Isaiah Washington returns to spotlight


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"No, tell us what you really think."

That question may never be necessary when you ask actor Isaiah Washington about such incendiary, timely and exhaustive topics as the American culture of violence, mass killings and access to guns, all relevant in the wake of "Blue Caprice," opening today at the SouthSide Works Cinema.

He plays a character based on John Allen Muhammad, the mastermind of a three-week shooting spree that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area in 2002. Muhammad was executed by lethal injection seven years later, while the teenage Jamaican accomplice he considered a son was sentenced to life in prison.

"Blue Caprice" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, but this interview came in September, days after a gunman attacked a building at the Washington Navy Yard and killed 12 people.

"You guys do this. I see how you guys have to find a tidy narrative to make sense of these senseless things," he said by phone when asked about the recent massacre.

"As a human being, it's horrible. That's one of the reasons I made the film is because I think these events are happening way too darn much in America.

"More people are dying in America [from guns] than people died in the Civil War, and everyone is on that silly network called news or asking victims, 'How do you feel?' It's almost pornographic to me what is happening in this country. I'm embarrassed by it.

"When I travel abroad, I have to represent all Americans and it's embarrassing -- it's embarrassing -- that the greatest country in the world cannot find it within their souls, their heart and their policy on Capitol Hill to remove these firearms from people that possibly suffer from mental illness." They cannot or will not figure it out, he added.

"Real people are dying, in Chicago, in Houston, in Detroit. ... I'm in Canada right now, and they are embarrassed to see me when I come in the trailer. Wow, crazy Americans, there they go again, killing each other."

And that is one of the reasons he agreed to star in the first feature film from Alexandre Moors, who grew up in the suburbs of Paris, moved to New York in 1998 and made short films and music videos until now.

"To not entertain you. Not to shock you. Not to provoke you, but to appeal to your humanity and to go home without answers because this film, this vision, is based on and inspired by true stories, and here we go right again, another true story at a horrific level.

"That's exactly why I think 'Blue Caprice' is probably the most relevant and the most timely narrative in the history of filmmaking at this time, and I can't take credit for that."

Mr. Moors studied everything he could about Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo (portrayed in the film by Tequan Richmond), who killed 10 people in the Washington area and were linked to shootings in other states. Their hiding place: a blue Chevy Caprice. Their weapon of choice: A sniper rifle.

"This movie is about what happens when you have fatherlessness or a poor father or a bad father, and what happens when you have poor leadership and bad leadership, where it takes us. That is what 'Blue Caprice' is about; it's a metaphor for capricious behavior at a very blue, moody, dark time."

Mr. Washington, a movie and TV veteran whose role on "Grey's Anatomy" was cut short after reports about a homophobic slur and later dustup with Patrick Dempsey, has spent recent years exploring his African heritage and writing a book, "A Man From Another Land: How Finding My Roots Changed My Life."

He calls the budget for "Blue Caprice" extremely meager and resists the notion that it represents a comeback for him. Mr. Moors found the actor through Facebook after a months-long search.

"It wasn't about the money, we didn't get rich on this one, I'll tell you that right now, and it's not a Hollywood film. I don't understand this 'comeback' thing when there's no way in heck Hollywood was going to let Alexandre, Tequan and I star in a film like this. I don't understand the idea of me making a comeback.

"It couldn't be further from the truth. Come back to what? I took myself out of this system because you're not telling the stories that are important to me.

"And through the grace of God and the universe, Facebook gives me another artist who says, this is how I want to tell a story, this is how I want to entertain but also impact, inform and evolve a people ... by talking about what possibly could have happened in these very tragic individuals' lives that pushed them to the point where they felt their only resort was to hurt other people because they couldn't find their way out of their own individual pain. It's the same old story."

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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