Washington, Kerry 1977–

views updated May 23 2018

Kerry Washington 1977


Born with the Acting Bug

Debuted on Screen in Our Song

Balanced Hollywood with Simple Living

Selected works


In interviews, actor Kerry Washington has revealed her ambition to perform in a variety of genres, from comedy to historical films, from action movies to stage musicals. Not only does she strive to appear before more audiences as an actor, singer, and dancer, she hopes to find success behind the scenes as a screenwriter. Washington is serious about her art, continually studying her craft and eager to perform in all genres. I want longevity in my career, she told Essence in 2002, so I keep the focus on my craft. An article in Film Comment lauded Washingtons propensity for showmanship and dexterity, citing the young actor as having a knack for playing characters who each in a different way attempt to balance the demands of friends, family, and children.

Born with the Acting Bug

Kerry Washington was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1977. As a child, she experienced the thrill of the stage while dancing with the New York Negro Ballet. Her grandmother called her Sarah Bernhardt (after the acting legend), because theater was central to her dreams even as a young child. I think I was born with the acting bug. I was always dramatic as a child, Washington offered in a 2001 interview with the Girls World Web site. She began acting as the youngest performer in a troupe that gave performances in schools to stress positive self-esteem and safe sex. Washington credited this experience, along with her involvement with the local Bronx Boys and Girls Club, for cultivating my singing, acting and dancing skills.

As a teen, she landed several acting jobs, including an appearance on NBCs popular television series Law & Order in 2001.

Also as a teen, Washington took the Bronxs Number 6 train into Manhattan each day to attend high school at the elite Spence School, which she attended on scholarship. The daughter of a college professor mother and real-estate broker father, Washington was raised in perhaps the wealthiest household on her block in the Bronx; yet at Spence she experienced a real culture shock being immersed in real wealth, she told Carla Meyer of the San Francisco Chronicle. The school is also alma mater to many of New Yorks wealthiest residents, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Soon-Ye Previn. Washington too grew a star quality at Spence. People have said Im like a cross between Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow, Washington told Meyer.

Since childhood, Washington has been a fan of performers who can do it all, such as Barbara Streisand and Rita Moreno, she told Film Comment in 2001. Washington too has sought to build a long, multifaceted performing career. She earnestly began her trek to performing prowess by earning a bachelors degree in the performing arts at George Washington University in 1998.

Debuted on Screen in Our Song

Washington made her screen debut in 2000, starring in the independent film Our Song playing 15-year old

At a Glance

Born in the Bronx, NY, in 1977. Education: George Washington University, BA, 1998.

Career: Actor, 2000, Substitute teacher, New York City, 2001.

Addresses: Agent Abrams Artists Agency, 9200 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 1130, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Lanisha, a half-black, half-Cuban girl living in Brooklyns Crown Heights neighborhood. My character is very good at making herself fit in, Washington was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. In the same way, I was trying to negotiate being a Spence girl and growing up in the Bronx, and trying to feel like I belonged in both of those places. In the same article, Our Song writer and director Jim McKay said that he immediately recognized Washingtons talent. Kerry blended well with the other actors, he said, even though she is really trained, and would be just as comfortable doing Shakespeare. Our Song qualified as a finalist for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival.

Washington too was cited for a winning performance. In his review of Our Song, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott called Washington simply, a miracle. Film critic Michael Atkinson also praised Washingtons breakout performance, writing in Interview, Certainly, no other young African-American actress is quite as believable, as touchable. The 22-year old also explained how she developed her young character. I worked on her walk, how she stands, how she looks people in the eye, she said. While working it out I had lunch with a cousin of mine whos 16. Listening to her, I thought, You couldnt pay me to be a teenager again. Then I realizedI was being paid.

Washington told Girls World that she tapped into her culture shock experience at Spence to transition herself to the emotional journey Lanisha undertakes. [LanishaJ is exploring love, she is trying to make responsible and independent decisionsthese were things that I can definitely relate to. She added, I think Our Song helped me to learn that the most important elements to bring to my work are integrity, generosity, and truth.

Our Song appeared in theaters between the showing of Washingtons second film, Save the Last Dance, and her third, Lift, both released in 2001. She played a teen again in Save the Last Dance. This time she was a teen mom, Chenillea character Washington called her most real in her Girls World interview. At 24-years old, Washington got her first taste of bigbudget studio filmmaking. On Our Song there were days I was on the set not to act, Washington explained to Interview, but to watch for cops because we didnt have a permit to shoot on the subway. On the other hand, one morning on Save the Last Dance, I found a new DVD player in my trailer, with a stack of DVDs.

In another highly lauded independent film, Lift, which won honors at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, Washington played Niecy, a 24-year old professional shoplifter with big ambition and a troubled relationship with her mother. Having grown up in the Bronx and gone to the Spence School, Washington admitted in Film Comment, I really understand Niecys need to negotiate all kinds of socio-economic environments and her ability to do so with grace and fluidity. Film reviewers agreed that Washington was right for the role, including Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Sun Times, who wrote, Kerry Washington absolutely steals the film as the thief whose world unravels.

Balanced Hollywood with Simple Living

After filming Save the Last Dance, Washington worked as a substitute teacher in Harlem. Being recognized as Chenille and trying to be somebodys math teacher was a challenge, Washington remarked to Entertainment Weekly. She also appeared in NYPD Blue and on several episodes of 100 Centre Street and landed roles in the films 3D, Take the A Train, and as Chris Rocks girlfriend, Julie, in Bad Company. She gained recognition in Hollywood for her performance in the 2003 drama, The Human Stain. Also in 2003, Washington was noticed for her work in Against the Ropes: The Jackie Kallen Story. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote, It is always a pleasure to see Kerry Washington, even in the underwritten role of Jackies sidekick and Luthers love interest. In 2004, Washington appeared in the biodrama Ray, the story of musician Ray Charles.

Like many successful screen actors, Washington maintains residences in New York and Los Angeles. She prefers to fly the no-frills JetBlue Airways, where we are all one people on [the] plane. My favorite thing to do in L.A., she told Organic Styles Jamie Diamond in 2004, is to feed the fish in our courtyard. They swim up to the corner of the pond and are so happy to see me. Washington defined her personal goals in Organic Style as going my own way, to be my own person, to make and follow my own rules. She begins each day by writing a journal entry, and regularly works on developing screenplays, hoping to wow Hollywood with her writers vision as well as her actors intuition.

Washington told Diamond that as a statement in simple living she wears her mothers simple diamond-studded earrings on a daily basis. Theyre simple and elegant and understatedlike my mom, she said. Now that Im working in movies, I guess I should wear fancier, big diamonds, but I love wearing these in the loud, in-your-face lifestyle of Los Angeles.

Selected works


Our Song, 2000.

3D, 2000.

Save the Last Dance, 2001.

Lift, 2001.

Take the Train, 2002.

Bad Company, 2002.

The United States of Leland, 2003.

The Human Stain, 2003.

Sin, 2003.

Against the Ropes: The Jackie Kallen Story, 2004.

She Hate Me, 2004.

Ray (also known as Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Story), 2004.

Sexual Life, 2004.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, 2004.


Magical Makeover, 1994.


Washington has also appeared in episodes of NYPD Blue (2001), 100 Centre Street (2001), Law & Order (2001), The Guardian (2001), and Wonderfalls (2004).



Chicago Sun Times, June 26, 2002, p. 51.

Ebony, Sept. 2002, p. 174.

Entertainment Weekly, June 27/July 4, 2003, 2003, p. 50.

Esquire, Dec. 2003, p. 171.

Essence, Dec. 2002, p. 110.

Film Comment, March/April 2001, p. 6.

Interview, June 2001, p. 56.

New York Times, March 23, 2001, E5; February 20, 2004, E24.

Organic Style, March 2004, p. 32.

San Francisco Chronicle, August 8, 2001, D1.


Were Hangin with Save the Last Dances Chenille: Kerry Washington, A Girls World, www.agirlsworld.com/rachel/hangin-with/Kerrywashington.html (May 27, 2004).

Melissa Walsh

Washington, Kerry 1977(?)–

views updated Jun 27 2018

WASHINGTON, Kerry 1977(?)–


Born January 5, 1977 (some sources cite 1975), in The Bronx, NY; father, a real estate broker; mother, an education consultant and professor. Education: George Washington University, degree in theatre, 1998; studied theatre and yoga in India.


Agent—Abrams Artists Agency, 9200 Sunset Blvd., Suite 1130, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Manager—Washington Square Arts, 1041 N. Formosa, Writers Bldg. 305, West Hollywood, CA 90046.


Actress. Works with Adopt–a–Classroom, New York City, and Co–op America; also works as a substitute teacher.

Awards, Honors:

Teen Choice Award, film—choice breakout performance, 2001, Black Reel Award nomination, theatrical—best independent actor, 2002, both for Save the Last Dance; MECCA Movie Award, Future of Film Award, Urbanworld Film Festival, 2002; Independent Spirit Award nomination, best female lead, Black Reel Award nomination, theatrical—best independent actor, 2002, Black Reel Award nomination, network/cable—best actress, 2003, all for Lift; Golden Satellite Award nomination, best actress in a motion picture, comedy or musical, Image Award nomination, outstanding actress in a motion picture, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination (with others), outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture, 2005, for Ray.


Film Appearances:

Lanisha Brown, Our Song, IFC Films, 2000.

Angie, 3D (short film), 2000.

Chenille Reynolds, Save the Last Dance, Paramount, 2001.

Herself, The Making of "Save the Last Dance" (documentary short film), Paramount, 2001.

Keisha, Take the A Train, 2002.

Julie, Bad Company (also known as Ceska spojka), Buena Vista, 2002.

Ayesha, The United States of Leland, Paramount Classics, 2003.

Ellie, The Human Stain (also known as La couleur du mensonge and Der Menschliche Makel), Miramax, 2003.

Renee, Against the Ropes (also known as Di Promoterin), Paramount, 2004.

Fatima Goodrich, She Hate Me, Sony Pictures, 2004.

Della Charles, Ray, Universal, 2004.

Rosalie, Sexual Life, Sexual Life, Inc., 2004.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Twentieth Century–Fox, 2005.

Alicia Masters, Fantastic Four, Twentieth Century–Fox, 2005.

Television Appearances; Series:

100 Centre Street, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Niecy, Lift, Showtime, 2001.

Kassie Burns, Sin, Starz!, 2001.

Strip Search, HBO, 2004.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Heather, Magical Make–Over, ABC, 1994.

The 2001 Teen Choice Awards, Fox, 2001.

Television Appearances; Pilots:

Baseball Wives, HBO, 2003.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Maya, "Franco, My Dear, I Don't Give a Damn," NYPD Blue, ABC, 2001.

Allie Lawrence, "3 Dawg Night," Law & Order, NBC, 2001.

Tina Johnson, "The Undesirables," Deadline, 2001.

Drea Westbrook, "The Next Life," The Guardian, CBS, 2002.

Herself, The Sharon Osbourne Show, syndicated, 2004.

(Uncredited) Mahandra, "Wax Lion," Wonderfalls, Fox, 2004.

Also appeared in Standard Deviants TV, PBS.



Parade Magazine, July 25, 2004, p. 18.