John David Washington has revealed that he had an out of body and spiritual experience the moment that he held the real Ku Klux Klan membership card that Ron Stallworth was given in real-life.
Washington plays Stallworth in “BlacKKKlansman,” so he spent several weeks getting to know the former detective, who, over the phone, infiltrated the white supremacist group during the 1970s, even speaking to Grand Wizard David Duke, while a white officer met them in person.
During his time with Stallworth, Washington was shown this card, and he admitted to me that holding it in his hand was a powerful moment.
“This might sound like an artsy answer, but when I held the card, the real KKK membership card, because he is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.”
“When I saw that card and that signature of David Duke, and the first rules of Fight Club thing on the back of the card. That kind of gave me everything.”
“What it did to my soul and my spirit was the sort of portal of him letting his spirit into mine, and we were off to the races.”
But while Washington eventually came face to face with Stallworth, director Spike Lee initially kept the duo apart.
“I started buzzing Spike, being like, ‘Can I get a number, can I get a number for Ron?’ But he didn’t want me to connect with him too soon. Too far out of the project.”
“Which I thought was great, on purpose, and to my benefit. I did background stuff, research in that period. But once I got to talk to Ron he went into great detail about the late 60s and 70s, which was great and really helpful.”
“Once I got to talk to Ron, and I was talking to him weekly, we got into a lot of different stuff. Obviously what it was like being a detective, being the first African American detective in Colorado Springs, and then what goes into that, the emotions of his journey. It really helped me to carve out the performance.”
Lee was adamant that Washington’s performance wasn’t an imitation of Stallworth, though. “Spike would say Ron is not the Bible. I imagine that is why he didn’t want me to meet him too early.”
“He didn’t want me to hit the notes, be too on the nose, be too buttoned up. And I appreciated that, because you can’t be like that with Spike. This is art imitating life, life imitating art, so you have to bring a bit of yourself into these performances, and that will make it work out fine.”
When it comes to just how truthful “BlacKKKlansman” is Washington insisted, “That would be up to Spike to tell you that, because he saw it all.” But he was willing to go into his own “journey and mission” with the character and film.
“It was all pretty much straightforward. But that’s so difficult and a trap, because if you play it straightforward you give a straightforward performance. And that is not how Spike works.”
“You have to be more whimsical to be able to contort yourself in order to give the best performance. A lot of times the stuff you plan for doesn’t happen. The stuff that happens organically, in the moment, is the best stuff.”
“Those are magical moments, and they are what I live for. Being in the environment that Spike set meant that we were able to get them.”
“So you get all the information you can. You do all the research you can, to exhaustion. Then the hardest part is to let it go on game day. And that’s a combination of trust and research and natural ability, whatever you bring to it, and the result is the film.”
“BlacKKKlansman” is released on August 10.