John David Washington on Ballers, BlacKkKlansman and more

11th October 2022

Before John David Washington was an actor, he was lacing up the pads every week for a career in professional football. It seems fitting, then, that when he took up acting, his breakthrough role was the portrayal of an NFL player on HBO’s Ballers . Washington has since gone onto play a bunch of other big parts since Ballers. He has since had a lead part in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and a role in the brand new mystery comedy Amsterdam, which just hit theaters. In 2019, he joined us to chat about the many times he had to audition for his role on Ballers. Plus, what it was like to get a stunning offer for his role in BlacKkKlansman via a text message from Spike Lee.

Episode notes

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

John David Washington made his acting debut in 1992, in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. John’s father, Denzel Washington was the star, and when Spike needed a boy of about eight years old for a quick cutaway scene, John David Washington pretty much had the part. That was pretty much it for his acting career for the next couple of decades. 

John played football in high school. He was really good at it and went on to play in college, and even played professionally for a few years. It seems fitting, then, that when he took up acting, his breakthrough role was the portrayal of an NFL player on HBO’s Ballers. It was familiar enough territory for him, and John was great in it.

John has since gone onto play a bunch of other big parts since Ballers. This includes the lead role in Christopher Nolan’s action movie Tenet, the romantic drama Malcolm and Marie and the brand new mystery comedy Amsterdam, which just hit theaters.

When John David Washington joined Bullseye in 2019, he’d just been reunited with Spike Lee, the first director he ever worked with. He starred in Lee’s Academy Award-winning BlacKkKlansman. John played Ron Stallworth, the first Black detective to join the ranks of the Colorado Springs Police Department.

In the film, Stallworth infiltrates a local chapter of the KKK over the phone, doing so with the help of a white police officer, who stands in for him in person. It’s a harrowing, hilarious and – at times – hard to believe movie. But much of it is based on a true story.

John David Washington talks about the many times he had to audition for his role on Ballers, and what it was like to chase a career in the NFL when your dad is superstar Denzel Washington. Plus, the challenges of portraying Ron Stallworth, and what it was like to get a stunning offer to play the role via a text message from Spike Lee.

This episode originally aired in February of 2019.

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  • John David Washington

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Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

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