Hollywood Flashback: When John David Washington, 13, Saw Dad Denzel Immortalized at the Chinese Theatre

DENZEL WASHINGTON and Family
Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

The 'Tenet' star originally planned to play football — but fate saw him step into his Oscar-winning father's footsteps instead.

One bona fide movie star in a family is pretty good; two is rare. But with the Sept. 3 domestic theatrical release of Tenet, the latest from Christopher Nolan, its 36-year-old lead, John David Washington — eldest son of Denzel— is set to become one.

The plan had originally been football, which he played to great success at Morehouse College, leading to recruitment by the St. Louis Rams. After a torn Achilles tendon in 2013 sidelined him, John David (or J.D. to his friends) quietly pursued the backup dream of following in Dad’s massive footsteps. Growing up the eldest of four siblings in L.A., John David would recite entire scenes from 1989’s Glory — the film for which his father won his first Oscar (the second was for 2001’s Training Day) — from memory. (His dad even surprised John David with an original Glory costume for Christmas one year.) In 1998, John David, then 13, watched proudly as his father was immortalized in the courtyard at the Chinese Theatre. (Led by their big brother, the Washington kids helped push Dad’s hands into the wet cement.)

John David’s big acting break came in 2015 with a role on HBO’s Ballers. Then one day, Spike Lee, who’d known him since childhood, offered him the lead in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman. But Nolan had been a fan since spotting him in Ballers and, not knowing who his dad was, arranged a meeting. He wrote Tenet with John David in mind.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.