NEW YORK | The Denzel Washington you meet backstage at the Ethel
Barrymore Theatre is not exactly living a glamorous Hollywood life.
He's more like a college kid during finals.
He wears a black Yankee cap, black sweat pants and blue sneakers.
There are free weights on a counter and a bottle of diet cola.
Notebooks and papers are everywhere. He's fighting off the New York
chill with some chicken noodle soup laced with hot sauce.
"Have a seat," the star says, waving to a banged-up sofa and
settling down in his own seat in front of a makeshift desk made from
a mini-fridge. "I've got good heat here."
Good heat, comfortable clothes, soup -- the unfussy Broadway
version of Denzel Washington seems completely in his element as he
puts the finishing touches on one of America's greatest plays, "A
Raisin in the Sun."
"It's just a great opportunity -- that's how I look at it," says
Washington. "It's like getting back to your roots. It's going good.
But around about the 70th show, I might be going, 'What am I
Like an athlete in training and currently dressed the part,
Washington has poured himself into the work, filling two composition
books with notes and leaving every page of his script highlighted,
underlined or annotated.
The first notebook starts with the poem "A Dream Deferred" by
Langston Hughes, the work that helped inspire the play, which
Washington has handwritten. A few pages later is a photo pasted of
the playwright, Lorraine Hansberry ("I got her in there! I forgot I
had her in there," he says while flipping through.)
The play marks Washington's first return to Broadway since his
Tony Award-winning turn in "Fences" in 2010 and every preview has
been sold out, with top premium tickets going for as much as $348.
"Denzel? Listen, he's a Stradivarius," says co-star LaTanya
Richardson Jackson, an old friend and Samuel L. Jackson's wife.
"He's so versatile. It's so wonderful being on the stage with him.
He's so elegant and so giving."
Set in 1950s Chicago, "A Raisin in the Sun" centers on the
struggling Younger family, who anxiously await a $10,000 insurance
check -- and the ensuing squabbles over how to spend it.
Washington plays Walter Lee, a chauffeur with dreams of opening a
liquor store, a role made famous by Sidney Poitier, who played it in
the original 1959 production and reprised it in a 1961 movie. In a
twist, this revival is in the same theater where Poitier debuted the
How far has Washington gone in his research? It turns out all the
way to Poitier's home. The two actors recently met to talk about the
role and when Poitier rose to act out scenes, Washington pulled out
his cell phone to film it ("As you can see, I'm no cameraman," he
jokes as he shares the jerky images).
"He's so generous and complimentary and he was like, 'Oh you're
going to kill. You're going to be better than I was,' and all this
stuff," Washington says. …