Denzel Washington is one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. But as it turns out, most of us have actually been mispronouncing his name for decades now.
The actor sat down for an international roundtable with Etalk and other outlets to chat about his Oscar-nominated role in the recent Apple TV+ release of The Tragedy of Macbeth, in which he clarified how we should all really be saying his name.
“You can pronounce it any way you like, it doesn't matter to me,” he responded when one reporter asked him to clarify. “It really doesn't matter. It's actually pronounced Den-zle.”
Take note, everyone in the world who has been calling him “Denzelle” over the years. Well, everyone except for his late mom, Lennis Washington, who actually originated the pronunciation most fans are familiar with.
“I'm Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr.” he continued. “My father was Denzel. My mother would say ‘Denzel!’ and we would both walk into the room. So then she said to me, ‘Okay, from now on, you're Den-zelle.’”
The clarification may be mind-blowing to some, but it’s one that Washington has made before, on The Graham Norton Show, back in 2013. Although to be fair, many viewers walked away from that interview more confused than anything, since Washington referred to himself with both pronunciations in a comical bit with the host.
No matter how you address him, one title is clear: Washington is a history-making Oscar winner. With the recent nod for his performance as Macbeth, he extended his record as the most-nominated Black actor in Academy Awards history to 10 nominations. If he wins on March 27, it will be his third acting trophy (he previously won supporting actor for the 1990 film Glory and best actor for the 2002 movie Training Day).
Not that Washington particularly cares about any of that, mind you.
“I just show up,” he said when asked about the big show. “I've been blessed to have been nominated 10 times now, including Best Picture. I've seen it all. I've seen every which way the shows can go. I’ve been the winner, the loser and whatever else. I just go and try to have a good time. And that's about it.”
To be fair, Washington appears to feel equally meh about all awards shows. When a reporter from the U.K. asked him about all of those BAFTA snubs, he joked that maybe he once forgot to hold open a taxi door for someone or something. He then asked about fellow Oscar winner (and five-time Academy Award nominee) Morgan Freeman, who has also never been nominated.
“You tell me what is it?” he responded with a laugh. “Did I hurt somebody's feelings… I can't tell. Has Morgan been nominated yet? I have no idea, man, whatever. Life's too short. God bless 'em.”
One thing Washington does care about is the role of Macbeth itself. Years ago, when director Joel Coen approached him about starring in the movie alongside Coen’s real-life wife, Frances McDormand (who was already familiar with the part of Lady Macbeth having played her on Broadway), Washington had never read the Shakespeare play. Nor had he seen any of the many, many other iterations, some of which have starred the likes of Patrick Stewart, Kenneth Branagh, Ian McKellen and Orson Welles.
To prepare for this take, Washington continued to avoid those other versions. He and McDormand also spent a year in between other projects going over and familiarizing themselves with the Shakespearean text. In the end, despite all of the planning, practicing and even the Oscar nod, he still doesn’t feel like he quite nailed it.
“This was a foreign language, so you better dig deep,” he revealed to Etalk. “There's no ad-libbing with Shakespeare. You have to meet William Shakespeare. You have to come up to his level. All of us did. He's the standard we're trying to hopefully approach,” he continued.
“When you approach it like that with proper humility and determination and hard work, it is fulfilling. It was fulfilling when I first started reading Shakespeare in college and got a chance to take a stab at Othello, and it is even more fulfilling now. Because it's the one play that I've had the chance to interpret where I never feel like I got it right. Where there's always more that you can do, or there's another way of looking at it. It is the one I want to go back to, more than any other roles I've played.”
The Tragedy of Macbeth is available now on Apple TV+.