Isaiah Washington Explores a Killer’s Soul

In his first major role in years, the actor discusses his portrayal of the D.C. sniper in Blue Caprice.

Isaiah Washington as John Allen Muhammad in Blue Caprice (screenshot)
Isaiah Washington as John Allen Muhammad in Blue Caprice (screenshot)

(The Root) — On Oct. 2, 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo began a shooting spree around the Washington, D.C., area — a string of attacks that left 10 dead and three seriously wounded. The snipers terrorized D.C. for more than three weeks before being caught about 40 miles outside the city.

Now the relationship between Muhammad and 17-year-old Lee that led to 22 days of terror has been turned into a feature film starring Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond. Blue Caprice is a fictionalized tale based on the duo’s unusual friendship — a psychological thriller that traces the life of Lee, an abandoned and desperate boy brought to America, and how Muhammad became his dangerous father figure. (The murderers used a blue Chevy Caprice to hunt their targets.) The film recaps the beginnings of their relationship — from the duo’s fictionalized point of view — and how it turned into the murderous journey that gripped the country. Lee is currently serving a life sentence in a Virginia prison; Muhammad was executed in 2009.

Washington, 50, a Houston native who served as an executive producer for Blue Caprice in addition to starring as Muhammad, is best-known for his role as Dr. Preston Burke on the ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. The actor first made his mark on the big screen in four Spike Lee films: Crooklyn, Clockers, Girl 6 and Get on the Bus. Directed by Alexandre Moors, Blue Caprice is Washington’s first major work since he was released from Grey’s Anatomy for reportedly making disparaging remarks about gays in 2007.

Washington sat down with The Root to talk about the inspiration and journey that brought Blue Caprice to the big screen.

The Root: Blue Caprice really explores a different perspective of what led up to the horrific events that impacted the D.C. area as well as the nation. Have you been shocked by the response to the film?

Isaiah Washington: We have been screening this film for different audiences, but the screening here in D.C. was the best one yet. It allowed us to be able to spend some time with some people that experienced the horror up close in the community. People came out to see the film not knowing what to expect, not even questioning why they wanted to see the film. That’s more than just curiosity. The screening and Q&A in D.C. was probably the best one yet.

TR: As an executive producer of and a main character in Blue Caprice, what do you hope to achieve by telling this type of story?

IW: The thing I was hoping to achieve was a psychological and artistic gamble on many levels … being able to produce something that will not only engage the audience but [will] actually pique their interest and humanity. The humanity of characters that they think they know about, that are supposed to be written off, these horrible monsters.

People often think people like the D.C. snipers are just horrible people and they should be put away or … be dead. But you realize, after watching a film like this, you just can’t do that. There are no simple answers. You have to figure out how did they get here, whether they are African American or not.

Race was not the issue. There is a bigger conversation. We are all human beings. And after seeing this film, the conversation was started about where we are, where we are going and how we got there, and that’s all I wanted.

TR: There are so many stories similar to the D.C. sniper. What was it about this character and film that encouraged you to take on this role?