When first approached, Isaiah Washington turned down the opportunity to portray John Allen Muhammad, the DC sniper, in the new film Blue Caprice.
Washington, who’d been out of the spotlight since his abrupt departure from Grey’s Anatomy in 2007, did not like the idea of taking on a character the world deemed a “monster,” nor did he wanted to be associated with a “coward.”
Yet evil can be fascinating, social anarchy even more so. When Washington learned he would be delving into the psychology of a killer and not the act of killing, he realized the power he had to reimagine the story.
And so, he took the role.
“This is a very scary journey,” Washington tells theGrio. “I remember telling [director] Alexandre Moors, if we fail, we’re going to fail big. I’m going to probably have to live out of the country if we get this wrong. That scared me, and intrigued me.”
Because for Washington, the challenge was not to simply replay the news, but unearth the complexities of morality.
Doing it right meant bending the lines.
“If we can achieve having the audience second guess what they thought they knew about the D.C. sniper, if they don’t feel something based on this father-son relationship, no matter how caustic it became, then we failed,” he explains. “They start out as human beings.”
Entering the heart of darkness
Beginning in splendor, the story of Blue Caprice opens with sunshine on the fruitful, serene island of Antigua. It concludes in darkness, in the sterile environment of a prison block.
The film follows Muhammad as he moves from his outpost in the Caribbean to a former home in Tacoma, WA, bringing along a displaced boy he took into his family named Lee Boyd Malvo.
As they come to understand each other, Muhammad slowly purveys the mind of his apprentice, teaching the boy to feel disrespected, seek vengeance, and remove compassion from his intellect.
A now infamous killing spree ensues, and though questions still remain as to the motive, Washington didn’t have to look far for the answers he needed.
“It has been documented clearly that [Muhammad] was impressed with 9/11,” says the 50-year-old. “I’ll tell you one more eerie note. You can fact check this, look it up yourself. I dare you. That’s what I did, then I stopped looking. When [Muhammad] was executed, he expired at 9:11pm.”