Valentine’s Day is meant to be spent with special people. After all, millions in candy, flowers, and sexy pajama ads can’t be wrong. Now, since Kate Upton won’t return my calls, I had to settle for the amazing company of talented journalists and the extraordinary actor Isaiah Washington (along with his beautiful wife Jenisa) to promote the upcoming film “Blackbird” being showcased Sunday at the Pan African Film Festival. This tasty and informal sit down took place at the Muddy Leek in Culver City and was sponsored by Bulleit Whisky.
Normally, press events are a bit stuffy and no whisky is served, but this gathering was more like a family dinner with the Washingtons being guests of honor and like any dinner (and alcohol) is served, nothing was off-limits. Keeping with the spirit of Valentines Day, Jenisa noted how their 18 year marriage (it was their anniversary, no less) began when she saw Isaiah on the big screen and telling a friend how she “thinks she just saw her future husband.’
In an almost organic walk down memory lane, Washington recalled various moments in his life from being a kid in Texas, who struggled with which avenue to travel, whether it was the religions of the Lone Star state or the military. With a desire to be the next “General Washington,” he opted for the military before deciding that the service wasn’t his calling.
It wasn’t long before the “Grey’s” scandal was brought up. Not exactly the 400-lb gorilla I expected, as not only did it become a reaffirmation of his innocence, but more an accurate depiction of how the rush to print outlapped the race to the truth. Becoming a bit of a Hollywood pariah could make anyone bitter and paranoid, but Isaiah was quick to point out that despite a rough patch following Grey’s that his career consisted of many roles including 30 films and a constant quest to not only work on his craft, but to help other artists as well.
Washington was frank in liking the hot topic of bullying in schools to many actors treatment in Hollywood, noting that beneath the bright lights, big paychecks and botox treatments, there’s constant bullying on how to look, act, and even perform. Washington mentioned how it would be hard for any rational being not to become a bit of a horrible person after trying to survive in that environment. He also brought up the jarring effects of playing characters for an extended period of time suggesting that actors should do a mandatory month of therapy between long-term gigs. It seemed like one of those common sense things that you won’t hear about for years. After all, cops under deep cover often need therapy afterwards, so why not actors?
You’d think an artist who suffered a career crisis over perceived homophobia would avoid anything even remotely dealing with the topic, but Washington isn’t the type to shy away from any topic. His film “Blackbird” deals with a young singer coming to grips with his sexuality in the South. Produced by Washington, it also stars Mo’Nique in her first major film since winning the Oscar for Best Actress in “Precious.”
Sponsoring the evening’s affair was Bulleit Bourbon, whose history includes a family that created a brand of bourbon and whiskeys that tended to stray off the beaten path. It was that spirit that brought them to sponsor events such as this. Bulleit Mixologist Natalia Castellanos was on hand to give an oral history of the brand, but also to allow the group to sample the company’s “Tier 1″ and Bulleit Bourbon 10, which recently won an award in the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
“Blackbird” premieres at the Pan African Film Festival at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on Sunday, February 16.