Denzel Washington


  1. Eddie Murphy,  48 Hrs, 1982.  Three years earlier, Clint Eastwood was keen on playing the jailbird, then went behind bars to Escape From Alcatraz, 1979. Director Walter Hill suggested Gregory Hines; unavailable. Pryor, Howard E Rollins Jr, and Denzel Washington were all ready for The Scene: “I’m you’re worst fucking nightmare, man. I’m a nigger with a badge. That means I have permission to kick your ass whenever I feel like it.”  Murphy was bursting for a movie. “I was just in the right place at the right time and said the right thing. And  had a charming  smile. I really  lucked out.” Although Paramount studio chief Michael Eisner tried to fire him after three weeks!  Take: $60m. Murphy’s salary: $200,000.  But $7m for the sequel. And top billing!
  2. Phillip Michael Thomas, Miami Vice,TV, 1984-1990. The legendary pitch, from NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff, was simple. “MTV cops!” Five guys were seen for Don Johnson’s vice cop Sonny Crockett – just two for his black partner Ricardo Tubbs in his 1964 Cadillac DeVille: Washington and a “too young”Geoffrey Owens. The show  gave some of their earliest screen acting gigs to such folk as Annette Bening, Julia Robers, Jimmy Smits, John Turturro,  Bruce Willis,… even Miles Davis and Little  Richard!  Almost 30 years later. D was seen again by the Mann for the (terrible) movie version.
  3. Willem Dafoe, Platoon, 1985.   
  4. Dorian Harwood, Full Metal Jacket, 1986.   D  wanted Eightball and didn’t get him and thereby missed, probably, the two most celedbrated Vietnam war films… made by Oliver Stone in the Philippines and by Stanley Kubrick in… wait for it… London!  D was quick to notice the better, more viscreally honest  of the two scripts. Not difficult,  Platoon won Oscars for best film and director. Jacketdid not.
  5. Richard Gere, Pretty Woman, 1989.
  6. Dennis Haysbert, Love Field, 1990.    “It was Michelle Pfeiffer’s film – that  was fine. I was just a guy who helped the story move along.”  He tried working with director and writer on polishing the script – “they never got it right and I literally got sick” – recalling the objections to his previous inter-racial love scenes with Mimi Rogers in The Mighty Quinn, 1989.  His replacement, Eric La Salle (later an ER star) was replaced by Haysbert (later a  24 star) and due to Orion’s collapse, the release was delayed two years.
  7. Wesley Snipes, Jungle Fever, 1990.    At last count, Denzel and Spike Lee made four films together, but not this one – the big breakthrough for Snipes… as Flipper Purify.
  8. Joe Morton, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1990.   D  passed on Miles Bennett Dyson. “No offence to [director] Jim Cameron but when I read the script… all he does is look scared and sweat.” And so, like, Hasta la vista, Jim-baby.

  9. James Caan, Misery, 1990.  
    “Leading men hate to be passive; hate to be eunuchised by their female co-stars.”  Top scenarist William Goldman on why 22 actors avoided the prospect of being beaten up and beaten to an Oscar by  Kathy Bates as the mad fan of writer Paul Sheldon. Warren Beatty prevaricated but never actually said no (nor yes).  Richard Dreyfuss regretted disappointing director Rob Reiner again after refusing When Harry Met Sally, 1988 (they had earlier made a classic of   King’s novella, The Body, as Stand By Me, 1985).   William Hurt refused – twice. Jack Nicholson didn’t want another King guy so soon after The Shining.  While Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino being up  for the same role was nothing new  – but Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman was  Also fleeing the  32nd of Stephen King’s staggering 313 screen credits were Tim Allen, Jeff Daniels, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, close pals Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, Ed Harris, John Heard, Robert Klein, Bill Murray, Ed O’Neill, John Ritter, Denzel Washington, Robin Williams and Bruce Willis… who went on to be Sheldon in Goldman’s  2015 Broadway version.

  10. Wesley Snipes, White Men Can’t Jump, 1992.    Fox wanted D but the Snipes audition “just knocked me out,” writer-director Ron Shelton told me in Deauville. France. “Everyone was saying: ‘Who’s Wesley Snipes?’  The other guy in Mo’ Better Blues! ‘Oh yeah!’ When we were making the movie, New Jack City and Jungle Fever came out and it was as if I’d made the obvious choice.  I had, of course.  I cast him first. He’s so strong, just blows people away – like Jimmy Cagney!”
  11. Michael Douglas, Basic Instinct, 1991.
  12. Kevin Costner, The Bodyguard, 1992.    Once Witney Houston entered the picture, D was on guard duty.  But he went with the film that he and Spike Lee were born to make. Malcolm X.
  13. Samuel L Jackson, Amos and Andrew, 1993.    One Spike Lee favourite succeeds another – as Jackson’s star rises after winning the first best supporting actor award at the  Cannes festival for Jungle Fever in  1991.
  14. John Travolta, Pulp Fiction, 1993.
  15. Morgan  Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption, 1993.  Sidney Poitier missed the point.  He refused because playing a convict was not setting a good example. Did he not notice redemption in the title? (And what aboutLes Miserables?).  Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and Robert Redford had already been jailed  in Escape From Alcatraz, Cool Hand Luke and The Last Castle.… So the A-Listers (Harrison Ford included) passed and thus it became Freeman‘s favourite movie –  the 43rd of Stephen King’s staggering 313 screen credits. As if in a memo to Poitier, Chicago critic Roger Ebert noted:  “Some have said life is a prison, we are Red, Andy is our redeemer. All good art is about something deeper than it admits.”
  16. Kevin Costner, A Perfect World, 1993.    Director Clint Eastwood’s initial choice; his second asked him  to co-star – taking second billing for time time  in 24 years
  17. Brad Pitt, Se7en, 1994.   “Too dark and evil.” And, yeah, Washington  regretted that  decision. (So did Sylvester Stallone).  D  played a different detective that year in Devil In  A Blue Dress.
  18. Dustin Hoffman, Outbreak, 1995.    D went to sea on a Crimson Tide leaving Hoffman 24 hours to agree to playing his first action hero. “I never get offered those parts,” he told  German director Wolfgang Petersen. “The audience  would be intrigued if it was you,” said Petersen. “They woudn’t know whether you were going to survive or not, whereas with other people,  there’s no doubt they’re going to make  it.”
  19. Gregory Hines, Waiting To Exhale, 1995.    Too busy with Virtuosity.     
  20. Robin Williams , The Birdcage, 1995.  Plan A for the Mike Nichols  re-tread  of the enormous 1978 French hit, La Cage aux folles, was  Steve Martin as  the gay cabaret  club owner and Robin Williams as his drag queen wife!  (They starred in the Nichols’ Broadway version of Waiting for Godot, in 1988).  When Martin dropped out, Williams suddenly had, er, doubtfires, about being jn drag again so soon.  He wanted to be the husband.  Nichols chose Broadway star Nathan Lane for the wife. Williams still dithered and Nichols askedLane: “What do you think of Robert Redford as your husband, dear boy?”  Said Lane: “Well, I’ve been thinking about that for years!” Robin returned. Rapidly. As if he’d overheard their exchange.
  21. Michael Jai White, Spawn, 1996. All the obvious heavyweights – Cuba Gooding Jr, Will Smith, Wesley Snipes, Tony Todd (Candyman), Denzel Washington and Tarantino favourites Samuel L Jackson, Ving Rhames – were seen for the movies’ first black superhero. (The later filmed Black Pantherwas born first, in a 1966 comic – 26 yearsbefore Spawn).  Plus the usual rappers LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur. And the inevitable unknown: Allen Payne, from New Jack City (with Snipes).  Not easy, said White, to win audience sympathy for “the most tragic character I’ve encountered,” a government assassin back from hell. Hence, Spawn 2and Spawn 3: The Ultimate Battlenever battled.
  22. Morgan Freeman, Kiss The Girl, 1996.    Schedules interfered, happily, asFreeman was perfect as writer James Patterson’s Washington DC detective Dr Alex Cross.He was Cross again in Along Came A Spider, 2000.
  23. Liam Neeson,  Star Wars – Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 1997.

  24. Djimon Hounsou, Amistad, 1997.     Wise to pass. Steven Spielberg never got a real  a lock on  it.

  25. Wesley Snipes, Blade, 1997. Director David S Goyer couldn’t see anyone other Snipes as Eric Brooks, aka Blade., the vampire slayer.  The studio did and it was Denzel. Or Laurence Fishburne.
  26. Kevin Spacey, Play It Forward, 1999.    The teacher was changed from a black Reuben St.Clair to a white Eugene Simonet when Washinghton was too busy No matter. Washington orSpacey, this was another movie owned byHayley Joel Osment, aged 12 during the shoot.
  27. Will Smith, Ali, 2001.    While this film was in development through the 90s.. Director Oliver Stone’s  first choice for the life of Muhammad Ali except D was already committed to another boxer bio, The Hurricane, 1999. Stone switched to football in Any Given Sunday and Michael Mann made Ali.
  28. Forest Whitaker, Panic Room, 2001.   His schedules cut D out of the piece. Whitaker filled in as Burnham – described as a slightly sympathetic criminal in David Fincher’s thriller.
  29. Jamie Foxx, Ray, 2003.  US director Taylor Hackford won the rights to  the Ray Charles story as far back as 1987. No studio would touch it. Well, if you can get Denzel… Couldn’t!  D  was  not interested at all. Then along came Foxx, playing his own piano to Oscar glory on February 27, 2005. 
  30. Bernie Mac, Mr 3000, 2004.    Denzel, John Travolta and (thereby Richard Gere) were all asked to play a hated superstar who can never get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

  31. Will Smith, I, Robot, 2004.    OK,  this was Isaac Asimov but  Denzel had already had  a bionic arm  in Virtuosity, 1995.
  32. Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda, 2004.   The Money Men clamoured for Mekhi Phifer, Will Smith, Wesley Snip[es or D. However, Irish  director and co-scenarist  Terry George kept the faith with Cheadle – who won  his first Oscar nod as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, saving 1,200 Tutsis refugees from the Hutu militia in Rwanada in 1994.
  33. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Four Brothers, 2004. D had talks about trying a drastic image switch as Detroit crime boss Victor Sweet, His methods of humblinbg his soldiers, reported Chicago critic Roger Ebert, passed “beyond mere cruelty into demented ingenuity.”
  34. Jamie Foxx, Miami Vice, 2005.   Althoughthe TV  show’s creator Michael Mann  considered the obvious big A Listers  for Detetcive Ricardo Tubbs – Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Will Smith – it was obvious that Foxx would get the smart threads gig. He it was, after all, who suggeste the movie idea to Mann in the first place. He just didn’t think it would be so damn serious…
  35. George Clooney, Michael Clayton, 2006.   “The truth,” screamed the poster, “can be adjusted…” So can the titular role.   D passed on the fixer for Sydney Pollack’s powerful law firm, worried about the first-time director (the Bourne trilogy scenarist Tony Gilroy). Ironically, Clooney had the same doubts, before seeing the light … of his first Best Actor Oscar. Tilda Swinton won best support actress and the movie was Best Film!
  36. Tom Cruise, Lions For Lambs, 2007. For his seventh and penultimate directing project, Robert Redford won Meryl Streep as the journalist  but lost  Denzel to Tom Cruise as the senator she’s interviewing. Everything went wrong from there. Cruise was unprepared, never interacted wiyh Streep who, therefore, lost interest And once  mighty Meryl  loses interest, you’re up a certain  creek – and Redford as a college professor was no paddle. Preachy politics. Not The Sundance Kid Gods To Washington.
  37. Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher, 2011.  
    Some of the names – and heights – up for Lee Child’s craggy ex-military cop-cum-Sherlock-homeless  were absurd.  Jim Carrey, for example. Jim Carrey!  Some 25 others  were Nicolas Cage, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Cary Elwes,  Colin Farrell, Harrison Ford, Jamie Foxx, Mel Gibson, Hugh Wolverine Jackman, Dwayne Johnson (“I look back in gratitude that I didn’t get Jack Reacher”),  Avatar’s Stephen Lang, Dolph Lundgren, Edward Norton, Ron (Hellboy) Perlman, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves (he became John Wick x 5),  Kurt Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vince Vaughn, Denzel Washington and the battle-fatigued  Bruce Willis.  Any of them would have been more acceptable than Tom Cruise  – with the exception of Carrey, Depp, Elwes, Reeves and, obviously the Euros. Pitt was best of the pack (remember Fight Club?)… although no one even thought of the obvious choice –   Liam Neeson!  Reacher fans were livid about  the 5ft 5ins Cruise daring to be  the  6ft 5ins  action hero. Reminiscent of Anne Rice’s capitulation over  tiny Tom as her “very tall” Lestat in  Interview With The Vampire, in 1994, author Lee Child declared: “Reacher’s size is a metaphor for an unstoppable force – which Cruise portrays in his own way.” Ah! But then in 2018, after the sequel, Child changed his tune about his child. (They share the same birthday, October 29).  ”Ultimately, the readers are right. The size of Reacher is really, really important and it’s a big component of who he is… So what I’ve decided to do is – there won’t be any more movies with Tom CruiseWe’re rebooting,  we’re going to try and find the perfect guy.” And they did with 6ft. 2ins Alan Richtson – Aquaman in Smallville and Hawk in Supergirl and Titans – for the Amazon series.

  38. Chadwick Boseman, 42,  2012.   Back in 1995, Spike Lee was thwarted in his efforts to make afilmabout the baseball icon Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 when joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. Obviously Spike’s Jackie was Denzel. Having won Harrison Ford for the integrationist manager Branch Rickey, director Brian Helgeland risked an unknown as the second baseman, stoically refusing to react to taunts and threats of racist fans and fellow ballplayers while opening the door for other black stars (Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, etc). Washington had financed Boseman’s studies at Oxford University.

  39. Omar Sy, Candy Store, 2013.    Enormous break for the star of the Frech Untouchables – taking over a role originally written for Washington. Sy’s co-stars included Robert De Niro.  Didn’t help.
  40. Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, 2013.  Some wise guy once asked Harvey Weinstein if he “picked up  Mandela because Mandela was dying?”  Hah! The exec producer had been involved with the project since 1999. First with Denzel, then Morgan Freeman.  Neither actor was suitable,  even though  Freeman played him in his pal Clint Eastwood’s  Invictus, 2009.  Elba was far better, particularly in shape, and above all, the voice.

  41. Kurt Russell, Furious 7, 2013.   Kurt Russell, Furious 7, 2013.   Universal suits wanted A Name to have a minor leading to something more important in the next sequel. Targets included two Oscar-winners: Washington and Halle Berry (now there’s a team!). Or Taylor Lautner (a name?). Russell played Mr Nobody as if his Tequila Surprise guy Nick Frescia had moved from LA cop to US agent.
  42. George Clooney, Gravity, 2013.   Science fiction was not D’s thing, as proved by Virtuosity, 1994… When Robert Downey Jr ejected from the science fiction marvel (“technology and Robert are incompatible explained Alfonso Cuaron), the Mexican auteur talked “with a bunch of people” for astronaut Matt Kowalski – Kevin Costner, Daniel Craig, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, John Travolta and Bruce Willis. Most backed off, annoyed that the woman astronaut, Sandra Bullock, had most of the film entirely to herself. “More like 2001 than an action film,” said a delighted Clooney.
  43. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Secret in Their Eyes, 2014.  Soon as  the Argentinian thriller, El secreto de sus ojos, won the 2010 Foreign Film Oscar, the Hunger Games/Captain Phillips scenarist Billy Ray started re-make plans.  Despite the mighty Washington  signing on,  Warners dumped the project. It was three more years before  Ray enticed Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and  Ejiofor aboard. 
  44. Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born2017.
  45. Ben Affleck, Triple Frontier, 2019.  The duo fixing up a dirty half-dozen of fellow needy ex-Special Forces guys to rip off your usual South American drug kingpin to beef up their pensions went from Tom Hardy-Channing Tatum to Johnny Depp-Tom Hanks to Ben and Casey Affleck to Denzel Washington-Sean Penn to Leonardo DiCaprio-Anybody to, finally, Ben Affleck-Oscar Isaac. By which time it had run out of the steam it must have once had as Kathryn Bigelow was once going to direct. JC Chandor was no substitute.






 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  45