Metro Weekly

John David Washington scores a big-screen breakthrough in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”

The "Ballers" star on his leading role in incredible true-life tale

Adam Drive and John David Washington in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman — Photo: David Lee / Focus Features

John David Washington stuck to a sound game plan for tackling the tricky lead role in BlacKkKlansman: “Trust Spike Lee.”

Washington, who stars in Spike Lee’s strange-but-true tale as Ron Stallworth, a black police detective who, in 1979, successfully infiltrated the KKK, reveals that the director’s strategy included advising him not to meet the real-life Stallworth until just before they shot the film.

“I got to meet him the first day of rehearsals at the table reading, and he passed out his membership card,” recalls Washington, best known for playing combative running back Ricky Jerret on HBO’s gridiron dramedy, Ballers. “He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, so he passed around the card that day, and he was sharing his stories.”

In the film, Stallworth’s tale begins with him joining the Colorado Springs P.D. as the department’s first black officer. Things take a bizarre turn when the detective responds to an ad for the klan in the local newspaper, and makes a connection that leads to the masterful undercover operation executed by Stallworth and his white partner, Flip (Adam Driver).

The film deftly spins Stallworth’s saga into gripping summer cinema: BlacKkKlansman manages to be both a tense police procedural, and a snarky racial satire — lighthearted at times, blistering at others.

Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman — Photo: David Lee / Focus Features

“It’s a thriller. It’s a piece of history. It’s a documentary in some points,” says Washington. “It’s humorous, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy. How do you categorize Spike Lee? What would you call Inside Man? What would you call Do the Right Thing?”

Among other things, those films could be called timely, which also applies to BlacKkKlansman. The movie arrives in theaters the same weekend white supremacists will march through the nation’s capital. Those klansmen and Nazis rallying in 2018 are only a generation or two removed from the racists Ron Stallworth faced in 1979.

According to Washington, son of Lee’s frequent leading man Denzel, his most challenging scenes to shoot were those in which Stallworth actually came face-to-face with the Klan.

“That was the toughest day for me,” he says. “I called Ron after that day and told him, ‘Man, you are a brave man. You really are our hero. I can’t believe you did this.’ Because there’s moments where I’m staring death right in the eye. I’m like, ‘This could happen.’ And I have a badge on. I can’t give away too much, but that day felt the realest.”

With racially-charged protests and counter-protests still filling the streets, BlacKkKlansman, and Washington’s keen performance, serve as reminders that the struggle is very real, and so is the resistance.

BlacKkKlansman is rated R, and opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, August 10. Visit fandango.com.

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