His Troubling Comeback Vehicle: Why Isaiah Washington Said Yes to 'Blue Caprice'

Isaiah Washington Headshot  - P 2011
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Dior

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 10: Actor Isaiah Washington  attends the Dior celebration of Fashion's Night Out at Dior Boutique on September 10, 2009 in New York City.

As the country comes to grips with yet another senseless mass-killing, the unthinkable questions posed by the Beltway sniper film seem as timely as ever.

Isaiah Washington remembers well his first reaction to being pitched Blue Caprice, a loose dramatization of the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks told from the point of view of the killers. "I shut down," the 50-year-old old actor tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I was like, 'No way.' I had too many biases and issues that I said, 'No way -- that's not going to happen.'"

The offer came to him the same way all of his gigs have in recent years -- via his Facebook page. Washington had all but dropped out of Hollywood since his high-profile firing in 2007 from ABC's Grey's Anatomy for twice using a homophobic slur -- once during an on-set blowup, and then again backstage at the Golden Globes. He says Hollywood has largely shunned him since the firestorm, and his budget for things like publicists and agents quickly dried up; Mark Zuckerberg's social media site has thus become his de facto rep team.

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But none of that bothered director Alexandre Moors, best known for his video collaborations with Kanye West, who had been dead-set on hiring the actor to play shooter John Allen Muhammad. (Moors had been a fan of Washington's since first seeing him in Spike Lee's 1995 drama, Clockers.) A French graffiti artist and filmmaker who has lived in America for 20 years,  Moors had no script to show Washington when he first approached him in July 2011. But a two-hour phone conversation was enough to coax the actor, who spends much of his time lately in Africa pursuing charity work in Sierra Leone, out of exile.

"I was moved by his talent," Washington says of Moors. "Like Spike Lee, this guy is visionary. The way he shoots his world is beautiful. It reminded me of Spike and of Stanley Kubrick. That was more than enough for me to think, 'If I don't work with this guy, I may miss an incredible opportunity as an artist.'"

Having lost his own absent father to violence when he was 13, Washington was drawn as much to Moors' technical skill as he was to the director's vision for Blue Caprice as a "movie about good fathers and bad fathers." The quiet, methodical film tells the horrific story of Muhammad (Washington), a man who absconds with his three children to Antigua after custody of them is granted to his ex-wife. There he meets Lee Malvo (played with a devastating vacuity by Tequan Richmond), a teen abandoned by his own mother and in desperate need of guidance.

Muhammad, a former military man with cunning tactical skills, returns to the U.S. with the boy and promptly indoctrinates him in his vengeful and nihilistic mindset. The two then embark upon their three-week terror spree, purchasing and modifying the menacing vehicle of the title into a roving killing machine and taking out victims at random.

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"I can safely say that the only through line that could justify my performance and remove me from my biases, concerns, fears and my anger about the real embarrassment of the African-American father, was that John Allen Muhammad also was a father," says Washington, a father of three, of his long, hard search for character identification. "When [his children] were taken away from him, in my opinion, that was the thing that broke a very, very psychological and fragile camel’s back."

As the country comes to grips with yet another senseless mass-killing on U.S. soil -- this time at a naval office building near Capitol Hill -- the unthinkable questions and unknowable answers posed by Moors' chilling and thought-provoking film seem, for better or for worse, as timely as ever.

"He wanted to say something that was bothering him," says the star of his director's intentions. "Why can't we get a handle or stop this violent culture that we have here, man? Why is it so easy for there to be such a loss of life in America, when so many people around the rest of the world, with worse conditions, worse leadership, are looking to us?"

Blue Caprice premieres on VOD services like iTunes, Time Warner, Comcast and Cablevision on Sept. 17 and rolls out on theater screens across the country through Sundance Selects over the coming weeks. Check here for a date near you.