Isaiah Washington Back on His Own Terms

The ex-Grey's Anatomy star talks of a career U-turn with a meaty role as the D.C. sniper in Blue Caprice.

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Isaiah Washington as John Allen Muhammad and Tequan Richmond as Lee Boyd Malvo in Blue Caprice (Brian O'Carroll)

(The Root) -- Isaiah Washington wants everyone to know he's back -- not just as a "hired hand," as he made clear to The Root, but as an executive producer. His new movie, Blue Caprice, in which he also stars, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to a packed house and a round of applause.

The title refers to the car used by John Allen Muhammad and his young accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, who participated in a deadly shooting spree for three weeks in October 2002 that resulted in the killing of 10 people in the Washington, D.C., area. Washington expertly plays Muhammad, the man who took the impressionable teenager, played by rising star Tequan Richmond, under his wing and turned him into a killer.

Washington dropped out of the Hollywood scene in spectacular fashion after a very public crisis in 2007, when he was accused of using a gay slur in reference to T.R. Knight, a fellow cast member on Grey's Anatomy. (He later apologized.) The Root chatted with him at Sundance about the fallout from that incident, how he gained new insight into Muhammad's character and when he became interested in researching his African roots and wanting to build a railroad on the continent.

The Root: What are your memories of the D.C.-area sniper attacks? One thing that shocked many was that the perpetrators were black.

Isaiah Washington: I was standing in my condo in California, and I was totally embarrassed when I found out John Allen Muhammad was an African American and that he had a family. I have three kids, he had three kids. I was embarrassed to be an African-American father that day.

Initially, I said no to the film. The director, Alexandre Moors, found me on Facebook. I don't have an agent or manager. I'm so far from Hollywood, it's not even funny. It's just not my thing, and it hasn't been for the last six years.

I'm interested in doing projects that will change cinema as we know it. I'm at a pretty good start as an executive producer of this film. I wanted to come back with ownership, I wanted to come back with something that I wanted to do, as opposed to what agents or managers are expecting me to do. I get to pick and choose, and this story hurt me; it embarrassed me.

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As I began to do the research for the role, I asked myself what ... you do after playing Dr. Burke on Grey's Anatomy. That was the pinnacle of my creativity, of getting the best positive image out there that I have been fighting for as an African-American artist. So now I'm free to go back to where I started with Spike Lee, finding characters that will now make an impact, and this was one of those projects.

TR: You gave such a nuanced, eerie performance as Muhammad, who was a father figure to Malvo. How did you prepare for that role, and what conclusions did you come to about this man and his life?

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