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The 4 Roles That Have Defined Denzel Washington's Career So Far

Image: The 4 Roles That Have Defined Denzel Washington's Career So Far
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By    |   Wednesday, 08 Apr 2015 08:29 PM

A two-time Oscar winner for film and a star of stage and television, Denzel Washington has emerged as the poster actor for certain topics: race relations, professional strife, and the power of history. Yet it’s not lost on critics and peers that the actor’s brand doesn’t solely rely on a single theme, but rather an uncanny ability to regale audiences with roles spanning the familiar, fresh, and even futuristic.

Here are four roles that represent Washington’s steadfast intolerance for comfort zones:

1. Dr. Philip Chandler, "St. Elsewhere" (1982-1988)

Though his first foray on the small screen was in a supporting role in the Olympics drama film “Wilma,” Washington’s break out role came years later on the NBC sleeper series "St. Elsewhere."

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“A young Denzel Washington was first known as the steamy Dr. Chandler, a do-good doctor in the run-down Boston hospital of St. Elsewhere,” noted She Knows. One of the only actors in the ensemble cast to stay for the entirety of this hospital dramedy’s six-year run, Washington offered depth to a role that could have been bound by the formulaic restraints of television.

2. Joe Miller, "Philadelphia" (1992)

Washington was still a rising thespian in the shadow of Tom Hanks’ megawatt star power when the two teamed up in “Philadelphia,” director Jonathan Demme’s critically acclaimed AIDS movie.

Hanks may have taken that year’s Best Actor Oscar for his performance of an HIV-positive attorney forced out of the workplace by bigotry, but Washington’s portrayal of his sleazy, prejudiced lawyer Miller exemplified the relative newcomer’s ability to skirt typecasting.

“Having so often played the victim of bigotry, Denzel turns the tables on audiences for a change by playing a bigot himself, expressing constant disgust about homosexuals,” said G. Bounacos of Movie Rewind.


3. Jerome Davenport, "Antwone Fisher" (2002)

The movie about a troubled sailor’s evolution at the hands of a psychiatrist was Washington’s first stint on both sides of the camera as both director and supporting actor. In treating the volatile Fisher, played by Derek Luke and based on a true story, Washington’s Davenport works through his own baggage.

Observing the actor’s directorial debut, movie critic Stephen Holden of The New York Times noted Washington’s ease in managing his peers: “As a director Mr. Washington shows a confident grasp of cinematic narrative in a hearty meat-and-potatoes style. But the most remarkable aspect of his behind-the-camera debut is his brilliantly surefooted handling of actors.”

4. Troy Maxson, "Fences" (2010)

Playwright August Wilson’s “Fences” was not the first or last highlight of Washington’s stage career, but it did mark the play performance that garnered the actor a coveted Tony Award. Washington once again tackles race issues as Maxson, an aging former baseball player grappling with family life during the social change spanning the late1950s and early 1960s.

Talkin’ Broadway reviewer Matthew Murray seems to favor Maxson’s original channeler, James Earl Jones, but the reviewer offers a square and ultimately favorable take on the “precisely pinpointed pressure” Washington applies to the role.

“The names, faces, and attitudes — toward him and his skin — might change, but his impenetrability doesn’t, and Washington wields it with a devastating force that keeps ‘Fences’ both trenchant and timeless.”

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A two-time Oscar winner for film and a star of stage and television, Denzel Washington has emerged as the poster actor for certain topics: race relations, professional strife, and the power of history. Here are four roles that represent Washington’s steadfast intolerance for comfort zones.
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2015-29-08
Wednesday, 08 Apr 2015 08:29 PM
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