Grace Jones, Denzel Washington and George C. Wolfe at TimesTalks

NADINE MATTHEWS | 4/19/2018, 4:28 p.m.
“I start each day on my knees,” Denzel Washington revealed to a packed, 378-seat house at the Times Center in ...
Grace jones with fans

“I start each day on my knees,” Denzel Washington revealed to a packed, 378-seat house at the Times Center in response to an audience member asking how he handles life’s slings and arrows.

Although this sobering observation elicited murmurs of approval from the crowd, eruptions of laughter from the audience were more the norm during the approximately hour and a half long talk and Q&A known as TimesTalks. It was part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of TimesTalks, which was kicked off the previous Friday night by legendary singer, actress and model Grace Jones who is promoting “Bloodlight and Bami,” Sophie Fiennes’ documentary about her life.

During Sunday’s event, moderated by Sopan Deb, Washington was joined on stage by five-time Tony winner George C. Wolfe, who is directing Washington in the latest revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.” Currently in previews, the wrenching drama set in a Greenwich Village bar around the turn of the 20th century will open April 26. Washington plays charismatic traveling salesman Theodore Hickey.

Asked by Deb who is the one person, living or dead, he wishes he could work with, Wolfe said Paul Robeson. Wolfe shared that when he was in college, he looked up to Robeson so much that he often told people he was the illegitimate child of the legendary actor. Washington, whose respect and admiration for Wolfe was evident throughout, followed up asking him why. “I think Robeson had an astonishing instrument,” Wolfe said, “I once saw footage of him discussing Othello and how he broke down the language and how he found himself inside the language. I thought he was an incredibly smart, detailed actor.”

Writer, journalist and cultural critic Touré was in the audience. He told the Amsterdam News he decided to attend because of Washington’s appearance. He said, “Denzel is an extraordinary talent and he doesn’t usually do these sort of things, so I came to see what he would say. He talked a lot about not overanalyzing acting. A lot of actors talk about getting out of your own way and becoming a vessel, so it was wonderful to hear him talk

about that.”

The afternoon event was punctuated by something of a mystery when an audience member, during Q&A, said she was told Washington never does curtain calls. Washington, obviously taken aback, assured her that was not true. The woman proceeded to walk over to another audience member who turned out to be the person who had made the claim. Washington invited that woman up on stage, where she repeated her assertions as Washington looked at her in bemused disbelief. The plot thickened when yet another audience member stood up and said she had just seen Washington in previews that week and he had indeed taken the curtain calls. Washington, who had handled the whole thing in a light-hearted manner, simply laughed and said his accuser “needed Jesus.”

Friday night was just as drama filled as an audience of loyal fans watched Grace Jones chat with cultural reporter Melena Ryzik. Jones strutted out onstage to the sounds of her own hit, “Nightclubbing,” scaling a set of stylized stairs created for the occasion in four-inch stilettos, a tuxedo (no shirt underneath of course), and a bright red, bejeweled Philip Treacy hat. Though there was just one hitch—Jones didn’t quite stick the landing after she made the jump from the top of the stairs—she recovered with the slick, stalwart professionalism that has made her the legend she remains at 70 years of age.