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INT: Kerry Washington

01.09.2007

For the sake of giving credit where credit is due, it would be fair to describe Kerry Washington as a real life Barbie doll. Unlike many Hollywood starlets, she seems untainted by all the glitz and glamour. With a picture perfect face, a sincere personality and an incredible talent to match, it’s safe to say her career is on fire. Having gained acclaim for her role in 2005’s RAY , Washington illustrates her versatility by becoming an unhappy, abused prostitute in the upcoming drama, THE DEAD GIRL.

Washington’s personification as one of the several struggling and heartbroken women in the all star ensemble cast of THE DEAD GIRL is outstanding and moving. Her story is one of the five vignettes converging around the vicious murder of a prostitute and the countdown to her disheartening fatality. Although it is a small role, her delivery is very powerful. I had the pleasure of interviewing Washington last week as she revealed her attraction to the script and her preparation for her role in THE DEAD GIRL. Check out what she had to say.

Kerry Washington

We were just talking with director Karen Moncrieff about how each story in this film is very distinct and the structure is purposely not interwoven. Do you think it is a coincidence that your character's name is Rosetta and do you feel like you're character appears at a point where all these stories intersect?

That's such a good question. You know you're the first person to talk about the name Rosetta as a Rosetta stone? I think that in some ways- I'm not where it all comes together but I am where the truth gets revealed. You know Marcia (Gay Harden) and I are the only ones that appear in two stories. The truth about the damage is revealed between us and I think in a lot of ways what the film is about is, how horrible things happen in the world and they're not isolated events, that they have this ripple effect both directly and in-directly with people all throughout society. You know it's so easy for us to read the morning paper and go "oh somebody got shot in Queens " and not take a step back and think about.

Karen mentioned how she "fought" for you to play this part, is that true? Did you want to come on board right way?

What she means by she had to "fight for me" is well, she did have to fight for me but I wanted the part desperately. We were both fighting with the producers. That's what she means about fighting for people because the role is written for a Latina and I'm not Latina although, one of the reasons I fought for the role is there are many Latina women who look like me and also there was an offer out to a bigger name so yeah, it was really- me and Karen fought really hard.

What attracted you to this particular script?

You know usually I know I want to do a movie when I enjoy reading it so much that I don't put it down. You know I just like read through it, that's how I know. When it takes me a long time to read something I think this is probably not for me. This was the exact opposite. I literally kept throwing it (the script) across the room and slamming it down. It was so disgusting and disturbing and I thought this is probably what I need right now. It's still a very heightened reaction even though it's not the one I usually work for- it's a very heightened reaction and I knew it would be a challenge for me.

Did you read the script with the role of Rosetta in mind or were you just reading the whole thing not knowing?

I was reading the whole thing, but I always like to know what character I'm reading for, what character they have in mind.

While you were reading it, was there a moment where you thought that there might be another character you wanted to play, maybe something you've never done before?

No. I mean this is something I've never done. This, I knew was going to be a challenge. I knew Marcia (Gay Harden) had that reaction. Like Marcia was initially asked to play the Mary Beth Hurt role and she was like "I'm not feeling that", she was really attracted to playing the mom. But for me, I think actually what happened was I got very protective the character because she is the only woman of color in the story. When I read it, I got so nervous for her as a character that'd she become a cliché. She would become a stereotype and I thought someone has to play this role with a very intense amount of humanity and substance. I knew this had to be a very layered character for it to be honored in the story. So I just got very protective, like I have to play the character, I know what it means and I think that's what drew me to it and made me fight for it.

Did you ever think you could play "The Dead Girl?"

I think when I read it Brittany (Murphy) was already attached, so you know that's the way Hollywood works, especially when you're doing an independent you know you have to piece in the actors and mostly because I was a battle, most of the actors were on board at the point they were casting my role. Brittany, Marcia- which is also why I wanted to do it desperately cause all my scenes were with Brittany and Marcia, Giovanni, Toni Collette, so most of the cast was on board already.

What was it about the script that made you say like I have to go ahead and do that?

I think it was the whole thing, but I remember there was actually a line of action in the scene in the script where I tell her what Brittany's character's step-dad did, and in the line/action in the script it says Rosetta picks her toenails and I thought I got to play this character because that was just so real to me. I know what it's like to be in a room and to need to say things and to not want to say them so you pick your toenails.

Did you do any research for the role? Did you talk to any prostitutes at all?

We did yeah. Brittany and I spent one evening sort of, Karen really wanted us to have dinner and kind of chat because we had met a few times but we really didn't know each other, so we went out to dinner and then at Dinner, I'm actually not a smoker- we were talking about our process, we have very different ways of working, which is interesting because Marcia and I have twin ways of working, we work in exactly the same way and then Brittany and I work in completely different ways so it was really interesting to work with both of them.

But anyway, I'm not a smoker and she is so we decided that she was going to teach me how to smoke, which was hilarious and was great. Then we decided to drive around Los Angeles and look for working girls and chat with them, which was... quite an evening to say the least. There is an organization in New York actually, that I do work with and I had met them. I work with Eve Ensler who did "The Vagina Monologues" and we had done a benefit at the Apollo Theater for this organization called "Gems" which is for girls’ empowerment mentoring services.

It is like a support network and a halfway house, sort of mentoring place for women who are trying to get out of the sex trade - trying to leave sexual exploitation and to prevent young women from entering the sex trade. So I knew this organization existed and I did some work with them, the woman who founded it just got the Reebok humanitarian of the year award- but I thought that this was a great opportunity to have some equal sharing with the girls because they kept on wanting to come around and be "Ray's Wife, how cool."

But I wanted to have an exchange so you know I made copies of the script for all of them and they had never seen a screenplay before so we all read the script together and they gave me their feedback and changed some of the lines with their suggestions and they talked to me and made me understand a lot about where Rosetta was coming from and what the dynamics of her life were.

Was it risky for you to play a lesbian character? Some say it's risky for straight guys to play gay characters...

If anything it's probably easier for women because who doesn't fantasize about two women kissing each other? (Jokingly) I already had done it in Spike Lee's She Hate Me and that film was much more sexually explicit then this one was. So I was kind of like that was the least of it. I much more wrapped my head around the other stuff that was going on the accent etc. So yeah, I don't really think about that stuff too much to be honest with you. I'm an actor because I want to be different things and do different things.

Would you have done this movie if your segment was great but the rest weren't written as well?

No. I just turned down a film because it was a great cast of actors but when I talk to each one of the actors they kept going “Yeah, this script has a lot of problems but I think my role is good and I talked with the producer and my role is going to be ok” and I'm going, you know Shakespeare said ‘the play is the thing, so who is concerned about the play?’ I'm not interested in doing movies that are like equity showcases. That was years ago- I'm done with that. For me it's about telling important stories.

Do you ever think about directing or writing?

Yes, there are several (laughs). It's so funny because a few months ago Chris Rock said to me "When are you going to get your Barbara Streisand on? People know this much of your talent and what you have to offer..." So I'm working on it. I actually have now, three television shows in development and a few films. I just bought the rights to a book. But I want to take advantage of my in-front-of-the-camera years before I have to start breaking out the Vaseline (laughs)

Give us a sense of "Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer"

I wish I could. Literally they give us the scripts with our names printed on every page so if anything leaks they know exactly who it came from.

Will we see more of you in this one?

Depending on the edit, who knows, maybe? The shoot was fun. It's totally different - it's a totally different ballgame. I feel like every film is. Part of the reason I wanted to do this film (The Dead Girl) is I had just finished doing Little Man which I swear, is the most fun I've ever had on a film set ever. But I also picked up some bad acting habits from Shawn Wayans. (laughs) I may have. I said that to him everyday like ‘oh my god, you're such a bad actor’ and we would laugh about it because he knows he's an amazing writer.

So that was my draw into wanting to do this, to get back into my craft, to get knee deep in the scary stuff again. Although I had chosen to do Little Man because I had just finished doing The Last King Of Scotland and I was so emotionally drained, I was like ‘can you get me a job where I can just laugh for three months?’ So I just try to keep it- keep changing it, keep myself on my toes. I had never done a comedy before. I never had played a Latina before. I just keep on trying to surprise myself and grow so that I don't get stagnant.

Did any part of this performance stick with you after shooting wrapped?

Yeah. I mean I'm not like Forest (Whitaker). The whole time we were in Uganda (filming The Last King Of Scotland) he never let go of the essence of Idi. I mean he was in a space the whole time we were there. I know Forest very well, but I never saw Forest when we were in Uganda. Never. I saw Idi. I saw Forest in Idi. But I never saw the Forest Whitaker I know. I don't work in that way. But I do have a hard time. Subconsciously I take stuff home with me, even though I don't want to.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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