The Untold Truth Of John David Washington

Telling people your father is Mr. Washington probably won’t raise an eyebrow. But if you use the first name, Denzel — that’s another thing. This is the reality for John David Washington, one of legendary actor Denzel Washington’s children. John David Washington’s career path could not have been further from his father’s. As a former football player, he appeared to be the athletic one of the family — until a major life event upended everything. Bu,t it turned out for the best, as John David paved his own way in Hollywood. After a role in the series Ballers, he quickly became one of the hottest actors. He’s starred in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansmen and The Old Man & the Gun, to name a few flicks. 

Even as the movie industry struggled to figure out how to deal with restrictions and closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, John David found a way to handle it with grace. He promoted the movie Tenet by Christopher Nolan, which was partially released at home and in theaters, and he filmed Malcolm & Marie alongside Zendaya. “I think I’m doing all right to keep going, to keep pushing,” the actor said about his wild ride in the unprecedented times (via Complex).

What’s your favorite role by the younger Washington? It’s time to tackle the untold truth of John David Washington.

John David Washington's mixed childhood experiences

As the son of Denzel Washington, you might be able to guess where John David Washington grew up: he and his siblings were raised in Los Angeles. And like many fans of his father, the young boy became inspired by Denzel’s on-screen performances. John David admitted to Vanity Fair, “I knew every one of my father’s lines in Glory.” And he remembers watching the civil war drama — one of Denzel’s best — so much that he “broke the VHS tape.”

Even with a celebrity dad, things weren’t always easy for the young John David. In fact, he was treated differently because of his skin color. “Of course I’ve felt racism,” he told Vulture about his upbringing. He remembered while attending private school, “I had cornrows, and when I picked ’em out, certain people that didn’t look like me always wanted to touch ’em.” And he remembered, “One time, I just said, ‘Yo, hell no.'” In addition to negative “locker-room rhetoric” he heard at private school, John David was also a victim of racism during his summer holidays. He and his family spent time in North Carolina every year, “where he’d been called ‘the N-word.'”

John David Washington is a total TV junkie

As an actor, John David Washington appreciates the craft of other stars on TV. He started as a TV actor on the HBO series Ballers, so it makes sense that he watched other series from the cable network’s family of popular shows. But… you might be surprised by which ones. “Charlotte, that was my girl. I love her,” Washington told Esquire, referencing the character from Sex and the City. Reportedly, the actor first started getting into the famous series “when he was in the NFL, buying the pink book with the full series on DVD.” And like many other fans, Washington said he loved watching The Sopranos. One of his favorite characters on the show was the matriarch of the title family, Carmela Soprano — played by Edie Falco. “I love what they allow her to do and where she goes,” Washington recapped. And in the actor’s opinion, “I just think it’s some of the most brilliant acting I’ve ever seen.” These two shows were part of the HBO era that helped Washington “fall in love with TV.”

Over on Netflix, Washington enjoyed guilty pleasures like many other viewers. Particularly, the documentary Tiger King. “I’m really curious about what happened to old girl’s husband,” he said about the Carole Baskin plotline. “They should reopen the case is what I think,” Washington added.

John David Washington's little known roles

Fans know John David Washington from his high-profile movie and TV roles, like BlacKkKlansmen and Ballers. But did you catch his first appearances on camera? The actor made brief cameos as a child in two films starring his father, Denzel Washington. The first appearance was in Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X. When John David was only eight years old, he appeared on set for the film. In an interview with The Breakfast Club, the actor revealed that Spike Lee personally encouraged him to act. He reportedly told the young boy to “go ahead, step up and do it.” You can see the cameo at the end of the film when “kids stand up and say, ‘I am Malcolm X.'” John David said, “I’m the first kid up.” But the acting credit didn’t come with any extra bonus. For his “seven takes” of work, John David laughed and said he didn’t get paid for his performance.

Another brief glimpse of John David came a few years later, again on the big screen. This time, in the 1995 film Devil in a Blue Dress. As recounted by GQ, he appeared as “a boy holding a toy rifle.” According to the article, John David was eleven years old at the time.

The football career of John David Washington

Since his high school days, things seemed to be on the perfect trajectory for John David Washington. According to SI, after securing a full-ride to college, the athlete finished with an absolutely stellar career. As the best running back in the school’s history, he decided to enter in the 2006 NFL draft. But sadly, his success ended when Washington went undrafted. 

Looking back, Washington believes “his relatively slow 40 time (4.7 seconds) for a back of his size” contributed to the teams passing on him as a player. Despite not earning a contract as an NFL rookie, he still earned a spot on the “St. Louis Rams’ practice squad,” and in his first season, Washington notched “his first NFL carry” of nine yards. Though it was only in a preseason game and after the rush, he said, “that was about it.” Then, in just his second season with the squad, Washington injured himself. The athlete pushed through the pain, “refusing to stop practicing,” but the team still cut him loose.

Opportunities existed outside the NFL, and Washington found a home in the UFL — a league that later closed. He played for the California Redwoods and became a starting running back in his second season. Even with some success, “for four seasons he was simply grinding for opportunities.”

John David Washington reveals how he started acting

In 2013, John David Washington was looking to join the NFL. Though previously unsuccessful, he seemed to be poised to break into the league after a stint in the UFL. While working out with NFL players and trying to fight his way back, Washington injured himself. Tragically, he suffered a “torn Achilles,” per SI. The timing and severity put an end to his football career. 

While injured and trying to figure out what to do next, his friend presented an option. As Washington told CNN, “a close friend of mine, who is now my agent, wanted me to audition for a TV show about football players. I told him I wanted to go study, to go to school for [acting] and he said, ‘No, do both. Learn how to get rejected in the audition process while studying.'” Washington’s time on the field must have helped — plus some talented acting genes. After 10 auditions, Washington recalled, “I booked my first job.” Washington played the role of Ricky Jerret, a wide receiver on the HBO series Ballers.

After starring in the series with Dwayne Johnson, Washington’s career took off with numerous other offers. And with this success, the actor finally could admit his passion. In an interview for Vanity Fair, Washington confessed that growing up, “I hid my love of acting to make it as my own man. Football was the best route to obtain my independence.”

John David Washington's blockbuster moment

John David Washington’s breakout movie was BlacKkKlansmen by Spike Lee. In the film, the actor portrayed Ron Stallworth, a “real-life police detective,” CNN recapped. And luckily for Washington, Stallworth was still alive at the time filming began. The actor linked up with the man he would imitate on-screen to better understand his experiences.

 “When I got to meet him, he showed us his Ku Klux Klan membership card and it really brought it home, feeling the weight of that. It was incredible,” Washington recalled. After spending time together, Washington learned “the truth, inside out” and could bring an authentic performance to the film. Lee suggested that Washington shouldn’t “get too hung up on trying to act like” Stallworth. The actor took the advice “not to try to imitate or act like him” and instead could “trust [his] instincts.” For his dynamic performance, Washington earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama.

Looking back at the success, Washington gives a lot of credit to the famous director. “Lee is so confident in who he picks that, as his actor, your confidence soars,” Washington told Vanity Fair, adding, “I was overjoyed to help tell his story.” Washington also credited the talented cast surrounding his character. “I was able to trust those instincts because you are playing opposite so many great actors,” like Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace.

John David Washington's relationship with his father

For John David Washington, one of his earliest memories is with his father, Denzel Washington. According to John David, he was five years old at the time and remembered walking with his dad in Manhattan. The young boy listened on as Denzel practiced lines out loud. The line, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” was written by Shakespeare, and Denzel was rehearsing and preparing for a performance in Central Park, as recapped by SI. Later on, John David remembered his father’s performance in the play Richard III as part of the Shakespeare in the Park production. Denzel is one of many famous actors, like Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, who are alumni of the long-running production. This memory is significant for John David in more than one way. Besides seeing the power of his father’s gift in acting, it was also one of the rare times that he and his father were together “unbothered on the streets.”

As a teenager, John David remembered his life was defined by Denzel’s celebrity. “I saw how people changed when they found out who my father was. I used to lie, saying he was a construction worker or in jail, just to have some sense of normalcy,” he confessed to Mr. Porter. John David said that to avoid judgment, “I hid who my father was. I guess I was protecting myself.”

Is John David Washington single?

In 2021, Sam Levinson — the creator of Euphoria, once again teamed up with Zendaya. This time, for the movie, Malcolm & Marie. The film is the story of two lovers played by Zendaya and John David Washington. The drama is filled with mixed emotions from the two but central to the premise is the love between the characters. Certain viewers felt that the relationship, even fictional, was unrealistic. Mainly, for the age gap of 12 years between the two lead actors. In response to the critics, Washington — the elder of the two actors — supported his co-star. “People are going to see in this film how much of a woman she is,” he told Variety about Zendaya. “She has far more experience than I do in the industry. I’ve only been in it for seven years,” he added. And because of the difference in on-screen experience, Washington revealed, “I’m learning from her. I’m the rookie.”

Things are perhaps no less complicated for Washington’s real-life romantic relationships. In an interview for The Breakfast Club, the actor revealed he had been in two prior relationships. But according to Washington, things ended both times because of his own paranoia. “It was me,” he admitted, adding that he questioned whether the other person liked him only because of his famous father.

John David Washington success in higher education

When it came time to attend college, it’s possible John David Washington had a wide range of choices — especially with two successful and famous parents. But the young man went to college not based on the celebrity of his parents but rather his athletic ability. Washington attended Morehouse College, an HBCU in Georgia, he told CNN. If that’s not all, he was also attending on a football scholarship. For his time on campus, Washington more than fulfilled his athletic expectation to the team. “When he graduated, he was the school’s all-time leading rusher,” SI noted.

While at the HBCU, Washington was busy on and off the field. He didn’t study any of the performance arts to take after his parents. Instead, he thought about helping others. “I was a sociology major and enjoyed it,” he explained to Variety. Washington revealed that if his success as an actor never came to fruition, he might have been “a psychiatrist.” Alternatively, “coaching or maybe teaching.” The actor explained that he’s still young and has plenty of experiences left — and he could always return to those other paths. “It still could happen, by the way, you never know,” Washington mused.

John David Washington's other famous parent

Of course, most people in the world recognize John David Washington’s dad. But his mother, Pauletta Washington, is also an incredibly talented performer. She is a classically trained pianist who went to The Juilliard School in New York. If that’s not all, she was also starring on Broadway at the time when she met Denzel. In fact, Pauletta was making more money than Denzel when the two first started dating. John David explained in an interview on The Breakfast Club that his mom switched the typical gender roles in their meet-cute. “She paid for the date,” John David revealed.

After, the two became parents and watched their little boy grow up. John David remembered his parents cheering him even as his career changed paths. “My parents were 100 percent supportive — my mom’s my biggest fan,” he explained to Vanity Fair. As far as Denzel, John David said, “my father’s tough love.”

One of John David’s favorite things about his mom is her “magic recipe” for mac and cheese, he told Haute Living. John David even admitted that he keeps “a batch chilling in the freezer of his rented L.A. digs” for comfort food on demand. “She makes the best mac and cheese on the planet, and I need to know how to make it,” he admitted while adding, “goals for real.” According to the article, this same recipe makes an “unforgettable appearance” in the 2021 film Malcolm & Marie.

John David Washington's quality family time

Like other celebrities who spent time with family during COVID-19 restrictions, John David Washington joined his family in Los Angeles. “I literally left New York thinking, ‘Well, this is I Am Legend about to happen. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. It’s over,'” he told Haute Living. The actor originally planned to stay in New York. He remembered thinking, “We’ll be good, we’ll be back to normal” in around a month’s time. After some convincing by his agent to head west, plus a desire “to be with my mother, my siblings, the people I love the most,” Washington “fled to Los Angeles.”

On an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! guest-hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, the veteran actor asked Washington what the experience was like to head back to his childhood home. “I know Denzel likes some order in the house,” Jackson said about Washington’s dad. And sure enough, he asked his son to help around the house, making him finish “a chore or two.” According to Washington, “My chore was to make sure I’m down for dinner on time.” And as far as helping out around the house, the actor helped cook. But Washington sadly missed a golden opportunity to learn his mom’s mac and cheese recipe. “You would have thought I’d have picked up something living with her for two and a half months,” he told Haute Living.

How much is John David Washington worth?

Though Denzel Washington isn’t billionaire Bill Gates rich, he is certainly worth a lot of money. According to Celebrity Net Worth, the famous actor is worth $250 million and earning a reported $60 to $80 million per year. With that kind of money, John David Washington certainly doesn’t need to worry much about finances. But the young actor has certainly created a successful career in a short time frame. After his 2015 debut in Ballers, he picked up major motion pictures left and right, per IMDb. Even more, he had extremely prominent roles in several of his movies like Tenet, Malcolm & Marie, and BlacKkKlansmen. All of these credits led to an estimated net worth of $6 million in 2021, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

John David used some of his net worth to live on the opposite coast of Hollywood. He resides in Brooklyn. But even with all that money, it’s not only Alaskan King size beds and huge square footage. When John David spent quarantine with his parents, he flew back to Los Angeles and stayed in the same bedroom he grew up in. An interviewer for Mr. Porter asked the actor if the bed he stayed on, then as a 36-year-old, was a single bed. “Yeah,” John David admitted. “It definitely fits the bill.”

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