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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, IsaiahUntil 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.

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Like I said, it's good that IW is telling his side of the story, because once again I'm hearing the media talking or maybe I missed it. But I don't recall a cast or crew member, etc. being interviewed who said that they were afraid of IW. IW is not an angry man, he's a man with a temper; there's a difference. I've worked with both and thats how I know.

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I am in total agreement with Burke Backer!
With all his past interviews and watching T.R on Ellen...i just think all this has blown out of proportion and find nothing wrong with IW wanting to support his side of the story!! T.R. had his time in the spotlight now it's IW's turn! let the man give his point of the view. And he knows how him being colored has affected his career more than anyone else here seeing that he is the one to experience it!

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Racism happens. so does homophobia. Nothing is completely fair in the world because of human nature. but i doubt he got fired because he's black. And look at the amazing black actors who work in hollywood. His actions and his attitude lost him his job. What he said was inexcusable. But had he not been a spoiled brat about it after the fact, he probably wouldn't have been sacked. its not conducive to any work enviorment to have one person freakin everyone else out. And i really don't think it was cuz he is black that he scared them. There is nothing scarier than a person with uncontrollable anger. Believe me i know and i don't blame those people for being scared of him. And by jumping to the conclusion that it was a race thing, just shows his own prejudice and ignorance. He himself obviously sees the world in black and white or how else would he have come to that conclusion. He is only feeding the fire that is racism and prejudice. And that is the true tragedy of all of this. Not a character being written out of a show. I am sad and will miss Burke on Grey's Anatomy, but i grieve more for the impact his accusations will have on society as well as our race.

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I think the whole problem is that people immediately assumed that he used the term 'faggot' in a derogatory fashion. In a way, people chose to take offence, especially after the media got a hold of it.
Why do people perceive this word as an insult instead of a slang?
The whole situation, that should have been wound up with an apology, a shake of the hand, and perhaps a 1 on 1 d&m between Knight and Washington has turned into a saga the media just can't get enough of.

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Looks like we all have the same problem of letting go. I guess that's why I've commented more than once.

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Well I guess it doesen't matter what anyone says, he will tell his side of the story, whether people like it or not, but I'm sure he appreciates that everyone is so concerned about him.

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Isaiah Washington is wrong in so many ways. 1) He was the person who in the beginning made that comment about T.R. Knight. It doesn't matter if he wasn't talking to T.R. when he made, he said, and he did it twice. This shouldn't be turned around saying that people can't swear, or people can't speak their minds in America; they can, and they are. People at Grey's swear too (probably many fans have seen the bloopers video where are they say is f***, and sh**.) It's not about that. It's actually the opposite. Isaiah had, and has absolutely no right to act like a victim when he made a homophobic comment against T.R. It's entirely unethical and he set himself up since he did that.
2) Isaiah keeps digging deeper into the whole stressing the fact that a "black" man got fired. That is just hypocritical, because he was last year who was on Oprah praising Grey's Anatomy for having such a diverse cast and praising Shonda Rhimes for that. He, himself knows that it was not a racist decision. He was the one being disciminating of T.R. and of the people he represents.
3) When one is LET GO, not fired (because Isaiah's contract was over and Shonda Rhimes chose not to renew it) and especially after making news about continually denying homophobic comments against one of his own colleagues, it is best to keep your dignity. I dont know what's happening with him, my respect for him from the beginning of season three, to right now has dropped rock bottom. He needs to go on; he was let go, it wasn't a racist move like he's in a way trying to say, it's not T.R. Knight's fault when T.R. Knight was the one who insultet by Isaiah himself, it was Isaiah fault. He's a grown up man, he's not an unexperiences 20 year old guy, he needs to learn to accept this.

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He just needs to shut up and stop playing the sorry black guy. I completely agree with anyone that says he's trying to turn the tables and become the victim!

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You know, reading threads in so many websites for GA and seeing all the negativity & ugliness that has been stirred up on this issue I would be very be very surprised if GA lasted another 2 seasons. This would be tragic because though I would probably not be watching GA again I really admire Shonda Rhimes and feel for her right now as she watches the controversy and negative publicity the show has acquired. I could of course be wrong; season 4 could well be the best season ever who knows...but For me it will not be the same without the Burke/Christina pairing and I truly believe a huge void will be left with Burkes departure.

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IW can't damage his career anymore than what some have already done. He is outspoken, but so is KH, but it didn't seem to hurt her career. The people who have been supporting him will continue to support him, and it's great that a reputable magazine is willing to hear his side; that's what good journalism is all about. You go Newsweek --I definitely plan to pick up a copy.