil War. Washington feels it's important that people become familiar with their story - and that's the main reason he decided to join the cast of "Glory."

"It wasn't so much the character. I didn't know much about the fact that almost 250,000 black Americans fought in the Civil War, and that's what drew me to the part. That wasn't taught in any of the history classes I took," Washington said. "I was excited about the opportunity to share that with people."

Washington conducted extensive research while preparing for the part, and was surprised to learn how little he knew about the wide role blacks played in fighting for freedom.

"The bottom line is that if blacks did not fight in the Civil War, the North may not have won, though there will be historians who will argue that point," he said.

The role of Trip is a crucial one in "Glory." Trip knows he wants to fight, but he's not sure he wants to fight on behalf of the American flag.

"He's an angry man, and a lot of that anger comes out of him when he is

put in a situation where he has a voice and not be killed or hanged for it. He doesn't know how to control it," Washington explained.

Washington counts "Glory" among his "heavy" pictures, and said he was glad for a chance recently to work on a different kind of movie.

He's just finished shooting a romantic comedy called "Variations on the Mo' Better Blues," directed by Spike Lee ("Do the Right Thing") and due to open sometime later this year. Washington plays a jazz trumpeter forced to choose between his career and his love for a woman.

He also has signed for the lead role in a movie biography of Malcolm X, drawn from his autobiography by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Charles Fuller. Norman Jewison ("A Soldier's Story") has been signed to direct the picture.

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