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Kerry Washington is a New York City girl, born and bred in the Bronx. But drop the nation’s capital into conversation, and it’s clear her surname is more than just mere coincidence. “I definitely claim Washington as one of the towns that I call home,” says the actress from her New York apartment. Washington is based in New York, but divides her time these days between The Big Apple, Los Angeles and DC, where she serves on the board of trustees at her alma mater, George Washington University, and is a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. She’s been spending so much time here, in fact, that she’s thinking about getting an apartment. “I’ve had a very eclectic life journey up to this point,” she laughs. “So I’m this funny conglomerate of hip-hop culture, Upper East Side private-school girl and Washingtonian politico.”

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Washington is also one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood, recently starring in two films: Tyler Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, and Night Catches Us, a drama set in the race-torn Philadelphia of the 1970s, which hit theaters December 3. She also finished her first Broadway performance, in David Mamet’s Race. It’s a full docket, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t know that I’m very good at making time for mys, elf,” she confesses.

Now 33, Washington has become the thinking woman’s It Girl, thanks to roles like her captivating debut in the 2000 indie flick Our Song and her star-making turn as Della Robinson in 2004’s Ray, for which she won an Image Award. If forced to choose, one might label her a “Serious Actress,” possessed of the depth, grit, grace and gravitas needed to inhabit dark and dramatic roles (see her heart-wrenching performance as Idi Amin’s wife, Kay, in The Last King of Scotland), but she also has the crack timing and unselfconsciousness of a seasoned comic, on display in lighter fare such as Little Man and I Think I Love My Wife. Spike Lee, who directed Washington in She Hate Me and Miracle at St. Anna, said “she stacks up against anybody.” Genetic advantage? It’s a possibility.

Washington's Washington, DC
The daughter of a professor mother and a real estate broker father, Washington was raised first and foremost to be an educated and engaged member of society. “My parents always had PBS on,” she remembers. “From a very young age, the subjects at the dining room table were affirmative action, sexuality education, low-income housing, education reform—the pros and the cons, the ideological histories, the sociopolitical contexts.” Unsurprisingly, she grew into an intelligent and articulate young woman intent on majoring in something other than drama: While she attended GWU on a theater scholarship and performed in many productions, Washington was adamant about receiving a well-rounded liberal arts education. “What has always fascinated me is the relationship between arts and culture, arts and history, arts and psychology, arts and sociology,” she explains. “And so I wanted to study as many aspects of the human experience as I could.” 

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