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March 2007
I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE: An Interview with Kerry Washington

I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE: An Interview with Kerry Washington
By Wilson Morales

Chances are that if you are an actor working alongside Kerry Washington these days, you will likely receive lots of attention, good or bad. In her last few roles, she’s worked with Jamie Foxx (Ray) and he won an Oscar and she recently worked with Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) and he too won an Oscar. On the flip side, she co-starred with the Wayans Bros. in “Little Man”, and the film won a couple of Razzie Awards, which celebrates the worst in film. So either way, Washington is appealing one way or another. While playing the dramatic wife with Foxx and Whitaker has its merits, it really didn’t the showcase all of Washington’s talents. Her striking beauty and the chance to play a seductress hasn’t been explored on the big screen until now. In “I Think I Love My Wife”, Chris Rock’s remake of a Eric Rohmer French film, Washington plays Nikki, an old acquaintance of Rock’s Richard character who blows in town and aims to his formerly routine as a happy husband and father right out of the water. In speaking to blackfilm.com, she describes as her character, the type of films that attract her, and her status on the sequel to “The Fantastic Four.”


How does it feel to play a home wrecker?

Kerry Washington: It’s an interesting change. I think it’s a good change. After playing the wife in “Ray” and playing the wife who’s cheated on in ‘The Last King of Scotland”, there was a danger of being typecast as the cuckold wife. It’s just another great opportunity for me to change the way that I’m seen in my work, which is always important to me.


Did you select the outfits? How much input did you have the choice?

KW: The wardrobe and hair and makeup are always really important to me, but Chris and Louie (C.K) have been working on the script for over five years and he was really clear on what he wanted the character to look like. Sometimes that was hard for me because I don’t dress that way. So yeah, it was a risk for me as an actor. It was a different kind of person that I have ever played really.


Was there any over the top in terms of playing it? It’s a very broad character in terms of going out there. Did Chris say to go “this level, this level, this level” and picked which one he cut? Or did he know where he wanted you to go?

KW: It’s interesting. It was a really nice balance. I think one of the things that attracted me to this character to the challenge of playing this character was that Nikki is someone who can very easily become a stereotype or caricature on the screen; and when I read her I saw how much depth there was on the page. That monologue about being the old girl in the club, that was in the script, and I thought that was really poignant for two men to have written for this woman. I really wanted the opportunity to bring the depth to her that I think she deserves. I think we all know Nikkis but to go behind…where’s the psychological justification? What’s the emotional world that allows for this kind of behavior? That to me was the interesting challenge, was to take her from being sort of a Jessica Rabbit to being a really flawed complicated emotional psychological reality. Where Chris was really helpful was the specifics on how she dresses. I have a much higher pitched voice than she does so he was constantly asking me to drop my voice lower. These things were actually surprising to me because I didn’t to get as much support from Chris as a director as I got to be totally honest with you. I keep making fun of Spike Lee. I keep saying, “Chris directed me much more than you did”, which he doesn’t like at all.


Do you know anyone like Nikki that you can tap into as far someone who has that lifestyle of clubbing and so forth…

KW: Yeah. I grew up in New York City. I’ve seen them. I know them.


Is it hard to have a platonic relationship with men?

KW: Is it hard for me personally?


Yeah.

KW: No.


So that role, in a sense, in the beginning suggests that you can have a good friendship with a male.

KW: I think Nikki is a very complicated person. I don’t think she was ever interested in anything platonic, that character. I don’t think that’s where Nikki coming from at all. Nikki and I are completely two different people.


Do you see yourself as Nikki did ultimately deciding to marry someone that she wasn’t in love with at that time, but thinking this is a decent guy who can be a good provider and maybe I’ll fall in love with her eventually?

KW: That’s a complicated question. I don’t know. There are societies that have existed like that for ages, the whole kind of arranged marriage idea, so whom am I to judge. I don’t know. I’m not married so I’m not going to even pretend that I know anything about being married or having to get work.


Did you ever see (the French film) “Chloe in the Afternoon”?

KW: I did.


Have you see other Eric Rohmer films?

KW: I have. I have.


Did they have any impact?

KW:  Absolutely. I was actually really impressed that Chris decided to remake this art film from France in the 70s. I was kinda like, “What do you know about Eric Rohmer?” When I saw the original and I had seen other Rohmer films before reading his script and then I read his script and saw the original and I was really impressed the way he and Louis C.K were able to update it and to me it’s a really neat testament to how these issues are really universal issues. It works as much for an African American family in the United States as it does for a French family in the 70s in Paris.


Was there any part of the film that you considered a favorite?

KW: Interesting, my favorite moment of the whole film is a moment that I’m not actually in. I think the most beautiful moment in the film, and I think Gina (Torres) is so beautiful in the film. I think her acting is flawless and the moment when he comes home from the club and she has that moment sitting on the steps where she says, “I don’t know what’s wrong but fix it”, there is such a “wow” of emotion in that line and it just totally blew me away. I think it’s a really important moment to the film because I think you do get caught up in Nikki’s fun and exciting and she’s sexy and yeah, yeah, yeah; and then all of a sudden in that moment you realize what’s at stake for him, and it’s very poignant. That’s my favorite. It’s the most beautiful crafted moment of the film.


You mentioned how in “Ray” and in “The Last King of Scotland”, you played certain types of women and in this film, you got to play another type of women. Are there roles that you are looking for or you actively helping to produce those types of roles?

KW: I’m starting to develop and produce things, both for myself and projects that are not for me as an actor. That’s really exciting for me. It’s hard. What’s interesting about being an actress is that unlike being a pianist or a violinist where you have this instrument separate from you that you can sort of master, I am the instrument of my expressions, so I am constantly changing physically and psychologically, so my dream roles are constantly changing because I feel what I have to bring to my craft is always evolving. There’s so much I want to do, but the most important thing to me is what I said before, is the ability to keep shifting it. I have ad so many people in the last month come up to me and say, “I had no idea that it was the same person; that you are the same person from “Ray” and from “Last King (of Scotland)” and in this person”; and to me, while that may be frustrating for my publicist, it’s a compliment for me. That’s the ultimate compliment as an actor.


Would Nikki have been remotely attracted to Richard if he wasn’t married?

KW: Oh, that’s such a good question. I’m not sure if I really thought about that. I think she would have because I don’t think it was about him being married. I think it was about his money for her. It’s security. I don’t think it’s the fact that he’s unavailable. I think it’s the fact that she needs to be taken care of, for Nikki, more than anything because she does wind up getting married to someone who is available. This is what I sort of developed for Nikki and it’s interesting because it’s very different from my childhood. In my childhood growing up, I was not the pretty one in the group. There was another girl I often joked that this girl is the reason I’m in therapy today. There was another girl who was the pretty one and who got all the attention; and so I, from a very young age, decided I was going to be a smart one. I was going to be the smart one and the funny one. I was going to go on personality because I wasn’t pretty, which is a whole another complicated issue within the black community. (Laughs) I think Nikki is one of these girls who has always been beautiful. She’s always been the prettiest person in the group; and she never was forced to be self-reliant. She was always taken care of. She was able to get over on her looks and always thought that other people would take care of her; and now she’s at an age where if that really hasn’t happened then she doesn’t know what to do because she doesn’t know how to take care of herself. That’s sort of the backstory that I developed for Nikki.


What social causes and charities are you involved with?

KW: That’s an interesting question. I’m on the V council, which is the advisory board that works with Eve Ensler and her V-day organization. We did “The Vagina Monologues” all over the world and worked to end violence against women. That’s an organization that’s really important to me. I’m also on a board of an organization that’s called the Creative Coalition, which fights arts advocacy, 1st Amendment Rights, Arts and Education, and we do a lot of advocating on the hill and just working to support the arts in America. Those are two issues that are close to my heart.


Considering Nikki’s needs to be taken care of, what did she see in the ex-con she was dating? Was that the bad boy syndrome?

KW: No. When I do a movie, I do all these detailed noted in the margin. I should have flipped through my binder. I think it’s the same thing. He was someone who made her feel taken care of, in a more street way. He had a really nice apartment. That apartment was really cool and he had money and friends in low places, which is sometimes better than friends in high places. She was wearing a lot of bling so clearly she was taken care of.


You were recently at the Independent Spirit Awards….

KW: Didn’t I look cute?


Was it funny to present the award to Ryan (Gosling) having Forest (Whitaker) in the same category?

KW: I know, which is so funny because so many people said to me, and I’ve known Ryan for a long time and he’s a friend, and that’s why I was so excited when I opened the envelope, and everyone said that I was so excited when I opened the envelope, “we all assumed it was Forest”, and I was like, “He wasn’t nominated for Last King (of Scotland)”.


Did you stick around for any of the Oscar parties?

KW: I did. I went to the Vanity Fair party.


Did the Wayans Brothers have a party for their Razzie (award)?

KW: I just got a text message from one of the producers of “Little Man” saying congratulations on your Razzie win, and I was like, “Really?”, but I think the movie won one, which I’m part of the movie, and I said, “Wow! It’s been such a big week for me. It was the best of times and the worst of times.”


What other projects are you working and looking to produce? Are they projects that would fall within independent films? Or are they more mainstream?

KW: Both; and some are for television. I’m not in the ones for television. It’s a very fluid world these days. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between independent filmmaking and studio filmmaking because all theses studios have these little independent satellites. It’s a big question for me actually what is independent filmmaking these days. It feels like there’s shades of gray. There’s like independently financed films, lower budget studio films that are masquerading as independent films and then there’s studio films. It’s interesting. I just want to get my projects made in a home that respects them.


Ryan Gosling had mentioned at the Independent Spirit Awards that it’s a matter of budgets, where there’s low cost there’s more freedom. Do you agree with that?

KW: Where’s there low cost, there’s more freedom? Yes, I do agree with that, but I also think that’s a relative statement because low cost for someone like Fox Searchlight is high cost for someone like Thinkfilm. High cost for someone like Sony Classics is low cost for someone like Paramount, so I think it’s relative, very relative.


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