theGrio’s 100: Kerry Washington, the A-list star of ‘Scandal’ and ‘Django Unchained’

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Who is Kerry Washington?

Kerry Washington, 35, is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses.

Washington grew up in the New York City borough of the Bronx. After the sixth grade, Washington left public school to attend junior high and high school at the prestigious Spence School for Girls in Manhattan. She later attended the theater program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1998 as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic society with a double major in Anthropology and Sociology. Kerry likes to joke that she is a “twin of hip-hop,” because they were both born in 1977 in the Bronx. “Part of hip-hop culture is who I am,” she said during an interview with theGrio.

Washington says she didn’t initially grow up wanting to be an actor professionally. “I grew up doing local community art programs, ballet, and [performing in a] children’s theatre company. I was a very energetic and precocious child. Thank goodness my parents did not see my hyperactivity and my desire to talk as problematic, and instead encouraged me to channel it in positive ways.”

The Bronx, New York native paid her dues appearing small indie films before breaking into big-budget Hollywood productions. In her first major film, Save the Last Dance (2001), Washington gave another breakthrough performance as a street-smart teenage mom who takes in a suburban white girl (Julia Stiles) who has just transferred to an inner-city school.

Why is she on theGrio’s 100?

Washington received critical acclaim for her role as Broomhilda in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated slave revenge epic Django Unchained. Although the actress didn’t receive a Golden Globe or Award nomination for her role in the film, she says she does not take on films roles in hopes of winning an award for her work. “I feel really grateful to have a job and to be able to do what I love for a living and to work with people who I respect and admire. I do this because I love to do it, not because I have a desire to have attention,” said Washington.

The Ray star also revealed that she was extremely honored to play a slave on the big screen. “I’ve never had shame in playing somebody who is a slave or a prostitute, or anybody who may be looked down upon in society,” Washington said. “Because I think we all deserve to have our stories told no matter who we are.”

The actress also stars as Olivia Pope on ABC’s hit drama Scandal. Washington is one of the only two African-American actresses starring in a leading role on prime-time network drama.

What’s next for Washington?

Washington can been seen on season 2 of Scandal on ABC, and also will be featured in the upcoming comedy We the Peeples, starring alongside Diahann Caroll, Craig Robinson, Tyler James Williams, and David Alan Grier. The film centers around a psychologist who realizes his professional help is needed after he arrives unannounced at his girlfriend’s family’s annual end-of-the-summer party.

Follow Kerry Washington on Twitter at @KerryWashington