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.


as far as im concerned... i think that it was a stupid idea to fire i.w from the show, i strongly believe that the show will never be the same. but as for i.w sayng what he said... it wasnt the best thing to say, but as you all know that word has been thrown around so much that it has become a part of the slang language for "suck" "womps" or "ridiculous" as for the word "fag" in some slang it means "cigaratte" hell its the name of a meatball for Christ sake!!! it could mean tons of things he might have ben talking about firewood. he could have just implied weakness or he might have complained about someone overdressing or even carring a bit to much about their apearance. all im saing is that if the conversation was between i.w and patric.. noone has the right to say anything seing that they didnt hear the whole conversation. asfar as the racial card goes... its pathetic to even pay that card. its over played! if i were to play any card it would be the good ol dictionary card! it always works best!then if all else faild spend some money on the offended.


i think that it was sad that abc let washington go. he said something that was harmful and he apologized for it and did commercials for GLAAD. i think that the show may suffer from his absence on the show. i was really looking forward to his and christina's wedding. they had such good chemistry on the show!! but bc he has a big mouth they have to replace him!! :(


It's funny to me how IW fans, in their desperate attempt to prove TR achieved his "objectives," think that the whole controversy had something to do with George suddenly getting more screen time and becoming, as one poster put it, "a big heterosexual magnet." How do they even make such a bizarre connection? And Belgian_grey: Please don't be so quick to judge America. Yes, America has persistent racial, as well as other social problems, but so does EVERY other country in the world. Show me one country in the world where people of different color, race, religion etc live in perfect harmony. Even in Belgium, where I assume you hail from, there's a continuing tension between the native population and the muslim immigrants. Yes, America has a lot of faults, but I think it's safe to say a qualified, educated and motivated immigrant, regardless of his/her race, has a much higher chance of succeeding here than Belgium or any european country.


I enjoyed Mr. Washington's portrayal of Dr. Burke. Since I am unacquainted with all of the individuals involved, I cannot make statements of fact (like many posters have), just my personal beliefs. Belief 1: Mr. Washington twice showed poor judgment by using a slur (once in his workplace, which would see many "regular" workers disciplined or fired), and the second time on TV. Belief 2: Mr. Washington's employer did not fire him. Mr. Washington's contract term had expired, and his employer declined to offer him another contract. Belief 3: Mr. Washington appears to have lost a great gig, and is casting about for others upon whom to blame his circumstances. If he wants to know whom to blame, he might want to examine his mirror when he shaves. It's amazing that a grown man could blame a coworker (Mr. Knight) for some bizarre Machiavellian scheme rather than just say "I screwed up. It was a great gig. I regret it."


Hey-what happened to forgiveness? I don't understand why everyone can't see that IW is sorry for what he did and has tried to show his regret for what happened. I think that GA is a great show and without Dr. Burke back-it definitely will bring the show down! I strongly believe that if TR can get sympathy for being gay-IW might as well use his race to get sympathy! I am totally for IW-mainly because the show definitely needs his amazing talent and character to make the show a success!


Also, another thing...LEAVE TR ALONE! He did NOTHING to you!


All I have to say about Isiah is that he is bunch of bull and he knows it! Isiah did not get fired because of racism. Excuse me, there are bunch of other different races on that show and they didn' t get fire because of their race. He got fired for calling TR a REALLY bad name. Who cares if TR is gay and even if he isn't, still who cares. TR is SO ADORABLE and SWEET! That I just want to give him a BIG HUGE hug! Please, Isiah do us all a favor and GROW the f*ck up and also start showing more respect,too. Respect goes both aways and also what goes around comes you got what you deserve!


Grey's Fan, being gay is NOT a race. Thus, it is not a racist remark. Washington did not call Knight a faggot. He called Dempsey one, out of anger, not as a slur. A black person commenting on plantation workers and speech is not a racist comment, especially from a BLACK person. He has clearly taken accountability. He admitted to saying the word, but not in the context you and others are so convinced he has used it in. He did not call someone a faggot twice. The second time he used it in an explanation. That's like a little child saying "daddy said sh*t...that's a bad word." The child clearly was not saying the bad word in a bad context but rather as an explanation. If you are going to call someone an idiot, you should look at what you write before doing so.


O.K., didn't IW get fired because he made a homophobic slur which could be construed as racism and now he is claiming he was fired because of his race???? His firing isn't about his race it is about him making a racial remark - HELLO!!!! I agree with Cat, he is a lunatic. Just from his comments alone regarding not talking like he just came from the plantation - couldn't that be construed as a racial comment in itself!!!! I'm sure if someone other than a black person made that comment Jesse Jackson would be ringing their doorbell!!!! This jerk is just full of pathetic comments and the bottom line is he is not taking accountability for his own actions. Did he not think before the Golden Globes incident when he spouted off on national TV - what did he think that after that mess ABC would give him a hug and renew his contract????? This guy is not living in reality! I agree with ABC for not releasing a reply because such stupid remarks really don't dignify a reply. IW is an idiot and doesn't know when to shut his trap - whether you are black or white is irrelevant - he is obviously a person with issues who needs to go back to counseling. What is he going to spout off at next - a spaceship came and took him to another planet. Move over Anne Heche - there is another lunatic on the block!!!!!


I Think IW is Right in one way because ABC is'nt giving comments and we'd thrust them more than a person that might hate the network at this point but I personally think if Dr. Berk won't come back they (Grey's Anatomy) will loss a huge amount of veiwers, they might not see it at the beggining (Duh people wanna know if he'll be back or not or how the show'll be without him) But around the 6 episoed they'll see changes. If racism is'nt the cause of him being fired might aswell tell us because the slang word IW used is bad but as he said he might have had no idea how it would affect him and thought that it was just a word that maybe in his CHILDHOOD he always heard it being used and he got adopted to it as maybe another meaning he thught it meant. But I come to this speculasion that If the other co-actors ar'nt taking why would they if ABC really did something bad at firing him and risk their job.ABC speak up and state the facts!


Grey's Anatomy Quotes

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.


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)