Isaiah Washington on returning to movies with ‘Blue Caprice’
Isaiah Washington talks a lot. A single, innocent question will prompt an epic response, veering from one subject to the next, answering ten questions in one foul swoop. He compares a day doing interviews for his latest film, “Blue Caprice” — a film on the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks — to therapy. Still, there was only one reference to the event that seemed to torpedo his career just as it was getting big: his allegedly dropping a homophobic remark in reference to his “Grey’s Anatomy” co-star T.R. Knight. He was whisked off the show and, after his next TV gig — “The Bionic Woman” — died a swift death, all but disappeared.
“Blue Caprice” is his alleged comeback, if a tiny one. It was made independently, with no studio money, by French director Alexandre Moors. It is not even specifically about the attacks, which don’t even start till 20 minutes are left. “We did not want it to feel like a biopic,” Washington says. “The characters are actually not John Allen Muhammad” — the ringleader of the shootings, played by Washington — “but just John Allen. He wanted to blur the lines.”
The events covered are over ten years old, but it was made to speak to our own times. “Being French, [Moors] couldn’t understand how American couldn’t get a handle on its violence, being the greatest country in the world” Washington says. “It was a metaphor for how violence is addictive to many Americans, and how easy it is to get firearms. You just go to a sporting goods store and for less than $200 they can be yours. If you make a plan to hurt someone, no one’s going to stop you.
“Not everyone’s as strong as you and I. I have my issues. I’ve been abused, I’ve been accused. The last six years people have said I have an awful axe to grind,” he says, then refers to his “Grey’s Anatomy” debacle. “But you haven’t heard from me.”
Washington has actually spent much of the last seven years abroad. After discovering he has genetic links to family in the Sierra Leone, he started making trips. He has been the chief of a small village since 2006, and has been involved in numerous humanitarian crises. He’s been at work producing a documentary called “Africans Versus African Americans,” about the disconnect between the continents’ populaces. It’s one of a handful of projects on the docket, including being a cast member on the sci-fi show “The 100” and — in a rather clear bid to atone for past deeds — the indie “Blackbird,” in which he plays the father of a gay son.
Though “Blue Caprice” was one of his big return films, his director wouldn’t let him go hog wild to make up for lost time. “His thing was ‘no acting’ — that less than less is more,” he recalls. “He didn’t want me to do anything. He just wanted me to be as normal and matter-of-fact as possible. That was extremely difficult as an actor: to do nothing and yet speak volumes.”
As for the events portrayed in the film, he remembers them more as part of a larger set of tragedies. “It was on year and a month after September 11. We were still raw,” he remembers. He had himself just lost his mother and a friend. “I thought it was the apocalypse. The terrorists are here, right in the backyard of the president of the United States. And they can’t find him?”