On today’s edition of the HOLLYWOOD INSIDER, Dean on the Scene talks to John David Washington. The Morehouse grad got his acting by playing a small role in the biopic “Malcolm X” working with director Spike Lee. Twenty-five years later, he not only stars in the HBO drama “Ballers” but he’s also working with Spike Lee once again in the new Focus Features film “BlacKkKsman”. Based on a true story, the movie follows Ron Stallsworth, a newly minted Colorado Springs detective who sets out to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. I sat down with J.D. to talk about playing Ron on the big screen and playing football again on the small screen.
What made you want to take on the role of Ron Stallworth?
Spike Lee, Jordan Peele, you know? And a true American story, a true story, about a man who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. You don’t hear about stories like this. A skit maybe, from Dave Chapelle, but no, this is a totally different tone and how true it is. It’s just the role of a lifetime.
Absolutely, since he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan by talking to David Duke—the Grand Wizard—how did you approach the role of sounding like a good old’ white boy, especially when you’re talking to Topher Grace?
Who was amazing, by the way. Topher Grace, it was awesome working with him and working off of him. But this is how he talked, from where he grew up. This is his natural way of speaking, so he actually uses his real name in the beginning of the sting operation.
He did, yeah.
He was in character, but he was so into it that he had a brain freeze on that part. I didn’t try to concentrate on trying to sound like him, necessarily, because I felt like I would miss all the stuff that was happening internally with him and I wanted to work inside out.
Absolutely, and you worked with Adam Driver who plays another character but he plays you, Ron Stallworth, to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. What was it like to work with Adam Driver to make sure he got Ron Stallworth down and not mess up the whole operation here?
(laughs) Well, in real life, Ron told me they had to work together, and they met a lot and made sure they had all the details and make sure all the information that Adam’s character got and had to relay it back to Ron and vice versa. So it was a lot of the same way we worked together; a lot of the same communication. We just were able to talk and discuss things. It was great.
So, you mentioned moments ago that you were into Morehouse; you graduated from football and then you transitioned to acting. What was the turning point from playing football to acting and then playing football and then acting?
(laughs) What sprung me was an injury. I was training for a pending workout with the Giants and I tore my Achilles tendon. So from then on, I was recovering. A friend of mine—who is now my agent—told me to audition and I auditioned for “Ballers.” I had auditioned ten times for the role, and I booked it.
That’s amazing, and it’s amazing that we are about to go into our fourth season of “Ballers,” Ricky Jarrett coming up on August 12th. So, what can we look forward to for fans of “Ballers” in this upcoming season?
Well, we attempted to be mature. We’re feeling miserable. (laughs) for Ricky Jarrett.
Well, that’s good to hear.
That’s good to hear? Cool! (DR and JDW laugh) That’s what the fans want to hear.
So your birthday is coming up in a couple of days (His birthday was July 28th). How do you plan to celebrate?
Family. My mom, sisters, cousins, we’re gonna grub and laugh a lot.
Excellent. So, this is more of a period piece and based on a true story—so did you research Ron into the book that he wrote a few years ago, or did you did you actually have a chance to meet real-life Ron?
All of the above. It was meeting Ron, it was the book, really. That’s where I started. I didn’t even meet him for months before we started, until right as we started. And then just music. My playlist is just filled with all these 70’s greats. My go to is Curtis Mayfield. I wake up to him every morning, I go to sleep to “Soul Train” at night. You know what I mean? And “Super Fly.” That was the original “Super Fly.”
Yes, the original Super Fly. (laughs)
It’s my go to movie as well, Ron O’Neal. He’s a bad mamma jamma. I called my uncles, and I got a lot of help from the older folks. They helped me with stories and what was going on in those times; documentaries. There’s a great documentary called “Black Panther Mix Tape.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.
No, not that.
It was fantastic I got a lot out of that as well. Put all that into the soup, and that’s what we got.
I’ve got to ask along the lines, what else can we find in your 70’s playlist other than Curtis Mayfield’s “Super Fly?”
Other than Curtis Mayfield, we’ve got James Brown, we’ve got Marvin Gaye, we’ve got—ah, man, you’re putting me on the spot.
I have a whole bunch of stuff. I haven’t gotten back to it in a while, but I also realized I hadn’t listened to hip hop in about two or three months, or R&B. It was all those artists on there. (his playlist)
What do you hope audiences will take away from watching “BlacKkKlansman”?
Well, I hope they take away how a community can come together…when men and women and police officers can do their jobs the right way and protect their community, they can overcome hate. And also, they can take away what hate sounds like.
Absolutely, because I can relate to this character. Growing up, people said I sounded white, but I told them this is how I normally talk—
See, this is what I—ok. So one of my favorite scenes in the movie is, he says, “what does a black man talk like?”
And I connected to that. I went to private school; I went to an HBCU; I’ve got family in the south I visit all the time; I spent a lot of summers in Italy. What am I supposed to sound like?
I experienced all those things and it’s in me. So, I appreciate it.
Tell me about it. They always stereotype us, but never understood that we came from different backgrounds, had different experiences, so we don’t sound the stereotypical African-American person, you know?
Yes, yes, yes, exactly. And so, when they say, “you’re putting on your white voice” …I won’t say I take offense to it, but I do ask the question, “what exactly does that mean?”
So, what am I supposed to sound like? How do I speak? I went to school. I’m educated, so…
Absolutely. The film was recently in Cannes Film Festival. What is it like to be a part of that crowd, especially since this is a top-notch film; you’re in the lead role; and you’re at one of the biggest film festivals on the planet.
Surreal. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t win very much in college; I didn’t win very much in high school; didn’t win anything in St. Louis, so this felt like we won the Super Bowl. We got a ring. Everybody was so enthusiastic and passionate about the film and films period. So to be in the middle of that and recognized, we—the cast and crew and Spike Lee—it was the grandest feeling to date. It really was.
BlacKkKsman – IN THEATRES FRIDAY and check out J.D. on the small screen in the Season Premiere of Ballers on Sunday, August 12th on HBO