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Kerry Washington: Leading Lady

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Words Miki Turner  

As the sun goes down on a sizzling hot West Hollywood afternoon, Kerry Washington is curled up on a sofa in a dimly lit corner of a photography studio, enjoying a few minutes of down time between interviews. she has had a long day of publicity interviews to discuss her role in Quentin Tarantino’s epic slave drama Django Unchained. added to that she’s just finished a week of working 14-hour days on the set of ABC’s hit political thriller Scandal, and still found time to campaign for the re-election of President Obama.

Yet the native New Yorker shows no signs of fatigue or disinterest in what can be a tedious part of the job. “I don’t mind,” Washington says graciously after ARISE apologises for disrupting what could have been a rare evening off. “I’m glad to be here.” And ‘here’ is just about everywhere, given that the petite actor is having an almighty impact both on and off screen. 

Although Washington, 35, has been working steadily in film, television and theatre since the late 1990s, her career really took off after playing Ray Charles’s second wife opposite Jamie Foxx in Ray. The pair are reunited in Tarantino’s much-anticipated film, in which she again plays Foxx’s wife – a coincidence she finds “very poetic.” Washington has also been hailed, by CNN, as the first African-American female lead on a major network drama in 38 years. “I think I’m more comfortable in my skin now than I’ve ever been before that’s for sure and I think a big part of that is taking risks in life and following your heart,” she says. “I think the more I’ve learned to trust myself and trust my intuition the less other people’s judgments matter, because I’m at peace with myself.”

This confidence comes across in Django Unchained, which also stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L Jackson. The film sees Django (Foxx) and Broomhilda von Shaft (Washington) meet, fall in love and marry – despite the fact that, as slaves, their union is not legally recognised. When they are sold to different slave owners the couple lose contact. Django is later bought by a German bounty hunter and told he’ll be freed once his owner tracks down a pair of brothers wanted for a number of murders. After their mission is accomplished the two men decide to maintain their working relationship. Django, however, has only one real goal: to find his wife.

“The thing that is so fascinating to me about the film is that it takes place in a time when black people were written into the constitution as three-fifths of a human being – as less than a person,” says Washington. “Black people couldn’t get married on their own accord and you couldn’t even own your own children. That’s where we get the phrase ‘sold down the river.’ So to have this story where Django and Broomhilda so believe in their own humanity and so believe in their love for each other that they risk going into the depths of hell to be together was very meaningful to me.”

The full story appears in Issue 18, out now.

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