Denzel Washington has been on screen in some fashion for the past 40-plus years. He’s done virtually everything in the business, from winning two Oscars as an actor, to taking on roles as a director, to assuming the title of producer in many of his recent films. Ahead of the release of his latest movie, The Equalizer 2, Washington joined The Bill Simmons Podcast to discuss his one-on-one game with Ray Allen in He Got Game, the inspiration for one of his lines in Remember the Titans, and what he was like as a sports parent.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
The Making of the He Got Game One-on-One Scene
Bill Simmons: I’ve always wanted to ask you this—this is my no. 1 question, anytime I was like “If I could ever get Denzel on the podcast.” So He Got Game, you against Ray Allen, he’s supposed to beat you. The story I’ve heard is that he was supposed to beat you like 11-nothing, or whatever the final score was. And they staged the game, and you’re playing it, you’re ad-libbing the game basically. And you decided to score the first four points, and Ray Allen didn’t know that was going to happen. Is that story true or not true?
Denzel Washington: The whole time, I told Ray I wasn’t good with my left hand, which I wasn’t. All I was doing every night was practicing left-handed. Every night, two, three hours. I’m like, “Ah man, I don’t have it.” I never let him see me practice. So if you ever go back and see the movie again, the first thing I do is start going left.
Simmons: And he doesn’t see that coming?
Washington: He doesn’t see it coming. And I got lucky—some shots started going in. Then it gets to me—the New York’s coming out of me now. I’m bragging! I think I ran around.
Simmons: You did! You did a lap.
Washington: By the time I ran around twice, I knew I was already done. I’m like, “Alright, I’m good.” I could not have gone back to Mount Vernon if he beat me 11-nothing.
Simmons: So he thought he was supposed to beat you 11-nothing and had no idea you were going to do this.
Washington: And I let him think that he was going to beat me 11-nothing.
Simmons: So you rope-a-doped him?
Washington: That’s correct.
Simmons: So after you made one [basket], and you do the lap, he actually gets pissed in real life, it seems like.
Washington: Watch [the scene] again knowing what you know now, and the look on his face. [Laughs] He’s starting to look around like—he doesn’t know. He hasn’t made movies before. And I’m not telling him. I’m trying to win.
Simmons: So if you could’ve kept it going, you would’ve actually tried to beat him.
Washington: If I could’ve won the game I would’ve.
Simmons: Right, but then he scored the rest of [the points].
Washington: Then he started dunking and things changed. [Laughs] But we don’t wanna talk about that part.
Simmons: And what was it, like a 20-year age difference at that point? That probably wasn’t helping. 1997? He was like, a baby. He was like 21.
Washington: Yeah, so there’s gotta be a 20-year difference, at least.
Simmons: That’s a really fascinating movie to rewatch. I really liked it when it came out. I thought it had a couple of issues, but for the most part I thought it was the only kind of movie like that. ... It’s really like the only one that tried to tackle how fucked up the whole system is.
Washington: And it’s sort of before AAU. You know what I mean? ... I don’t remember hearing anybody talk about AAU or any of that.
Simmons: People could go right from high school to the pros. ... It’s a really interesting movie to rewatch, and [Allen is], I think, one of the better actor/basketball players.
Remember the Titans and Being a Sports Parent
Simmons: I still have questions—Remember the Titans?
Washington: Nah, I don’t remember. Told you I got answers.
Simmons: You’ve only done that one and He Got Game for sports movies as far as I can tell, right? Am I forgetting something?
Simmons: Oh, Hurricane, yeah yeah yeah. I think that’s it.
Washington: I enjoyed Remember the Titans. It’s like every frustrated football-coaching father—now I’m the coach, and I read the script and we’re gonna win and I know it? And I can say anything I want?
Simmons: That’s a movie that has legs but also has legs in NBA arenas on the Jumbotron.
Washington: I’ll tell you, there’s a steal in that movie. I say to one of the kids, I said, “You’re killing me Petey, you’re killing me!” There’s some footage from the old NFL Films and there’s a guy named Whitey. And one of the coaches or something yells, “You’re killing me Whitey, you’re killing me!” Now I don’t know what coach says that, but I actually stole it from watching one of those NFL Film shows.
Simmons: Oh, [from] NFL Films.
Washington: Yeah, yeah.
Simmons: Your son is an actor now in Ballers. Did you know he was going to be an actor, or was that a surprise?
Washington: I knew he was talented, but you never know what a kid wants to do. And he was pursuing football and got quite far, as far as the St. Louis Rams. So once I saw him up there, I was like, “What have I done?” I didn’t know he was gonna get that far. I’m figuring, you know, a little Pop Warner, 8-year-old league, then move on. But it was so violent. ... He was in training camp his rookie year, and he said, “Dad, it’s violence.” I said, “It’s violent?” He said, “No dad, not violent. Violence. It’s just violence.” He said, “I ran the other day and nobody’s feet were on the ground. Everybody was flying, trying to get a job.” You know, you got 200 guys trying to get 40-something jobs. So he used to get, “Well, what are you doing out here? Your dad’s this …” So that was his chip on his shoulder.
Simmons: Right, proving them wrong.
Washington: He hated that. He hated it. He wanted to break your leg for saying that. ...
Simmons: What were you like as a sports parent? What were you like in the stands?
Washington: You know what I was like. [Laughs] “Get the ball!” “Give him the ball!” “Go! Give him the ball, give it to my son!”
Simmons: You probably could have intimidated the coaches.