Denzel Washington's son has grown up to be gorgeous

A-list actor Denzel Washington turned 63 in 2017, which is something you probably haven't thought too much about considering it appears he hasn't aged since the mid-80s. Though he's been acting for more than 40 years, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker hasn't slowed down one bit, even as he's expanded his professional work to directing, producing, and walking the boards on Broadway. 

As a filmmaker, Denzel seems set on entertaining audiences for years to come, and his son, John David Washington, has matured into a commanding actor in his own right. Born in 1984, the younger Washington and son of two actors wasn't always out to follow in his parents' footsteps. From a career in professional football both in the United States and abroad to starring opposite Dwayne Johnson in HBO's Ballers, Washington is taking the family trade and making it his own. There's never been a better time to learn more about this rising star, so read on as we break down everything you need to know about John David Washington.

Baller, but for real

Washington came to prominence as an actor thanks largely to his Ballers role as Ricky Jerret, a charismatic and competitive NFL player. While his acting chops help the performance come across as believable, it's his real-life years of experience with the sport that makes his character feel truly authentic.

Honing his football skills from a young age, Washington graduated from high school as an All-American standout, heading to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. to further his studies and take his game to the next level. Arriving on a football scholarship, he played as one of the school's Fighting Maroon Tigers until graduation in 2006, setting multiple school records for rushing yards over the course of his college career.

Since leaving behind the world of football, Washington has continued to speak fondly about the sport, saying he developed a passion for it as his own form of rebellion against his more artistically-minded parents. "It was my independent card," he told The Breakfast Club in a 2016 radio interview. "I earned my own scholarship… I'm very proud of that. [My parents] didn't pay for my schooling… I took it very seriously because it was all I had." 

Washington's views on football have changed as he's gotten older, but the actor doesn't regret the experience. "It was my quest to make it," he told The Breakfast Club. "And I made it as far as I could."

Going global, going pro

After college, Washington segued from college ball into the NFL, getting signed as an undrafted free agent by the the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams in 2006. Despite his distinguished college career, the gauntlet of the NFL proved hard to navigate, and he never saw much in the way of playing time during his stretch with the Rams. His two seasons in the NFL were spent on the team's practice squad. 

In a 2016 interview with The Breakfast Club, he recalled his first carry in the league versus the Indianapolis Colts. He said he rushed for nine yards, describing it as a memorable moment that was, unfortunately, not followed by much more action. He eventually moved to Germany to play running back for NFL Europa's Rhein Fire team.

Before taking the field with the Rhein Fire, Washington first orbited the Hamburg Sea Devils, angling to get picked up as a running back. But instead of getting some time on the German AstroTurf, Washington instead got a taste of showbiz superstardom, being swarmed by European movie fans giddy over his resemblance to his father. "They almost see him when they see me," Washington said of the phenomenon. 

Since he was trying to secure a football job at the time, Washington was diplomatic about the disruption. "If they want to take a picture, that's fine with me. The way I look at it they are taking pictures of the Hamburg Sea Devils team."

The NFL 'will break your heart'

Following his trip to the other side of the Atlantic, Washington returned to the States in 2009 to play for the now-defunct United Football League, an NFL alternative that lasted four seasons before the operation folded. Washington was drafted for the League's inaugural season, playing for the California Redwoods (later known as the Sacramento Mountain Lions). He remained with the team up until the league's closure, at which point he decided to end his sports career. 

The experiences Washington had playing football offered him vital insight into the minds and lifestyles of professional athletes, which heavily informed his construction of his Ballers character, Ricky Jerret. "This character, he made me giggle at first because I know guys with his spirit," Washington told Men's Journal. "But what really attracted me to Jerret was the cultural misunderstanding of a guy like this. A lot of NFL guys are misunderstood. I felt like I had an opportunity to take a magnifying glass to why he acts like this, because of what he's dealt with and the kind of pressures he's under."

Washington summed up the tragic and misunderstood side of the NFL during a 2016 interview with The Breakfast Club. "The business will break your heart," he said. "The NFL stands for 'Not For Long.'"

Balling on HBO

After leaving football behind, John David Washington headed into the family business, securing a role opposite Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson on HBO's sports dramedy Ballers. Washington's character on the series is a talented, driven, and hotheaded NFL star. Johnson plays his ex-athlete agent, guiding him through the gauntlet of life in the spotlight. 

Though the Rock garnered most of the pre-release hype for the TV show, it's Washington who's managed to grab the most buzz since the series aired. That attention is well-earned. Rather than having strings pulled on his behalf by friends in the industry, Washington auditioned for his role 11 times, reported Men's Journal, only telling his dad about it after he knew he had the part. 

Whatever you do, don't call him the star of the show — he's too humble for that. "It's an ensemble cast," he demurred to The Breakfast Club. "The Rock is on the show."

One strong start

Encouraged by acclaimed director Spike Lee, Washington made his film debut at 9 years old in 1992's Malcolm X, an epic biography about the controversial leading figure of the Civil Rights Movement. The film featured his father in the lead in a titanic performance, earning an Oscar nomination for best actor. But while dad Denzel's performance is riveting, he's not the only Washington with moving moments in the movie. 

Long before he wanted to go into acting as a career, the younger Washington made his screen debut as one of the many Harlem schoolchildren standing up to be counted in the movie's powerful "I am Malcolm X" final sequence. According to an interview with The Breakfast Club, his scene took seven takes — and he was not paid for his work. 

While the one-line performance is easy to miss, it's an essential part of the movie's moral message. Not to mention, how many actors can say that they shot their first-ever on-screen performance with a filmmaker as revered as Spike Lee?

Another Spike Lee Joint

Washington brought his career full circle when he met up with Spike Lee as an adult to star in the revered filmmaker's 2018 movie Black Klansman. Based on a remarkable true story, the movie follows Washington in the role of Ron Stallworth, a real-life police detective who, despite the definitely-not-white shade of his skin, was able to infiltrate a Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, becoming not just a member, but its leader. 

From his improbable position at the top of the hateful organization, Stallworth is able to gather intelligence on the terrorist group and sabotage its activities. Curiously, Stallworth is able to rise through the KKK's ranks by doing most of his work with them over the phone, sending a white officer in his stead on occasions when he has to show up in person.

Based on the book about Stallworth's infiltration, the movie also stars Adam Driver as an undercover police officer, Topher Grace as a white supremacist nemesis, and Straight Outta Compton's Corey Hawkins as the Civil Rights Movement activist Stokely Carmichael. It's produced by both Lee and Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele.

The Coco connection

As an actor, John David Washington has worked with some of the most notorious figures in hip-hop, collaborating on a feature film with Wu-Tang Clan luminary RZA and firebrand rapper Azealia Banks. 

With RZA directing and Banks in the lead role, Washington appeared in the movie Love Beats Rhymes (formerly known as Coco). The story of the film focuses on Banks as an aspiring hip-hop artist trying to reconcile her love of the spoken word with a family pressuring her to continue college. In the movie, Washington plays Mahlik, a member of Coco's four-person freestyle group who doesn't take the rap game — or his on-again, off-again relationship with Coco — nearly as seriously as he should.

Washington said the film is influenced by the art and culture of rap. "It's really about the language," he told The Breakfast Club, adding that he plays "a jerk" in the film, which he describes as an "underground, kind of hip-hop, 8 Mile female version of the story." 

Business and The Book of Eli

In 2010, John David Washington served as a producer for a movie starring his father, The Book of Eli, but since then, he's been putting more distance between his dad's professional profile and his own. It's nothing personal, the younger Washington says. The independence he once sought in football has never been about slighting his dad, but about making space for himself. 

"I used to lie about what my dad's occupation was," he told talk show host Steve Harvey."I'd say he was a construction worker, or he's doing time right now, or pick the characters he did in movies and just go with it."

While Washington wasn't in a hurry to repeat the experience of producing The Book of Eli, it's not because he doesn't like the movie. He still looks back on the experience sometimes by listening to its soundtrack, an atmospheric work composed in part by the Academy Award-winning Nine Inch Nails member Atticus Ross.

Washington family values

Though he doesn't like to attach himself to their reputations, Washington speaks highly of his parents, particularly his mother, Pauletta Washington. He told The Breakfast Club she was a Julliard-trained musician and actress who chose to sideline her own career to raise Washington and his three siblings. "She, in a lot of ways, in her own right, was more talented [than my father]," he said; according to Washington, she backed away from acting to focus on being a "hands-on" mother. 

That hands-on care paid off for Washington, whose relationship with his mom is sweet to behold. During the radio interview, Washington was quick to point out his mother's bona fides by saying she initially earned more money than his famous father, and worked to supported the family while Denzel made his first steps into acting. "On their first date, she paid for the date," he quipped. It's not like Washington favors her; he just likes to raise her name up, since his father's reputation is already sky high.

Oh, just look at him

It seems cheap to give John David Washington props for something that he can't control, but we can't help but mention that the dude's a looker. It's not just our opinion, either — one of Washington's first notable appearances in the public eye had to do entirely with his good looks basically going viral.

In case you don't recall, the internet went berserk in 2015 when Washington appeared at the Golden Globes and stole the show on the red carpet. People magazine devoted an entire article to the web's reaction to his eye-catching look and fashion sense. "Look at what God did," posted one online fan, in an illustrative example of the sort of frenzy Washington generated. 

Since making this first splash, it's become clear that Washington is a down-to-earth, principled guy who's and surely his talents as an actor are what he'd rather be known for — but hey, there are worse things to be called than "Denzel's hot son."

Looking for love

Even though he's a young celebrity with a hot HBO show, Washington doesn't pride himself on being a player when it comes to romance, no matter what you might think from his work as occasional playboy Ricky Jerret on Ballers. Unlike some children of famous actors who are born on top of the world, Washington has long been hesitant to use his family ties to meet people. In fact, his proximity to fame has left him growing up with trust issues, and he's been open about how the spotlight has affected his romantic life.

During an interview with talk show host Steve Harvey, Washington confided that he's actually self-conscious when dating because he questions if ladies are flirting with him as a person or if they're trying to cozy up to his famous family name. "I have trouble trusting. I have trust issues thinking that they pick me because of who my father is," he said. 

He told Men's Journal, "Growing up, I saw how people treated me differently when they knew who my father was."

On to the next one

Though John David Washington has a solid connection to a showbiz titan, he's not necessarily strolling his way through his acting career. Despite the success he's had so far, Washington is still out there on the grind, looking for that next project, seemingly not content to settle for the success he's had so far. (Don't be surprised if you don't recognize him when he's out and about; he shaves off Ricky's distinctive beard during the Ballers off-season and looks like a totally different dude.) 

He's spent time on his career on both coasts, furthering his acting studies at the HB Studio in New York's Greenwich Village and hitting up auditions in Los Angeles. The latter has not been as easy as one might expect for a performer of Washington's pedigree, but that's okay with him. It's the journey, not the destination, that seems to matter most. 

"I'm auditioning like crazy and I'm getting turned down like everybody else, so I feel great," he told Men's Journal. "I feel officially ingratiated with the world."

Shakespeare and the future

While Washington was in the process of doing press for Love Beats Rhymes, the movie where he plays a member of a hip-hop freestyle group, the actor was asked if he could spit any rhymes of his own. But though the athletic actor is a man of many talents, he doesn't have skills worth showing off in everything. When he got the question on The Breakfast Clubthe response was swift. "Absolutely not," he said. "I can spit some Shakespeare, but I can't rap." 

And it's true: Washington told the radio show he'd love to perform "Shakespeare in the Park," and we'd love to hear that. We're sure his father would, too, if only for comparison's sake. According to a profile on Washington from The Hollywood Reporter, one of the young John David's earliest memories of seeing his father performing was watching him do a Central Park performance of Richard III. Until then, we'll keep watching him ball on HBO.