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Isa­iah Washington is more pas­sion­ate about ar­chi­tec­ture, African roots than re­turn­ing to TV land.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SHOWBIZ - By MARK CARO

ISA­IAH Washington emerged from an Oak Park Frank Lloyd Wright house in a happy daze, cheer­ing the ar­chi­tect’s “trick­ery” and en­thu­si­asm for up­end­ing con­ven­tions and flum­mox­ing ex­pec­ta­tions.

“I’m kind of like that,” the 47-year-old ac­tor said with a loud laugh. “It’s al­most like, try to put me in a box, I’ll rein­vent over here.”

Washington wouldn’t ex­pect most peo­ple to know that he’s a Wright fan and a stu­dent of ar­chi­tec­ture and his­tory in gen­eral. He would cer­tainly like them to know about the work he has been do­ing to help pro­vide clean wa­ter and in­fra­struc­ture to the im­pov­er­ished West African nation of Sierra Leone.

He ap­pre­ci­ates that so many know him as the tal­ented cardiothoracic sur­geon Dr Pre­ston Burke from his three sea­sons on the ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy. He wishes more folks would for­get about his widely re­ported ar­gu­ment with cast­mate Pa­trick Dempsey, in which he used an anti-gay ep­i­thet that co-star T.R. Knight said was di­rected at him. That Washington re­peated the word – in the con­text of deny­ing he’d hurled it at Knight, all while his fel­low cast mem­bers stood dumb­founded on the Golden Globes back­stage podium to cel­e­brate their best-drama win – well, he’d ap­pre­ci­ate it if peo­ple would look past that, too.

He did apol­o­gise, af­ter all. Re­peat­edly. And he paid a price, as he was dis­missed from the show in June 2007, five months af­ter the Globes brouhaha. Have you seen him much since then? Well, maybe you caught his ap­pear­ances on NBC’s Bionic Woman later in 2007 be­fore that se­ries bit the dust. You prob­a­bly didn’t see him as the priest in­ves­ti­gat­ing dark se­crets in The Least Of These, a 2008 movie that never hit the­atres, or as a bas­ket­ball coach along­side For­est Whi­taker in Hur­ri­cane Sea­son, which the fi­nan­cially chal­lenged We­in­stein Co fi­nally sent straight to DVD ear­lier this year.

Washington has some other projects in the works as well, in­clud­ing Area Q, a thriller shot in Brazil in which he stars and is pro­duc­ing, but his fo­cus has moved else­where.

Strong sense of con­nec­tion

In 2005 Washington took a DNA test that linked him to the Mende peo­ple of Sierra Leone, a dis­cov­ery that sent him on an ob­ses­sive fact-find­ing mis­sion. He said he came down with “Google ADD” as he re­searched the coun­try’s rit­u­als, cus­toms and his­tory and its con­nec­tions to the United States’ ear­li­est days. His sense of con­nec­tion be­came so strong that in April of this year he was sworn in as a Sierra Leone cit­i­zen, his dual cit­i­zen­ship rep­re­sented by a lapel pin he wears de­pict­ing the United States and Sierra Leone flags.

“I never thought I’d live to say this, or see this: I’m more in­ter­ested in this jour­ney than I could ever be spend­ing my time on a set with makeup and hair,” Washington said. He has even writ­ten a book (with Lavaille Lavette) called A Man From An­other Land: How Find­ing My Roots Changed My Life, which Cen­ter Street/Ha­chette is sched­uled to re­lease in April. Washington wears a goa­tee now – pep­per for the mus­tache, more salt in the beard – as well as thick-framed glasses and a brown suede beret over what he re­veals to be a shaved head. He’s el­e­gant in a grey suit and crisp white shirt, no tie. He’s tall, lean, con­fi­dent and very talk­a­tive.

He also was game to clear the air about his Grey’s Anatomy exit.

“At the time it was very painful, em­bar­rass­ing, hu­mil­i­at­ing,” Washington said. “I was dis­traught. I was ner­vous. I didn’t know what my fu­ture was go­ing to be eco­nom­i­cally be­cause I was be­ing taken to task for some­thing that I apol­o­gised for, and it never stopped, and I re­alised I was a part of a much larger po­lit­i­cal agenda.”

That agenda, he con­tin­ued, in­volved the re­ac­tion to his pro­gres­sive char­ac­ter.

“This is not ego­cen­tric here. Dr Burke was Barack Obama be­fore Barack Obama, par­tic­u­larly in the world of the black com­mu­nity.” He as­serted that his elite, pro­fes­sional African-Amer­i­can char­ac­ter was a tele­vi­sion pi­o­neer, one who hap­pened to be in an in­ter­ra­cial ro­mance with San­dra Oh’s Cristina Yang.

“I said my days are go­ing to be num­bered, be­cause a lot of peo­ple are go­ing to be un­happy about that, be­cause my char­ac­ter wasn’t re­ally sup­posed to be as prom­i­nent as he be­came,” he said. “A lot of peo­ple were re­ally concerned with where the pro­gres­sion of the show was go­ing to go.”

Asked whether these peo­ple were in­side or out­side the show, Washington said, “Both, but those peo­ple are no longer there. The ones that had the biggest con­cerns about my char­ac­ter, what I wore, what I said, what I did, ended up leav­ing shortly af­ter I did.”

He ac­knowl­edged that this was a ref­er­ence to Knight, who left two sea­sons af­ter Washington, and Kather­ine Heigl, Knight’s friend and Washington’s most out­spo­ken critic when ev­ery­thing was hit­ting the fan; her last episode aired early this year.

Ef­forts to reach Knight, Heigl and Grey’s Anatomy ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Shonda Rhimes were un­suc­cess­ful.

There are oth­ers who view Washington’s down­fall as spec­tac­u­lar ca­reer self-im­mo­la­tion. “It was stupid, stupid, stupid be­cause it was so early in his new­found ca­reer,” said E! gos­sip colum­nist Bruce Bibby, aka Ted Casablanca, whose ques­tion at the Golden Globes prompted Washington’s foot-in­mouth an­swer. “That was his big hit, and he screwed it up right away. That’s got to go down in his­tory as the all-time ‘ What are you think­ing?’ (moment).”

Washington said the con­tro­versy never rep­re­sented who he ac­tu­ally is. He said he con­sid­ers African-Amer­i­can author and ac­tivist James Bald­win and other gay fig­ures to be per­sonal he­roes, and he played a gay char­ac­ter in Spike Lee’s 1996 film Get On The Bus.

Af­ter his dis­missal from Grey’s Anatomy, he cam­paigned against Cal­i­for­nia’s anti-gay­mar­riage ref­er­en­dum, Propo­si­tion 8, and he took a photo with pho­tog­ra­pher/gay-mar­riage ac­tivist Adam Bouska when, he claimed, “no other African-Amer­i­can would sup­port it”.

Washington ad­mit­ted that find­ing mean­ing­ful work post-Grey’s Anatomy was dif­fi­cult, though he landed that Bionic Woman gig al­most im­me­di­ately. He noted the con­trast be­tween his chal­lenges and those of Mel Gib­son and Char­lie Sheen, who not only were linked to racial slurs but also have ar­rests and abuse com­plaints in their re­cent his­to­ries.

“I wasn’t given the same ben­e­fit of the doubt,” he said. “But you know what’s strange, though? I would still work with Mel Gib­son!” He said with a laugh. “He’s tal­ented, man! Come on, he came up with Apoca­lypto, man! I want to work with this guy. I’ve worked with Steven Sea­gal. He’s out of his mind. I mean, I’ve worked with Spike Lee for four films. I’ve worked with some peo­ple that you can say are right there tee­ter­ing be­tween ge­nius and mad­ness. So I don’t look at their

‘I’m on the world stage right now,’ says Isa­iah Washington.

Leav­ing the drama be­hind: Isa­iah Washington, the tal­ented cardiothoracic sur­geon Dr Pre­ston Burke, and San­dra Oh, as his on-screen lover Cristina Yang, in Grey’s Anatomy.

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