‘It messes up your whole game’

Denzel Washington comes across like the consummate Shakespeare disciple. He played Othello in college, first gained notice in an off-Broadway performance of Coriolanus, starred as Richard III at the Public Theater in 1990, co-starred in Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film adaption Much Ado About Nothing and headlined Julius Caesar on Broadway in 2005.

Now he’s on the brink of landing a ninth Oscar nomination for taking on one of the Bard’s most tragic figures, the lead in Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.

The 67-year-old actor made a surprising admission, however, in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment.

“I’ve never seen anybody else’s Macbeth,” said Washington (watch above), who’s landing raves for his singular, let’s call it Denzellian twist on the general convinced he’s destined to take the Scottish throne. “I’d never seen it before. I’d never seen the play. … There was one movie [he likely means 2015’s Macbeth with Michael Fassbender]. I saw a little bit of that. So I didn’t have a preconceived notion of what it should be, which is the way I prefer it, actually.

“I wouldn’t want to see other interpretations because then you start thinking about what you wouldn’t do, he continues. “You’re starting off in it with a negative. … It messes up your whole game.”

The Tragedy of Macbeth also stars Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Harry Melling, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Kathryn Hunter, Moses Ingram and Sean Patrick Thomas — an multicultural ensemble that Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, In the Heights) points out is the most diverse he has seen a Shakespeare performance.

“Growing up and I certainly didn’t see anyone who looked like me doing [Shakespeare],” he said. “And so I love that now we have the opportunity to put some something onscreen, ’cause I’m trying to think of another time when something at this scale, in terms of Shakespeare, has been done on film that looks like this, that has the diversity that it does. It’s sort of leading by example without having to preach it. It’s like, this is just what we do. We go to work. I love that.”

The Tragedy of Macbeth is now playing in select theaters and streaming globally on Apple TV+.

Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Steve Michel

Watch the trailer: