Santa Barbara Film Fest: Denzel Washington, on Campaign Trail for 'Fences,' Charms

The star bantered with audience members; broke out his Malcolm X impression; and said, in reference to his two Oscars and their new "SAG friend": "I will admit it, I did go into my library today and talk to them, I did."
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Leonard Maltin and Denzel Washington

"I appreciate your support for what I've done and I say thank you, in advance, for your support of what I'm about to do," said Denzel Washington as he accepted the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's Maltin Modern Master Award on Friday night. The 62-year-old's remarks came after a two-hour conversation about his career with veteran film critic Leonard Maltin and a short but sweet tribute from his Fences co-stars Stephen McKinley Henderson and Saniyya Sidney, whom he also directed in the film.

The 2,018-seat Arlington Theatre was jam packed for Washington's visit, which came less than a week after he won the best actor SAG Award, the last 13 winners of which went on to win the corresponding Oscar. If that happens for Washington, it will make him only the third man ever to accumulate three acting Oscars; no man ever has won more. When he took the stage following an impressive montage of clips from throughout his 35-year film career, he received a massive standing ovation.

Washington mentioned that he had just come from a visit with the first black man to win an acting Oscar, Sidney Poitier, whereupon Maltin asked Washington if he had felt a burden, as Poitier apparently had, to play honorable men on screen. "It doesn't appear so," Washington said, cracking himself up as he referred to some clips that just had run of him gunning people down and the like. He maintained similar good cheer throughout the proceedings, during which he bantered with audience members; broke out his Malcolm X impression from 1992's Malcolm X; and said, in reference to his two Oscars and their new "SAG friend": "I will admit it, I did go into my library today and talk to them, I did."

"I hadn't seen those clips in 20 or 30 years," Washington remarked of the carefully curated scenes of his work that Maltin cued up every so often, and which Washington seemed to enjoy watching as much as audience members. After the Malcolm X clip, he noted that director Spike Lee, with whom he has collaborated numerous times, "could see further than I could" about his potential. And after a clip of 1993's Philadelphia, he asked of its director, "Where is Jonathan Demme?" (Maltin reassured him that Demme still is working.)

It was clear that Washington's two great passions in life, at the moment, are the works of the late playwright August Wilson, which Wilson's widow has placed in his care and which he will bring to the screen as a producer ("To be asked to take care of his work is an honor"); and his family, specifically his wife and four grown children ("They're all in the business, two in front of the camera and two behind").

Sidney and Henderson closed out the proceedings with remarks that clearly touched Washington. Sidney called it "a gift" to be able to work with him, while Henderson said, "I had three dreams in my life, and I got to realize all three of them. The first was to meet Muhammad Ali. The second was to act in an August Wilson play. And the third was to work with Denzel Washington."

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