Isaiah Washington Speaks His Mind, Laments His Firing to Newsweek

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It's a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and Isaiah Washington is on the set of the independent film The Least of These, Newsweek reports.

Isaiah Washington plays a priest in the movie, and he's dressed in full-on black on black with a sliver of white at his collar.

He greets his guests with a gentle smile and an extended hand. Sitting in his small trailer filled with the scent of myrrh incense, he seems at peace.

Washington, Isaiah
Until he starts talking.

Isaiah Washington can't stop himself from doing what he's been doing a lot lately: explaining away a situation that already cost him a beloved job - and could ultimately cost him much more.

Last fall, Washington, by his own admission, picked a fight with Patrick Dempsey, one his co-stars on the ABC hospital drama Grey's Anatomy.

Fighting with a co-worker is never smart, but Washington took it further by using an offensive term to refer to a gay cast member, T.R. Knight, during the altercation.

"Patrick and I had a philosophical disagreement that got out of hand and that I regret a great deal," Isaiah Washington says.

"I said a lot of negative things that were never reported, but there was one word that caught everyone's attention, particularly someone who wasn't even in the room with us. It was a fight between two men that shouldn't have happened. But someone heard the booming voice of a black man and got really scared and that was the beginning of the end for me. I see that now, but I didn't then."

But that's not the end of the tale.

When the cast was celebrating at the Golden Globes in January, a reporter asked about the altercation, and about Washington's anti-gay comment. Washington took the mic to defend himself â€" and used the slur again. Once may have been a slip of the tongue, but twice? The public got angry.

Earlier this month, ABC did not offer Washington a new contract for the show's fourth season, which begins filming this summer.

Washington has expressed bitterness about the situation, especially since he did everything the network asked to atone for his mistakes.

"I apologized and showed my remorse for what I said and for the pain I caused anyone," says Washington.

"If a black man can't get forgiveness in this country, when so many other people like Robert Downey Jr. and the governor of California get second and third chances ... I think that says a lot about race and where we stand."

ABC asked Washington to go to rehab to deal with his alleged homophobia, which he did; he says he even paid half the fee.

"I thought them sending me meant they actually wanted me to succeed and come out on the other end," he says. Yet Washington now says that his counseling - or "homophobia reprogramming" - wasn't exactly what it seemed.

"There is no rehab for homophobia â€" that was just some crap being put out by the network," he says.

"I went into an executive counseling program which many people in this industry know about and go to. They knew what the program was but chose to call it what they wanted to fit an agenda. More importantly, I volunteered for it because I wanted to understand my fight with Patrick and how it got out of hand like that. I wanted to know what I could do to avoid it happening again."

ABC declined to comment.

Shortly after the second incident in January, cast member T.R. Knight appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show and said he felt he had no choice but to admit he was gay after Washington's fight on set.

Washington has said that Knight fueled the flames of the situation to advance his own career. No cast member has spoken to the media since Washington's firing.

Washington is no stranger to anger.

He has somewhat of a reputation in the film industry for lashing out at others while working and for also speaking his mind with no fear of consequences. A few years back, he had a confrontation with Tracey Edmonds, an African-American producer of the Showtime program "Soul Food."

Washington chalks up those previous incidents to an artist's temperament. "I have a mind of my own and I do speak it when I feel it's right," he says. "In this business that's considered being difficult and hard to deal with. A lot of actors face this and it does hurt you with work and in the future jobs. It's a price you pay though for doing the projects you want and making things turn out the way you want. I have an opinion and that should be valued by my employer."

Washington's use of the "F" word seems surprising, given that he portrayed a gay character in Spike Lee's 1996 Get On the Bus â€" and wrote an essay condemning homophobia in the black community a few years back.

One thing that's also been lost with so much focus on Washington is the sad reality of homophobia in the black community. From rap music to Eddie Murphy jokes, insensitivity to homosexuals seems to be a mainstay of African-American culture.

"Growing up in the South, I wasn't exposed to as many different lifestyles and personalities as I could have been. That's always a problem, because the more you're exposed, clearly the more you know and understand," Washington says.

"My mother had several cross-dressing friends who she sometimes referred to with names I'd never use, but she didn't know any better. There was no hate, just lack of awareness."

Washington has spent untold sums of money tracing his roots back to the small nation of Sierra Leone, where he is currently funding the building of a five-room school for village children. That sort of work might seem to contrast with his harsh comments. But if Washington is conflicted, he doesn't see it that way.

"People who know me know what's really in my heart," said Washington. "That is what's hurt me so much with all this. I was doing what I'm doing in Africa for years â€" before Angelina and Bono. But I've worked at homeless shelters for years and given money to make sure people knew they didn't have to be hungry or the street. I have shared my blessings, but all that changed when this happened and it's truly heartbreaking for me."

The actor, who is traveling to Ghana along with Jamie Foxx, Chris Tucker and Forest Whitaker to recognize the end of slavery there 200 years ago next week, also feels that race played a part in his public flogging and eventual firing.

"Well, it didn't help me on the set that I was a black man who wasn't a mush-mouth Negro walking around with his head in his hands all the time. I didn't speak like I'd just left the plantation and that can be a problem for people sometime," he says.

"I had a person in human resources tell me after this thing played out that 'some people' were afraid of me around the studio. I asked her why, because I'm a 6-foot-1, black man with dark skin and who doesn't go around saying ‘Yessah, massa sir' and ‘No sir, massa' to everyone? It's nuts when your presence alone can just scare people, and that made me a prime candidate to take the heat in a dysfunctional family."

In conclusion, does Isaiah Washington have any regrets now that a chapter of his life is now closed?

"My mistake was believing that I would get the support from my network and all of my cast mates across the board. My mistake was believing I could correct a wrong with honesty and sincerity. My mistake was thinking black people get second chances," he says. "I was wrong on all fronts.

Isaiah Washington Speaks His Mind, Laments His Firing to Newsweek

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.


THE COMMENT WAS STUPID, but the firing was un-necessary. Dr. Burke was an INTREGRAL part of the show and personally I will miss him and/or his character. Many people before him have made this same 'error in judgement' and was able to keep their job, why not give him a second chance as well. Personally I hope there's enough of an out cry that Dr. Burke makes a come back!!


I BELIEVE ISAIAH. Wow, I can't believe how many people on here are reading what this man is saying and calling him an idiot. NOBODY knows what happened on the set. Not even me. But to assume that he's doing this for publicity. Here is a man who has played on some of the most poignant movies - he has even played a gay man in a movie. Here is a man who is a SMART intelligent actor. And ABC canned him anyway. The same network that keeps running the Bachelor - a show of silly little bleached blondes chasing after one man, professing their love after 3 whole weeks. The fact remains -- Isaiah went to counseling, recorded a PSA, did everything ABC wanted, and LIKE COWARDS they fired him anyway. I'm disappointed in Shonda who didn't stand up for him and keep him aboard - this calabre of actor doesn't come by often, especially to some little TV show that has an average shelf life of 6 seasons. Because of Isaiah, BURKE is one of the BEST characters on the show - and they got rid of him. Well, Grey's has LOST a TON of viewers with the firing of Isaiah - a ton, including me.


I agree with points Iceman made, but I do think race plays a part. I do not think it was the main or the only reason, but it definately influenced ABC's decision. Knight pulling a power play was definately the front and center reason. If Dempsey was in the middle of this ABC would have kept it so in-house no one would have ever heard of it. But if Washington was going to bring race into this, he could have done it much better. He is extremely intillegent and eloquent to have had an interview come out like that. But then again, reporters only report the story they want to. Newsweek could have cut out key parts to the interview. It wouldn't be the first time. But I guess we will see tonight on Larry King!


I agree with points Iceman made, but I do think race plays a part. I do not think it was the main or the only reason, but it definately influenced ABC's decision. Knight pulling a power play was definately the front and center reason. If Dempsey was in the middle of this ABC would have kept it so in-house no one would have ever heard of it.


I must admit that i dont condone using the race card especially in this situation.I thinkhe made all his points in previous interveiws and really didnt need to add the race card. i am an IW fan and i do beleive that the media and TRK's misrepresentation of events ( which still has people saying it was a physical altercation,which it was not and that the comment was made about TRK who wasnt even there) lead to his firing, but i must say i do not think race was the reason, IMO this was about political correctness. After the incident Joe the bartender ends up gay, George ends up a stup, IW ends up out on hiss butt and TR gets a raise. if it wasnr TRK's plan to exploit this for all it was worth then he shoudl play powerball right now because he is a lucky man and now once again IW has made amove that helps TRK's cause yet again because in 2007 the race card is not the ace of spades but the 2 of clubs,worthless.Siince there is no racism any more(yeh right) Just look at these post. Even without the race card i feel he got a raw deal but it wont matter now especially after dropping the race card because now no one will listen to the truth in his other interveiws. just he way of the world i guess.


This just in....ABC just fired another BLACK actress, Merrin Dungey, from Private Practive. Big shock and surprise. ABC citing "lack of public following". Dungey has a huge following....there are white actors on that show I had never even heard of or seen before.


It is a shame that things has come to this.
I must admit as a black man I would not have said the things Isaiah said. However, he did try to atone for his comments and was still fired for it.
So he had to right to speak his mind afterwards.
Note that Grey's has been successful because of all the characters within it, with Isaiah gone there is going to be a lot lost. I will not be watching Grey's again with him gone.
Additionally, there are a number of people making stupid comments about the color of his skins not being a factor in his firing, how would you know being white. Secondly, Even though I would not use that word I get the feeling that America is trying to pass this way of life as normal, it is a chosen way of life unlike being Black or brown. Comment, to Isaiah from a Black man from England. I agree with you on many issues however a lot of your conduct was unnecessary i.e. the silly argument you got into. Note that black men have been waiting for a long time for a strong black character which we found in you, your firing has cost us a lot. This unfortunately is the white man's ball game and even though you should not act as an Uncle Tom sometimes you have to put up and shut up!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Rosie O'Donnel has been on televison insulting people for years, she even accused Kelly Ripa of being homophobic, Don Imus has been insulting every race, sex, etc., and he'd been on the air for what 20-30 years, Michael Richards could have gone back to work at the same comedy club where he made his racial slurs, but the owner told him he would have to apologize, but Richards wasn't willing to that. Yes, some people do get second, third...chances.


A) I hate both homophobia and racism!!!
B) I really don't believe that racism had anything to do with the network's or producers' decision to let Washington go.
C) I also hate cheap and sensational journalism and defamation.
D) I deeply respect the cast of Grey's Anatomy for their superb performance on the show. Isaiah Washington did a superb job in portraying Dr. Preston Burke. I therefore find it very sad to see him go and am convinced that the show won't be the same without him.


Last I heard we still had a right to express our opinion; then again I guess that may change too. It's rather funny that some people want him to shut up, but they can't do it themselves. (LOL)


Grey's Anatomy Quotes

Did you say it? 'I love you. I don't ever want to live without you. You changed my life.' Did you say it? Make a plan. Set a goal. Work toward it, but every now and then, look around; Drink it in 'cause this is it. It might all be gone tomorrow."

Meredith (closing voiceover)

There's a reason I said I'd be happy alone. It wasn't 'cause I thought I'd be happy alone. It was because I thought if I loved someone and then it fell apart, I might not make it. It's easier to be alone, because what if you learn that you need love and you don't have it? What if you like it and lean on it? What if you shape your life around it and then it falls apart? Can you even survive that kind of pain? Losing love is like organ damage. It's like dying. The only difference is death ends. This? It could go on forever.