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John David Washington

The ‘Ballers’ star on praying-hands emoji, why Yelp is clutch, ‘Mr. Robot,’ and why he wouldn’t want to trade places with Steph Curry

John David Washington hid from the world. Instead of embracing the fame and attention that accompanied his role on HBO’s original series Ballers, Washington receded. He kind of stayed to himself as co-stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rob Corddry, Troy Garity and London Brown basked in the spotlight. Though Washington had made a name for himself as a running back at Morehouse College and a brief stint on the practice squad with the St. Louis Rams, he was hesitant about stepping into a field where his father, Denzel Washington, continues to make such an imprint. “That’s why I was so reluctant to do … press,” said Washington. “It’s a big part of why I stayed away from the limelight.” By the end of the second season though, the spiritual Washington is more at home in his celebrity, and is looking forward to his new role in the Rza-directed poetry slam film, Coco, which co-stars Common — all the while chasing the latest Yeezys, listening to Lenny Kravitz, playing NBA2K, and trying to step up his Instagram game.



Are you most about Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook or …

I’m just now getting my sea legs on Instagram. I got five pictures now [he has 22, and he’s private], I’m killing it, just living my life. I’m not on Twitter. I do a little Snapchatting, but it’s really about Instagram right now.

What Twitter or Instagram feed are you currently obsessed with?

WorldStar to be honest [laughs]. That’s where I get my news.

Where do you get your serious news? Entertainment news?

I have to sprinkle in some CNN … and E! Network.

What’s your most frequently used emoji?

The prayer hands. It’s thank you, the humility. Always thankful.

Q: Who would you want to play you in your biopic? A: “Jim Carrey. He’s awesome.”

What question are you asked most by fans?

‘What’s it like being related to my father [Denzel Washington]?’ And I’d say it’s great being related to my mother and my father. Both of my parents are in the business and have been working for a long time, so I’m lucky to have those examples.

What’s your current fashion obsession?

I’m into these Kanye West shoes. The Yeezys, man. They’re comfortable and they’re cool. That’s quite the statement. I wear them around New York all the time.

What’s the last show you binge-watched?

Game of Thrones. And Mr. Robot … is my favorite show on television.

What will you always be the champ of?

NBA2K. I am really unbeatable. I’m very confident about that. You see how serious my face is? [Readers] can’t see it, but you see how serious I am.

Which pro athlete would you never want to trade places with?

Good question. That’s tough. Let me be careful with this one. I wouldn’t want to trade places right now with Steph Curry. Seeing what happened in the finals, I wouldn’t trade places with him. But he’s gonna bounce back.

If you could go to dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

It would’ve been the late great Muhammad Ali. I would’ve loved to just listen to him talk.

What is the worst purchase you ever made?

I bought a rhinestone-embroidered T-shirt in 2006 of my rookie year. It was $80. This is why Ballers is important! You shouldn’t do that. Not the $80, but the rhinestones.

Who let you do that?

Exactly! I had an enabler. One of my friends I grew up with was like, ‘Yeah, bro! Do it! It’s cool!’ Are you kidding? [Laughs]

Who would you want to play you in your biopic?

Jim Carrey. He’s awesome.

“I don’t remember my first concert, but it was in Africa somewhere.”

What’s the last concert you went to? First?

Lenny Kravitz. I saw him a couple days ago. It was Lenny Kravitz, Slash, and Guns N’ Roses. It was incredible. I don’t remember my first concert, but it was in Africa somewhere. At 3 years old, my parents took me to Africa and there was this band playing. I guess after the concert — they said I didn’t move, that I was just glued to the stage and as soon as it ended, I disappeared and they couldn’t find me. Next thing you know, I was on stage playing all the instruments. I don’t know how I worked my way on stage. I was 3 years old. Whatever group that was, that was my first concert.

What is one thing you did in the past year that you never thought you’d do?

Be a professional actor. Have a job.

What’s the last stamp on your passport?

Eleuthera [Bahamas].

What songs are at the top of your playlists these days?

Fela Kuti. I got OutKast on repeat. I got Lenny Kravitz always playing. A lot of movie scores like The Book of Eli soundtrack. I’m a big fan of that whole sound. All kinds of stuff — the Mortal Kombat soundtrack.

Where does your courage come from?

Fear of God.

What’s the one app you love that no one else loves?

Yelp? Do people care about Yelp? Yelp is clutch. I’ve found one of the best Chinese food places and sushi in New York through Yelp. Good job, Yelp. Thank you.

What’s your favorite/most ridiculous meme right now?

I Am Branden. Hysterical.

Have you learned to separate yourself from the work of your father?

It’s a work in progress. Ask me in about four years, maybe. Even [First Take co-host] Max Kellerman said he didn’t know I was related to him and that’s like the ultimate compliment. I feel like that means I’m doing my job, so I appreciate it.

What keeps you undefeated in life?

Perseverance is fueled by letdowns and experiencing disappointments. Those moments are when you get to prove to yourself and to the doubters that you’re capable — if you believe in yourself enough. But this business and the last one I was in, I had to persevere. I’ve had to kind of toughen up and believe in myself to keep pushing through and that’s what I’m doing now. I’m merely just a vessel. I’m so thankful that he’s using me in this way, speaking through me even right now. I just want to be used by him, that’s all. And if I can inspire and tell the truth through these characters, then that’s what I want to do.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.