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.


It's a pitty. The problem is that IW is too honest for his own good. Words such as nigger or faggot are a extremely common. However puritan Americans try to ignore that simple fact. The only way to survive under the scrutiny of the American TV audience is to play it well. Keep your mouth shut, ignore and deny. That's exactly what IW is not able to do and it goes to show that the man is not afraid to say what others might think. By trying to set the record straight he is only destroying his future because everyone, from his cast-mates to the bosses of ABC, are too busy trying to keep up appearances. It's sad... But that's just the way it goes.


For the love of GOD people, stop giving this jackass attention, he's just killing his career, wait, on second thought, keep giving him attention! Once he kills his career we won't have to look at the jack off anymore. GO LARRY KING!!


Ok, I am now officially confused. Maybe someone who is supporting IW can clarify this for me. Is IW (and his supporters) claiming he was fired because of TR Knight's grand Machiavellian plot to take over Grey's Anatomy, ABC and Disney, or is he saying he was fired because of his skin colour? 'Cuz my head is spinning trying to figure out who or what exactly he is accusing of causing the great persecution of Isaiah Washington.


Of course race plays a part in this. If TR had been a gay black person, there wouldn't have been a media frenzy, the actor wouldn't have been on Ellen, and ABC would have either kept both actors or fired them both. Another reason some of the posters want IW/Burke gone is because he is such a great actor, and the characters of Burke and Cristina were overshadowing the Mer/Der characters.


I do not agree that IW was fired merely for being black. Sure he made mistakes but maybe..just maybe things would have turned out differently if he was white. One of the big questions with racial issues applies here - if IW was white actor would things have turned out differently?...Was it harder to forgive IW because he is an outspoken black man?


Whitney....I think that you went to far into saying nigger,that word was never used.
I would like to tell CAT,EMMA,JAMIE,MARY,CHELSEY,NIKKI and the rest of the people that said this whole thing about the race card.I think that race played a big factor, even though he shouldn't of said what he said.He did everthing that they told him to do and yet and still they fired him.They led him on to thinking that if he did those things his job would be saved.I think that anyone would be mad if it was done to them, thinking one thing and they have plans for other things.Sad to say that we do live in a world were color plays a big factor on your life.If your black you have to have light skin and curly hair and only then will you get a better role in HOLLYWOOD.If your dark you are out dated and you may can play in a up coming role as a slave.In the real world it is the same way people copy what they see on tv,light is all most white so its right.Blacks have to sell there sole in HOLLYWOOD thats just what he did and it got him no were.So I agree he needs to shut up and move on,he is making things worst everytime he shows his black face.


Yeah, okay? If he was fired just because he's a tall black man, then what's the Chief? I'm pretty sure he's a tall black man, too. And Bailey? I'm almost positive that she's black, as well. I'm sick of people blaming things on their race. Grow up- you were fired because of what you have done.


Seriously this entire mc chokegate issue was fishy right away from the beginning. Personally I still feel that I don't have enough objective information to decide whose in the wrong and whose in the right here. Naturally Isaiah has enough reason to be upset right now and to present the issue in positive light for him. Yet what if he is speaking the truth and it was never TR he called a the F word. This would shed an entirely diffrent light on the incident and the entire media-coverage thereof. I just feel that the first sources of the incident are from TVGuide and similar sources, so can we really say we got credible unbiased first hand information. I personally tend to feel that I know to little to judge anyone. And frankly speaking right now I couldn't care less I love this show and its characters. I love Burke!!!! It won't be the same show without Isaiah!!! After the seasonfinale with the fighting mountain-men scenes and Shonda's comments on crashing and burning I felt something really bad was still to come but I would have never thought they'd fire Isaiah. I am so sad and still can't quite believe it. I WANT BURKE BACK. I JUST WANT HIM BACK.


Ollyt, Akinde, twocentsgirl and others on here speaking the truth - please do not bother to try to explain the complexities of race to people who can AND will NEVER understand they dismiss it and pretend that black people who complain they are discriminated against are despicable liars or simply crazy. Black people in the US and Europe KNOW what they have to deal with everyday of their lives so it is a waste of time explaining this to to other because to put themselves in your shoes and truly share your experiences would be to open their eyes and face an uncomfortable and vicious reality. And please, please STOP lumping gays and blacks in the same boat as it trivialises and demeans the horrific history of blacks and their struggles with slavery, apartheid, lynching and segregation.


I just don't understand how anyone, including IW, can claim this is all about race. Aren't there two other successful black actors on the show? And the last time I saw her, Shonda Rhimes is black too. It's a slap in the face to these talented people to claim that his contract wasn't renewed because he's black. It's insulting and in this case, a cop out. He's obviously had problems on set and I'm sure the PTB were tired of dealing with a headache. IW had a chance to show some redeeming qualities after all of this, but now, he's just shooting himself and his career in the foot.


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)

Burke was- He took something from me. He took little pieces of me, little pieces over time, so small I didn't even notice, you know? He wanted me to be something I wasn't, and I made myself into what he wanted. One day I was me Cristina Yang, and then suddenly I was lying for him, and jeopardizing my career, and agreeing to be married and wearing a ring, and being a bride. Until I was standing there in a wedding dress with no eyebrows, and I wasn't Cristina Yang anymore. And even then, I would've married him. I would have. I lost myself for a long time. And now that I'm finally me again, I can't. I love you. I love you more than I loved Burke. I love you. And that scares the crap out of me because when you asked me to ignore Teddy's page, you took a piece of me, and I let you. And that will never happen again.