In Hollywood, it can often be a savvy career move for an actor to break bad. After all, the villains get to have all the fun, with supersize personae that toss out witty retorts slathered with evil relish. But there’s a difference between dastardly baddies like Calvin Candie or Silva and John Allen Muhammad, the real-life Beltway Sniper who terrorized suburban Washington, D.C., a year after 9/11, murdering at least 10 random people with the assistance of his young disciple, Lee Malvo. Their crimes were ruthless and indiscriminate, and after they were caught, convicted — and Muhammad was executed — the explanations only made their actions more horrific. This wasn’t a man who wanted redemption, and to play him on screen demanded a selfless surrender to a blanket of darkness.
Enter Isaiah Washington, most famous — and infamous — for playing Dr. Burke on Grey’s Anatomy. Since exiting the show in 2007 following some crude ill-conceived comments, he encountered what almost seemed like professional purgatory. “I’ve been in a world that is so far from Los Angeles that it’ll blow your socks off,” he says. But in Blue Caprice, which premieres at next week’s Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 19, Washington returns and resurrects the cold-blooded menace that he once demonstrated in Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 jailbreak thriller in which he played Don Cheadle’s demented right-hand hatchet-man. His Muhammad, however, is much more nuanced and thus more unsettling. Informally adopting and manipulating the impressionable Malvo (Everybody Hates Chris‘ Tequan Richmond), Washington’s character’s boiling frustration cultivates a young killer who will do anything to please his “father.”
Below, in addition to an exclusive look at the film’s poster, the 49-year-old actor explains the challenge — and personal risk — of playing such a diabolical character.
What was your initial reaction when you were asked to play John Allen Muhammed?
I’ll be honest, it scared the bejesus out of me. But I wasn’t looking for it. The last thing I was looking for was Blue Caprice. They found me on Facebook. And through a stroke of luck and serendipity I happened to check my Facebook email and saw a last kind of reach-out email with a personal letter from Alexandre Moors insisting that they didn’t want to call anyone else but me to offer this role. And I didn’t know what they heck they were talking about. So I picked up the phone and called, and they said, “We’ve been trying to find you for a month. We have a script based on what we think led up to the attacks of the D.C. sniper attacks in 2002.” I went, “No. Oh no.” [Laughs] I don’t think so. READ FULL STORY