“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
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.
For her subsequent sit-down with Ryzik, Jones kept the jacket but lost the pants opting instead for splashes of white paint down her incredibly long, enviably toned legs. After several standing ovations, which ultimately prompted Jones to comment, “Oh honey the love, gotta feel the love,” Jones talked at length about her family. She recalled her incredibly strong bond with her three brothers and her difficult relationship with her grandfather. She also gushed like any other proud grandma about her granddaughter, whose birth appears in the documentary. Jones shocked audiences when she cheekily admitted that the horror film “Rosemary’s Baby” flashed into her mind when her granddaughter finally first opened her eyes and she discovered they were violet colored. They have since changed color with time.
Asked her biggest career regret, Jones replied simply, “I didn’t do the film ‘Blade Runner.’” Offered a part in the science fiction classic, she had turned it down. A fixture on what was then a huge clubbing scene in the ’70s and ’80s, she was asked which venue she would like to see come back. Almost without hesitation she replied, “The Garage. The Garage with Larry Levan. That was like, church.” She was of course referring to legendary disco and house venue, Paradise Garage.
Ryzik, who sometimes seemed thrown by the superstar’s outsize and offbeat personality, asked her about her initial shyness as a singer. Jones talked about her admiration for her own mother’s singing voice. “My mom had the most incredible voice,” she stated. “She had an amazing voice. She was the pinnacle for me.”