Denzel Washington Was At A Crossroads When He Chose Acting Over A Career In The Army

Mar 29, 2022 by apost team

Denzel Washington is known as being one of the most talented and recognized actors in the entertainment industry. He has captivated audiences on the big screen and the stage and always found a way to complement his co-stars while still standing out. It’s no surprise that this star has earned several awards over the course of his career and has made an incredible impact on the acting industry.

Washington’s career first started in theater. He acted in various off-Broadway shows before he gained momentum and landed more established roles. During the 1980s, Washington really began making his presence known through movies and he went on to star in plenty of prominent films. Some of his most famous movies include “Malcolm X,” “Philadelphia” and “Remember the Titans.”

However, Washington’s life hasn’t always been so glamorous. Born on Dec. 28, 1954, in Mount Vernon, New York, Washington grew up in a family of faith and spent a lot of time with them during his younger years, specifically with his mother. He struggled a lot during his childhood, especially with understanding his faith and coping with his parents’ divorce. 

Washington was a troubled teen who didn’t do very well in school and seemed to be going down the wrong path. While many of his friends continued down this road, Washington finally pulled away from these bad influences.

Fortunately, the now-established star learned a lot during his younger days and has since found ways to avoid making the same mistakes again. Read on to find out more about the past stories that made Washington who he is today.

His Troubled Childhood

Denzel Washington (1992), (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

When he spoke with ABC News in Sep. 2016, Washington reflected on his younger years, specifically how much he misbehaved as a child and teenager. “I was mischievous,” he said. Many of his friends were bad influences and ended up going down the wrong path — some even ended up behind bars. While it seemed like Washington was headed for a similar outcome, he explained that he knew right from wrong and “never wanted to go too far.” Fortunately, Washington’s mother, Lennis, was also there to help guide him toward the right path.

“(She) had enough sense to get me out of that situation before it was going to be my turn,” Washington explained.

Lennis was such a great influence on the actor during his childhood that he has carried her advice with him well into his adulthood. He encouraged others to follow suit and said, “Listen to your mother!”

Still, Washington had his fair share of struggles as he ventured throughout his childhood into his teenage years and even into early adulthood. Since his father was a minister, Washington spent a lot of time during his childhood going to church but rejected it during his early teen years, according to ABC News.

It was hard for him to navigate his relationship with his faith and to learn to cope with his parents’ divorce. Even today, Washington still doesn’t know the reason why his parents divorced. In conversation with GQ in Sep. 2012, he said:

“We didn’t have a sit-down. They’re a different generation. I didn’t ask — you just assumed. For lack of love, or whatever their reason. I never asked. What else would I want to know? I didn’t see it coming. But I wasn’t looking. I was 14.”

Learning From His Mistakes

Denzel Washington (2002), (Chris Polk/FilmMagic)

Washington had also been estranged from his father during this time. He lived with his mother from the ages of 14 to 18 before he eventually stayed with his father. However, that didn’t last long, as Washington’s father actually kicked him out of the house at one point for being “just bad,” according to GQ.

Both of his parents were usually pretty busy with work, but Washington felt his relationship with his father faded more and more over time. During the time he was working on the film “Malcolm X,” Washington learned that his father had passed away from a stroke.

“I never shed a tear for my father,” he said. “That sounds like a book or a song. I never did all through the funeral and all that. There was no connection.”

Since Washington's father was a Pentecostal preacher, it meant that he spent a lot of time at church as a kid, every Sunday in fact. Because of this, he said that he could "relate to the people who don't like it because there was a time when it was a job." He added: 

"We all go through our rebellion."

When asked whether it was difficult growing up as the son of a preacher, Washington said:

"As a child, no. He wasn't a taskmaster, but there were certain things you couldn't do. He had his own church, and it was a long Sunday, because you had to be there all day." 

However, Washington has continued to honor his father while learning from past mistakes. “My father was a decent man,” he said. “He was a very spiritual man and a gentleman.” When asked, “What do you see of your father in you?” Washington responded, “I’m more like my mother. She is the toughest woman.”

Denzel Washington (2002), (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

It was around the age of 20 that Washington truly committed to a career as an actor. After his father kicked him out, he was at a crossroads in his life. He told GQ:

"It all kind of came together around the time that I started acting at Fordham. I was 20 and had a 1.8 GPA, and they were going to throw me out. So I took a semester off. And I remember standing in front of the army recruiting office like, 'I don't want to go in the army.' I started acting because I had done a lot of work with kids. I was at a YMCA camp. And we did a talent show for the kids. And this guy said, 'You looked like a natural up there.' So I said, 'Let me try to act.'"

He came back to acting school with a renewed sense of purpose and the rest, as they say, is history. His talent for acting only became more obvious and alongside working in the theater, Washington began to work in television in 1977, and films followed soon after. 

It's interesting to note that Washington learned from his broken childhood and past mistakes and continued to grow more confident and sure of himself as the years progressed. He is now able to reflect on his own mistakes and pass wisdom on to others. “Take responsibility,” he said. “Look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better?’” Washington added: 

”There is opportunity; you can make it. Whatever it is that you choose, be the best at it."

Denzel Washington (2021), (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Did you know about Denzel Washington’s troubled childhood? What do you think about his early experiences with his parents and how a troublesome time in his life led him to commit himself to his acting career? Let us know, and be sure to pass this along to your loved ones, too.

Please scroll below for more stories :-)