King empire

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Bitten by the Bard bug… Denzel Washington takes aim at King Lear

Film legend Denzel Washington has the bard bug, following his acclaimed on-screen performance, full of deadly menace, as slasher Scot Macbeth.

Now Washington has revealed he has his eye on another great Shakespearean role: King Lear. And this time, he wants to play it on stage. ‘The word I!’ roared the actor.

‘It’s the right thing. These are big parts – and the biggest challenge. He said playing the aging and troubled king was “absolutely something I want to do”.

And the double Oscar winner hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing Lear to London. Although he cautioned, “Yeah, but you have to talk to people about money. I’m just an actor for hire.

If he plays Lear, it won’t happen until 2023, at the earliest, because he’s committed to a new movie. “After all that falutin’ Shakespeare high, I’m doing The Equalizer 3. It’s showbiz,” he said, laughing from his home in Los Angeles (we were talking on the phone…old fashioned…no Zoom for Denzel).

After portraying Macbeth on screen, film legend Denzel Washington (pictured) has revealed he has his eye on another Shakespearean role – King Lear – he wants to play on stage

Pictured: Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth

Pictured: Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth

The latest installment in the series of films in which Washington plays Robert McCall, a retired CIA assassin (it’s inspired by the 1980s TV series starring Edward Woodward), is set to shoot in fall.

“Mixing it all up,” as he describes his varied projects, keeps him from getting bored. At 67, he is trying to cut his film roles from two to one a year.

“I do more, but I play less,” he said, explaining that these days he spends more time directing (he was behind the camera on A Journal For Jordan, with Michael B. Jordan, which is now out) and to produce .

He plans to produce a film version of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, starring Samuel L. Jackson – and his son, John David Washington – after it has had a Broadway run, where it is due to open this fall. (It was delayed from 2021.)

LaTanya Richardson, Jackson’s wife, will lead the show on stage.

Washington said he spends more time behind the camera directing these days than playing

Washington said he spends more time behind the camera directing these days than playing

Washington was commissioned by Wilson’s estate to make films from the playwright’s ten-play cycle about the black experience in 20th-century America. He has already done Fences; and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The piano lesson will rotate, if everything stays on schedule, next year.

But Washington ruled out making the ‘murder movie’ – as Macbeth director Joel Coen called his beautifully shot black-and-white version of the Scottish play, which also starred his wife Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth – on the boards.

“I felt like I’d been through it before,” he said, “so I’d rather start on stage with Lear and really live it — then hopefully make a movie out of it someday. .”

Coen’s rigorous preparations for the film “felt like putting it together like a play”. What he loved, as a classically trained actor; but wouldn’t necessarily want to start over.

Eight months before filming began, he joined McDormand and Coen for a rigorous reading; five months later, the whole company joined in and started working on it.

Denzel described McDormand as “a force of nature”, adding that “when you work with Fran, sparks fly – and it’s exciting”.

Eight months before filming on Macbeth began, Washington joined McDormand and Coen for a rigorous reading;  five months later, the whole company joined in and started working on it

Eight months before filming on Macbeth began, Washington joined McDormand and Coen for a rigorous reading; five months later the whole company joined in and started working on it

The murderous couple they play is older than the usual interpretations. “It only raises the stakes,” Washington explained. “They literally have no time to waste.

And things have changed since the bard wrote the piece. “That was 400 years ago – and 40 was the new 60. Or was 40 the old 60? No matter! Anyway, people didn’t expect to turn 60,” he said.

Washington was full of admiration for the film’s supporting cast, which included many actors from our shores.

He quoted Kathryn Hunter, who plays the three witches; Bertie Carvel as Banquo; Alex Hassell as Ross; and Harry Melling as Malcolm. “British children all brought it,” he marveled.

All educated in the classics, “they knew how to rinse the words out”, as he said, to make them accessible.

Coen (wisely) told them not to worry about accents, “as long as there was no wank act,” Washington recalls, launching into a hard-hitting, declaratory style of speaking. . ‘Oh, my Lo-wd!’

He remembers working on Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film version of Much Ado About Nothing; and there was an older actor in the cast, more than likely Edward Jewesbury, who would perform off-camera, giving his “Irving” – a reference to Victorian actor-manager Henry Irving.

“Of course, these are precious words,” he continued, of Shakespeare’s lines, but they must be spoken in a style that modern audiences can follow.

PAY ATTENTION TO…

Kerry Ellis, who starred as Renee Sweeney, the champagne-loving evangelist, in the new touring version of director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s delightful production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.

Bonnie Langford, Dennis Lawson and Simon Callow will reprise the roles played by Felicity Kendal, Robert Lindsay and Gary Wilmot respectively in last year’s Barbican sensation, which saw Broadway’s Sutton Foster make his London debut as Reno.

New cast of Anything Goes: Simon Callow, Kerry Ellis, Denis Lawson and Bonnie Langford

New cast of Anything Goes: Simon Callow, Kerry Ellis, Denis Lawson and Bonnie Langford

Samuel Edwards, Nicole-Lily Baisden, Haydn Oakley and comedic wonder Carly Mercedes Dyer will reprise their 2021 roles with the new company.

The tour begins at Bristol Hippodrome on April 11, then visits Liverpool Empire, Edinburgh Festival Theater and the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, before dropping anchor once again at the Barbican, where it will run from July 15 to September 3.

Awards Season Puzzles. Like the fact that Nicole Kidman, Olivia Colman, Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Stewart – and Denzel Washington! – did not receive interim Bafta nominations yesterday. And what about Steven Spielberg, who was not cited in the best director category for West Side Story?

I’ve sat on enough awards panels to know these aren’t snubs. I remember Emma Thompson once saying that movies and performances shouldn’t be defined by trophies.

West Side Story's Ariana DeBose (centre) has been nominated for a Bafta for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in Steven Spielberg's musical remake

West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose (centre) has been nominated for a Bafta for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s musical remake

She’s right, but I’m still thrilled that West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose and Mike Faist got recognition.

I was an early champion of Joanna Scanlan in After Love and Emilia Jones (Coda), who received Best Actress nominations – as did Lady Gaga, for her performance (and a half!) in House Of Gucci.

I’m also happy for Jessie Buckley, Caitriona Balfe, Ann Dowd, Aunjanue Ellis and Ruth Negga, who join DeBose in the Best Supporting Actress race. It is a difficult category. Much more exciting than last year!