Frequent movie cop Denzel Washington talks policing in America: 'I have the utmost respect for what they do'

Denzel Washington is not a cop, but he does often play one onscreen.

The dark new thriller The Little Things marks the 13th time the 66-year-old Oscar winner plays a law-enforcer during his illustrious career, most of them clean (The Bone Collector, Out of Time) but a few occasionally dirty (Training Day). In The Little Things, Washington plays a disgraced Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detective who finds a chance at redemption when he believes a serial killer he once chased is on another murder spree.

And while policing in America has been under heavy scrutiny in the wake of multiple high-profile officer-involved killings, Black Lives Matter protests and calls to “defund the police” — a discourse that has extended into entertainment with the cancellations of shows like Cops and Live PD — Washington makes it clear where he stands on the issue.

“I have the utmost respect for what they do, for what our soldiers do, [people] that sacrifice their lives,” Washington tells Yahoo Entertainment during a recent interview (watch above). “I just don’t care for people who put those kind of people down. If it weren’t for them, we would not have the freedom to complain about what they do.”


Washington, who has also played military servicemen or veterans more than a half-dozen times (Glory, Crimson Tide, Courage Under Fire, et al.), notes his next project will be directing a film (Journal for Jordan, starring Michael B. Jordan) about a soldier who “makes the ultimate sacrifice.”

Denzel Washington in 'The Little Things' (Warner Bros.)
Denzel Washington in The Little Things. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

The revered performer, who has also portrayed revolutionaries Steve Biko and Malcolm X, traced his appreciation for members of law enforcement back to a ride-along while preparing to play a cop-turned-district attorney in the 1991 thriller Ricochet.

“I went out on call with a sergeant,” he recalls. “We got a call of a man outside his house with a rifle that was distraught. We pulled up and did a U-turn past the house and came up short of the house. He told me to sit in the car, which I was gonna do. I wasn’t getting out. He got out. As he got out, another car came screaming up and two young people jumped out screaming. As it turned out, it was their grandfather. This policeman defused the entire situation by just remaining calm.

“But it showed me in an instant how they can lose their life. … He didn’t overreact. He could’ve pulled his gun out and shot the people that came up driving real fast. He could’ve shot the old man that was distraught and a bit confused, I think he was suffering a little bit from dementia. But in an instant it taught me, and I never forgot it, what our law enforcement people have to deal with moment to moment, second to second.”

The Little Things opens Friday, Jan. 29 in theaters and on HBO Max.

Watch the trailer:

Video produced by Jon San and edited by Steve Michel

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