Spike really wanted to get the film out around the anniversary of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Did that breed an urgency on set?
Washington: That's a good question. Being on set, it's a hurry up and wait kind of a lifestyle. But the environment was such one of teamwork, of familiarity, of people that just wanted to be there. It seemed like everybody believed in what we were doing. It wasn't the whole, this is going to be a hit. It wasn’t that kind of language. It was more about, we're getting to tell this big piece of American history that's not well-known, that's not mainstream until this movie is released. So everybody was motivated. That's Spike setting the tone on set. So urgency, maybe. Some days we'd only shoot two scenes, others we'd shoot like five. You’ve just got to be ready at all times. But I didn't feel it. I've been on sets where you feel that urgency. We've got to get it, we've got to get it. But at the same time there was a pace that you had to keep up with it.
What about the bigger picture of what you're doing? Because of the fact that Spike added footage of Charlottesville at the end, because of the real-world relevance, did that put any pressure on?
Washington: I definitely didn't think that going in. I can’t think about what kind of impact or what movie this is going to be. I had to focus on the work at hand. I had a lot of work to do just getting the story right. Not even right, but true, the truest I can tell it. And again because of the environment being set by Spike Lee, by Jordan Peele. We have master storytellers at the helm, running the show it made it that much more comfortable. I guess it rid the pressure feeling because everybody's on the same page and welcomes whatever you interpret. Whatever you create.
What do you think about the discussions between Ron and his love interest Patrice, the student activist played by Laura Harrier?
Washington: Love them.
Ron believes you can fix the world from within the system; Patrice disagrees. The conversations are messy, they're fascinating, there is no clear answer, which is Spike's M.O. in a lot of ways.
Washington: It's how he packages and delivers messages. In this film, he's not teaching, he's not like on Barney, "See America, we've got to change. Wake up." None of that. He's just laying out the story, which I love. That takes a lot of trust and faith in the story we're telling, and the actors to not try to manipulate certain messages. I feel like we're not holding the audience's hand in this. We're just really telling the story how it happened and you can decide it for yourself. We start the conversation. But I love the relationship between me and Patrice. Laura, God bless her, she captured this college student with a cause so perfectly. It was so clear. Not only did he just like the girl, he ends up loving her. He was drawn to her passion. He has the same passion, they just speak in a different language, if you will.
Going all the way back to the beginning: You were so young when you were first directed by Spike Lee. Were there similarities in his directorial style between then and now?
Washington: No, because I'm older. I'm the one that changed. He's been as consistent as can be. I'm the one that changed. Wise men tell me there's no such thing as small roles, only small actors. So I was like, that role was just as important as Ron Stallworth to me. We didn't really discuss it too much when we were shooting, obviously. This was a whole different thing. That was the '90s, for crying out loud. The industry was in a different space then, too, and they were making history back then with that film. It was just like, "Good to see you again. Let's make a movie."