(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?
IW: Initially I didn't [want to take it]. I was approached on Facebook about this project. I said no, I'm not going down this rabbit hole, no way. This would be a disaster for me to be a part of. I told the producers, "You must really want me to run out of the country." I thought, "I'm not doing this movie."
But then I read this wonderful message that I received via Facebook that Alexandre Moors had written, and it took me back to maybe the 19th century, when you write letters. We don't really do that anymore. He had been following my work since Clockers and truly appreciates what I have been trying to do and contribute to film … that got me. That was the hook. After a two-and-a-half-hour conversation and looking at his previous work with him, I was in. I felt enlarged by his work. So I said, even if we fail, we're going to look good. The film is going to look amazing, and the music is probably going to be hot.
And I was not wrong … We did not fail. We actually told a very complicated story about a very toxic relationship between a father and son. Whether they were biologically connected or not, they were connected through pain.
When I looked at John, my character — a man-child, in my opinion — [I saw a man] with a huge hole in his heart. He was bitter and angry, and his children were taken from him, and that is what we were able to put in the film. John knew how to take this nation down to its knees, to [its] core, and make the whole world think [he's] an army.
I wanted us to tell this story in a way that people would understand how it got there, without being right on the nose, without dictating, without projecting what we want you to think. We want people to look at it and decide whether this is interesting or not.
TR: This film is centered on the unusual father-son relationship that your character, John, and Lee have. It is packed with intense moments between your two characters. What was one of the most challenging scenes for you?
IW: Tequan Richmond was amazing. You forget that he was on Everybody Hates Chris; it's completely different! Gone — that was a chapter in his career. Man, I feel like a proud papa.
Throughout the film, every character had a silent intensity. But Tequan, he had more silent intensity then anyone. His character grows up right before your eyes. There is one car scene in particular when everything shifts, a monster is created.
It was an interesting scene. We both were struggling in that scene because it was so intense; it was intimidating. Tequan was like, "I think I need a weapon or something in my hand," and I said, "I hear you." So I asked the directors if we have a weapon behind the seat. And they said no, we had no budget for that.
So I said, "Tequan, pretend. Pretend you have all the power in the world and you hold [this person's] life in your hands. You just have to pretend. You have to know that in this scene. And if he makes any false move, you got to take him out." I said, "You just have to know. You have to think it … "
At that moment it was no longer about the weapon; he was the weapon. That's what a supporting actor is supposed to do: When [a co-star] gets in trouble, they are supposed to support you and help you get there.
TR: Since leaving Grey's Anatomy, what has life been like for you? Are there more projects in the works?
IW: I have had a chance to really explore life more in the last six years than I ever had. Dealing with becoming a better husband, a better father and a better humanitarian. Just traveling so much, seeing how the other half of the world lives, perceives — not only [in] this country but the world. If I could give a gift to anybody and everybody on the planet, it would be the gift of travel. And that's where I'm at. I'm so far from Hollywood, it's not even funny.
People [say to] me, "Oh … you're this, you're that," and they said the same thing about the D.C. sniper, too. That's why I chose this film; it's just to show the world that you can't believe everything you read, no matter what the circumstances are. You cannot just throw people away like human garbage. You have to understand that everyone came through someone's womb, every single one of us. So there are a lot of people out there that are invisible and don't want to be … You are born, you die, and everything else is left for interpretation.
TR: You have had a long and interesting career. What do you want your legacy to be? What's next for you?
IW: I am on the TV series The Hundred as Chancellor Jaha. [It's] set 97 years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization. I think by the end of this run, I won't owe anybody … I'm a free black man. I have my dual citizenship. I can go back to Africa, Sierra Leone. I'm good. Got my 140 acres and a mule — well, actually 6,000 acres in Sierra Leone that I just bought — [and] some goats. And hopefully within the next two years, [I'll be able to] help feed people, give people jobs.
I have other interests that have pulled me that I think are equally important, and hopefully my legacy will be, "He did what he said he would do, and he loved his people, and he tried to raise the bar for all of us."
Editor's note: For more information about the film and show times in your area, visit bluecapricefilm.com/.