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Denzel Washington Exudes Charm in Receiving Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Modern Master Award

Accomplished actor is honored at Arlington Theatre for his Oscar-nominated role of Troy Maxson in 'Fences'

 

Praised as a versatile actor in a variety of diverse roles, Denzel Washington exuded charm and brought superstar buzz to the Arlington Theatre on Thursday night when he received the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Maltin Modern Master Award for his Oscar-nominated role of Troy Maxson in Fences.

Washington, who also produced and directed Fences, has received four other Oscar nominations for Cry Freedom, Malcolm X, The Hurricane and Flight. He also won for best actor in Training Day, and best supporting actor in Glory.

“Denzel Washington directing, producing and acting in Fences defines the Modern Master for the 21st Century,” said SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling.

The critically acclaimed movie, nominated for Best Picture Oscar, includes Viola Davis, and is based on an August Wilson play that follows an African-American family during the 1950s, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Washington and Davis both won Tony Awards for their stage performances, and are nominated for Actor in a Leading Role and Actress in a Supporting Role at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Washington as Maxson is a sanitation worker who once had a promising future in baseball that never transpired because the major leagues did not admit black players until after he was too old to play the game at a high level. Maxson tries hard to provide for his family, but losing his dream leads to a pivotal decision for his family’s future.

"The character of Troy was brutally honest, and I tried to portray that side of him," Washington said.

Many viewed Troy as a villain, but that is simply untrue from Washington's perspective, “it’s important to love the character that you play – I’ve always liked the characters that I’ve played."

The movie is a passion project for Washington that he assumed needed an older leading man.

Film critic Leonard Maltin moderates a discussion with Denzel Washington Thursday night at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara while receiving the Modern Master Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Click to view larger
Film critic Leonard Maltin moderates a discussion with Denzel Washington Thursday night at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara while receiving the Modern Master Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

"I always thought I was too young to do Fences, but I read the play when I was 55, and saw that the character was 53, and I knew I better get to it.  

Now 62, Washington worked to get the film made for 15 years in a way that honored Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Awards winning play, emphasizing his drive for the project.

"Fences, is not about race, it’s about culture, and I tried to apply that philosophy to the movie – move it forward," said Washington.

Leonard Maltin was the moderator for the award named in his honor, and introduced a montage of clips that he called a tribute to Washington's range and powerful roles, including scenes from American Gangster, Inside Man, and the recent Fences.

Long considered one of the most recognizable and respected film critics, Maltin is a familiar face on television, and produces an annual paperback Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide that he first published at age 18, and established his career. The printed guide ended a 45-year run in 2015.

Washington first booked acting opportunities at the age of 18, landing a role in the television movie, Wilma, in 1977, before landing his first movie role in Carbon Copy.  

The actor returned to television during the 1980s with St. Elsewhere, and in the 1990s he began to land bigger roles with a star-making turn in Philadelphia, The Pelican Brief and Crimson Tide.

Acting in films such as PhiladelphiaCrimson Tide, and Malcom X gave him the opportunity to have the freedom fail as an actor many times over, and from doing so he learned to flex his muscles to take chances and excel at his craft that over the years led him to become a more versatile and disciplined actor.

"Not to say that I’m the messenger, but I try to do the best that I can," Washington said.

Washington, who has worked with director Spike Lee in the movies, Malcolm X, Mo' Better Blues, Inside Man and He Got Game, shared his admiration of the director, saying “Spike has put more black actors in movies, and I respect him and admire him for that.”

He’s also well known for Devil in a Blue Dress, Remember the Titans, Man on Fire, and many more in his catalog of 56 acting credits. In 2018, he’ll star in Inner City and The Equalizer 2.

Actor Stephen McKinley Henderson was on hand to present the award to Washington, along with the films young co-star, Saniyya Sidney.

Henderson starred on stage in a 2010 Broadway revival of the August Wilson play, and remarked that, “Denzel has had a legendary career, which let him be the person to bring August to a larger audience. With this film, he’ll be exposing more people to August’s work.”

Henderson also appears in Sunday nights Cinema Vanguard Award film, Manchester by the Sea, honoring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams.

Friday night's sold out Outstanding Performers Award brings Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to the historic Arlington promoting the Oscar-nominated La La Land.

The Modern Master Award was established in 1995, and named after Maltin in 2016.

Past honorees include Michael Keaton, Bruce Dern, Ben Affleck, Christopher Plummer, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Clint Eastwood, Cate Blanchett, Will Smith, George Clooney and Peter Jackson.

— Noozhawk contributing writer Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Actor Denzel Washington exudes charm from the red carpet at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara before receiving the Modern Master Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Click to view larger
Actor Denzel Washington exudes charm from the red carpet at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara before receiving the Modern Master Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

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