The Denzel Washington Interview That Left Katie Couric 'Shaken'

As an esteemed journalist who has worked at NBC, CBS, and ABC News, Katie Couric has had the opportunity to interview many powerful people, all the way from influential politicians to award-winning actors. Despite Couric's notable accomplishments, however, her advice for a good interview is pretty modest and simple. "The more comfortable you make someone feel, the better interview you'll ultimately get," she explained to producer Tony Maciulis in a chat for YouTube Reporters' Center. She also expressed the importance of being "warm and welcoming" when speaking with interview subjects.

Unfortunately for the Virginia native, her advice didn't come in handy during a 2004 interview with actor Denzel Washington. We'll save the awkwardness for after the jump, but let's just say Washington wasn't happy with Couric's line of questioning, which resulted in her feeling "shaken" after the interview, as she recalled during an April 2020 appearance on Danny Pellegrino's podcast, Everything Iconic.

So why did this interview go sideways? Here's what Katie Couric had to say about her uncomfortable interview with Denzel Washington.

Denzel Washington took offense to the 'actor' label

For years now, there has been an ongoing debate about whether celebrity figures should share their opinions on politics. Katie Couric brought up this hot-button topic in 2004 when interviewing Denzel Washington for Dateline about a movie he was promoting at the time, The Manchurian Candidate, which is based on a novel of the same name by Richard Condon. Considering the movie is a political thriller, it arguably makes sense why Couric asked Washington whether he agrees with the idea that "Hollywood folks should stick to acting."

"I don't know what Hollywood folks are, first of all," he replied to the journalist's question, per Page Six. "Hollywood is a town that has some stars on the sidewalk. I don't know anybody from there." 

Couric responded, "OK, all right, well, let me rephrase the question. Are you one of those people that —"  

"Ah, there you go," Washington interrupted. "Am I one of those people? Hmmm, isn't that interesting?"

"Oh, stop, stop, stop," Couric retorted, to which Washington answered, "No, don't stop. I heard what you just said. 'Am I one of those people?' No, I'm not."

When the reporter tried to redirect once again, telling Washington, "No, are you an actor who would rather not —," the Training Day star shot back, "No, I'm not that either. I'm a human being. My job is acting."

Is Katie Couric upset with Denzel Washington?

Katie Couric admitted during an appearance on the comedian and author Danny Pellegrino's Everything Iconic podcast that her interview with Denzel Washington left her "shaken." She also called Washington's demeanor "completely weirdly uncalled for."

Despite the tense exchange, Couric still has a soft spot for the New York native. "I love him," she said. "I admire him so much, he's one of my favorite actors."

What's more? Couric revealed Washington made up for the incident in a meaningful way. "I just remember leaving it and thinking, 'God' ... I don't think I said anything wrong ... I don't know what happened," she told Pellegrino. "Anyway, I think he must have been having a really bad day because he later wrote a big check to my colon cancer organization, which I thought was super sweet."

For those who don't know, Couric's first husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998.

Denzel Washington isn't about that Hollywood life

We can't say for certain why Katie Couric's interview with Denzel Washington went off the rails, although it might have had something to do with the actor's long dislike of Hollywood. "Even within the industry, I don't have any actor friends," he explained to The Guardian in 2013. "My friends are old friends. One's an ex-music guy, the other's a restaurant owner and the other's an ex-pro ballplayer."

When pressed on the issue of avoiding the entertainment scene, Washington said, "Maybe I'm not a butt-kisser, maybe I'm not a schmoozer. I'm not about to go to a party to try to get a job. And then when you have children, the other friends become other parents. We'd coach baseball or basketball. My wife and I were raised right. I don't want movie-star friends." Noted!

The Flight star is also wary of Los Angeles, telling The Hollywood Reporter in 2012, "L.A.'s a tricky town. The more successful you are, in a way, you don't have to do anything. Which I don't think is healthy."

So when Katie Couric brought up "Hollywood folks" in her interview with Washington, maybe he took to offense because he thought she had lumped him into that category. We can't say for certain, but this incident sounds like a classic case of miscommunication.

Katie Couric recalls an actor who didn't want to be "bothered"

About five years after Katie Couric's awkward interview with Denzel Washington, she brought up another uncomfortable chat that went down between her and a mystery actor. During a 2009 talk with producer Tony Maciulis, Couric said about the bad interview, "I had an actor who I interviewed, who shall remain nameless, who just didn't want to be bothered, It really annoyed me because I was giving him a lot of time on national television and he clearly didn't want to be there."

We're not sure who Couric was referring to there, but it's possible Denzel Washington is the culprit, as the journalist talked to him in 2004. Adding fuel to this theory? The journalist has discussed her poor experience with Washington multiple times, telling She Knows in 2012 about her "worst" celeb interview, "Denzel Washington got very testy with me once when I was doing an interview with him. I think he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. People have bad days."

Of course, it's impossible to say who Couric was talking about unless she reveals the answer one day.