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Isaiah Washington, Taking On A Killer Of A Character

Sep 21, 2013
Originally published on September 21, 2013 1:06 pm

The motion picture Blue Caprice seems to be about a boy who's been abandoned by his mother and aches for a father. He meets a man who can no longer see his own children, and who longs for a son. They find each other — but what follows is anything but a happy ending.

Blue Caprice is a fictionalized tale based on the so-called Beltway sniper shootings that killed 10 people in and around Washington, D.C., in October 2002. (Though press and authorities warned the public to be on the lookout for a white van, it was eventually discovered that the murderers were using an old Chevy Caprice to stalk their targets.)

The film, directed by Alexandre Moors, stars Tequan Richmond, of the CW series Everybody Hates Chris, as the younger man and Grey's Anatomy's Isaiah Washington as his surrogate father. Washington tells NPR's Scott Simon that the film, whose story draws audiences closely into the lives of the killers, "really drives home that although you may have empathy for the characters, there's no room for sympathy. And that's not what we're asking for."


Interview Highlights

On creating a film based on the Beltway sniper attacks

You don't see my character actually hurt anyone. And I was very keen on that idea — that this was going to be more of a psychological thriller as opposed to glorifying or sensationalizing in any way, violence. And particularly coming on as a producer, I wanted to make very sure that we would handle the subject matter, although it's based on actual events, with kid gloves as best we could.

And I knew that if we blow this, then the film is doomed — and I'm particularly, personally doomed. And if we got it right, and [were] able to touch a human chord, then we can spawn some really profound dialogue about accountability, about responsibility of our leadership, militarism, post-traumatic stress disorder from former soldiers, how we're dealing with it, how we're not dealing with it — and just, violence in America, verbally, physically and otherwise.

On portraying a murderous character who's still human

Well it's just the same thing that I'm sure Johnny Depp and all the actors before me had to tap into: playing John Dillinger, whoever has played Jesse James, whoever has, multiple times, has played Al Capone. The history is there. Clearly these individuals I just named, for whatever reasons, in Americana are perceived as heroes. I'm not ... justifying my attempt to create a character that's clearly suffering from various degrees of mental instability.

We also wanted to challenge our community, the film community at large. This character is considered a monster? ... Other individuals portray — again, like the Al Capones, the John Dillingers, or even the Jeffrey Dahmers on film, it's "an extraordinary film," or "it's just a character." And we all know these people actually exist.

Obviously, although this man committed the crimes, in his mind it was justified because he was betrayed by the U.S. government. It was justified — like any criminal. They'll always say, "I didn't commit a crime; I was only at war. Or I was only fighting the system." We see this all the time.

On finding the character's "fatal charm"

We screened the film in Silver Spring, Md., and that was the defining moment. One woman said through her tears, that she felt that her experience has now been documented and validated — although it's not a biography. Another gentleman jumped up and said he knew another woman that knew [the Beltway snipers], and she still, to this day, will fight for the good parts of [them]. And he was challenging us, wondering why we weren't showing those conversations, and we had to remind him through his frustration and anxiety that we did do that.

We did show the character Lee [the younger man] feeding a baby, the day after he commits his first murder. We did show John Allen [Washington's character], telling jokes at a barbecue and having a great time. Just all the normal things you do in a day in the life of anyone. Everything was so matter-of-fact and so incredibly normal.

On his tumultuous departure from Grey's Anatomy

It was painful. It was unfortunate. And I did apologize. And the story was never right. Six years later, I'm still asked that question. Whereas six years later I've been virtually unheard, unseen, and maybe to some, not that homophobic train wreck that they were trying to make me out to be.

And I find it very interesting that here I am, playing a monster, and having [been] given a platform again to talk about humanity and larger things — I'm proud of my three-year tenure on that show. Dr. Burke still lives on that show, whether I'm there or not.

So the controversy I feel was necessary, although painful and confused. To this day, bigots try to embrace me and I shy away from them and tell them, "You've got the wrong guy." Then I walk in certain rooms like I'm the pariah, still today, like, "Well, why is he here? Why is he alive? Why is he still walking?" I have shot no one, I have hurt no one. I haven't spent one day in jail in the last six years. I haven't been in any rehab or busted for drugs. And there are many other people in Hollywood who have, and they still get the pass.

So I'm fine with me. My wife, my three kids, when I walk in the door, my child hugs me, and we have a great life. So that's my answer.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The new movie, "Blue Caprice," is about a boy who's left by his mother and aches for a father. He meets a man who longs for a son. They find each other, but nothing happy results. They go on the run together, rob, steal and sleep in a car that they buy with stolen cash, and the man tells the boy...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BLUE CAPRICE")

ISAIAH WASHINGTON: (as John) Hey, look, I helped you. I brought you here. I gave you all this. It is not enough just to say the words. You need to prove it. Do you love me? Then I need you to do something for me.

SIMON: "Blue Caprice" is based on the 2002 Beltway Sniper shootings, when John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo killed ten people. Tequan Richmond plays the young man, Lee. Isaiah Washington plays his father figure, John. Mr. Washington is perhaps best known as one of the surgeons on "Grey's Anatomy." We spoke with him last week before this week's shootings at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yards.

Mr. Washington is also the executive producer of "Blue Caprice."

WASHINGTON: By setting it up with these characters that become snipers, but starting off with who they were and when they were operating as just merely human beings, both of which have been abandoned or victimized in some way - you don't see that but you feel it - we wanted to explore various things; this desensitized feeling towards the culture of violence in America, and particularly bad fathering and bad leadership and what that gets us and where that takes us.

SIMON: Much of the film is set in the woods and an industrial town in Washington state where they're firing guns on a range or in a basement, but not at anybody.

WASHINGTON: Exactly. You don't see my character actually hurt anyone, and I was very keen on that idea, is that this was going to be more of a psychological thriller as opposed to glorifying or sensationalizing in any way violence, and particularly coming on as a producer I wanted to make very sure that we would handle the subject matter - although it's based on actual events - with kid gloves, as best we could.

And I knew that if we blow this, then the film is doomed and I'm personally doomed, but if we got it right and able to touch a human chord, then we can spawn some really profound dialogue.

SIMON: What do you have to, as an actor, tap into to show a man who is on the one hand capable of enormous violence as we know, and yet of course is human?

WASHINGTON: Obviously, although this man committed the crimes, in his mind he was justified because he had been betrayed by the U.S. government and he was justified - like, any criminal - will always say I didn't commit a crime. I was only at war or I was only fighting the system. We see this all the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BLUE CAPRICE")

WASHINGTON: (as John) You know, some evil people in this world. Like here. The lady who lives here is a real piece of (bleep), testified against me in court. That's what they do. They take your kids away, say that I kidnapped them. How can I kidnap my own kids? They're my kids. Then she just gets to live here like nothing ever happened. (Bleep) vampire. I hope she dies.

It really drives home that although you may have empathy for the characters, there's no room for sympathy and that's not what we're asking for, 'cause the reality is this man was doing some things that is just are not good.

SIMON: I have to ask, Mr. Washington, you left "Grey's Anatomy," in a kind of sensational bust-up after you were accused of and apologized for using an anti-gay epithet on set. How do you feel about that today?

WASHINGTON: It was painful. It was unfortunate and I did apologize, and the story was never right. Six years later I'm still asked that question whereas six years later I've been virtually unheard, unseen and maybe to some not that homophobic train wreck that they were trying to make me out to be. And I find it very interesting that here I am playing a monster and having given the platform yet again to talk about humanity and larger things.

I'm proud of my three-year tenure on that show. Dr. Burke still lives on that show whether I'm on there or not. So the controversy I feel was necessary, although painful and confused. To this day bigots try to embrace me and I shy away from them, tell them you got the wrong guy. And then I walk in certain rooms, people look at me like I'm the pariah still today and like why is he here, why is he alive, why is he still walking?

ISAIAH WASHINGTON: I have shot no one, I have hurt no one. I haven't spent one day in jail in the last six years. I haven't been in any rehab or busted for drugs. And there are many other people in Hollywood who have and they still get the pass, so I'm fine with me. My wife, my three kids. When I walk in the door my child hugs me and we have a great life. So, that's my answer.

SIMON: Isaiah Washington. He stars in the new film, "Blue Caprice." Thanks so much, sir.

WASHINGTON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.