As a 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. Couric’s advice for a good interview is pretty modest and simple. As she explained to 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. Washington apparently 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 the podcast, Everything Iconic.
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. Considering the movie is a political thriller, it arguably makes sense why Couric asked Washington whether he agrees with the idea that quote “Hollywood folks should stick to acting.” In response, Washington told Couric,
“I don’t know what Hollywood folks are, first of all. Hollywood is a town that has some stars on the sidewalk. I don’t know anybody from there.”
Couric pressed the issue, telling Washington,
“OK, all right, well, let me rephrase the question. Are you one of those people that-”
At this, Washington interrupted Couric, saying,
“Ah, there you go. Am I one of those people? Hmmm, isn’t that interesting?”
When the reporter tried to redirect once again by pointing out that Washington is an actor, the Training Day star shot back,
“No, I’m not that either. I’m a human being. My job is acting.”
Washington’s response to Couric’s line of questioning apparently left the interviewer shaken. On the Everything Iconic podcast, she went in depth about her feelings after the interview.
However, Couric also revealed that Washington made up for the incident in a meaningful way by writing a big check to the colon cancer organization that Couric was in charge of. The gesture was likely made even more meaningful considering that Couric’s first husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998.
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. Washington told The Guardian in 2013,
“Even within the industry, I don’t have any actor friends. 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.”
So when Katie Couric brought up “Hollywood folks” in her interview with Washington, maybe he took offense because he thought she had lumped him into that category.
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 that Denzel Washington is the culprit, as the journalist talked to him in 2004. Of course, it’s impossible to say who Couric was talking about unless she reveals the answer one day. Watch the video to learn about The Denzel Washington Interview That Left Katie Couric Shaken!