Denzel Washington recently sat down with Variety to discuss his storied career, his turn in the historical thriller The Tragedy of Macbeth, and his increasing work behind the camera at this point in his life.
The conversation eventually turned to Washington’s interactions with the late Chadwick Boseman, and Washington shared how concerned he was about the health of the Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom star prior to his death. “[Chadwick] made the movie, and nobody knew [he was sick]. I didn’t know,” Washington told the outlet. “He never said a peep about it. He just did his job.” The 74-year-old Washington produced Ma Rainey’s, and Boseman was cast as the movie’s co-protagonist Levee Green. The role ended up being Boseman’s last performance before he succumbed to colon cancer at 43 years old.
“I wondered if something was wrong because [Chadwick] seemed weak or tired sometimes,” Washington added. Boseman remained very mum about his private life and condition until death. “We had no idea, and it was nobody’s business. Good for him, keeping it to himself.”
The legacies of Washington and Boseman have been linked as far back as the latter’s days at Howard University. Washington quietly covered the costs for Boseman and his classmates to attend the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer Program when they didn’t have the funds.
“As fate would have it, I was one of the students that he paid for,” Boseman said two years ago at the 47th AFI Lifetime Achievement to honor Washington. “Imagine receiving the letter that your tuition for that summer was paid for and that your benefactor was none other than the dopest actor on the planet.”
Boseman’s delivered captivating performances of iconic African-American heroes in films like 42, Get On Up, and Marshall, and he quickly became viewed as the heir apparent to Washington as the preeminent Black actor in Hollywood.
However, Washington also had an immense influence on Boseman off-screen, too. On CBS Sunday Morning in December 2020, Washington revealed that he was the one who convinced the Black Panther star to eventually marry his longtime girlfriend Taylor Simone Ledward.
“I used to watch how she took care of him,” Washington said. “And I actually said to him … ‘Man, you know, you need to put a ring on that finger,’ cause she kept her eye on him and she watched him. And I’m like, ‘Man, she loves that guy.’… But I didn’t know what we know now.”
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