- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

Actress Kerry Washington crawled onto a window ledge while shooting the domestic comedy “I Think I Love My Wife” while co-star Chris Rock physically held nervous producers at bay.

“There had to be a level of danger to the scene,” says Miss Washington, who brightly recalls how supportive Mr. Rock was.

The caustic comic who co-wrote and directs “Wife” wasn’t always sold on Miss Washington’s ability to inhabit such a morally dubious character.

“Wife” follows a married man (Mr. Rock) who considers an affair with an old friend (Miss Washington) when his marriage hits a rough patch. Miss Washington’s Nikki is conniving and manipulative and involves Mr. Rock’s character in one high-risk episode after another.

It’s not how audiences, or Mr. Rock, are used to seeing the actress, a George Washington University graduate, whose innocent-seeming features evoke more the girl next door than femme fatale. She had to convince Mr. Rock she was right for the part.

The two originally clicked while shooting the 2002 dud “Bad Company,” so Mr. Rock invited her to an early table reading of “Wife.”

She played the wife role at Mr. Rock’s request.

“It’s how people usually think of me, the best friend, the upstanding citizen,” the beautiful Bronx native says.

Later, the two met up again at the premiere of Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me.” Miss Washington played against type for the film, portraying a lesbian who pays an old flame to impregnate her lover.

“He was shocked,” Miss Washington says of Mr. Rock’s reaction. “See, I can play the bad girl, I can do it … that was a big turning point.”

As if she needed one.

Miss Washington has co-starred in both blockbusters (“Fantastic Four,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) and critical triumphs (“Ray,” “The Last King of Scotland”) of late but remains just below the national radar.

She suggests one reason why is that audiences don’t always recognize her on-screen.

Don’t believe her? Check out the recent drama “The Dead Girl.” She disappears behind the role of a crack addict, her face rendered unrecognizable by both her disheveled appearance and some acting flourishes.

“It’s the ultimate compliment as an actor … it’s allowing me a certain level of anonymity,” she says.

The actress’s big break came with a supporting turn in 2001’s “Save the Last Dance,” but she credits her District education for helping prepare her for the big screen.

She attended GW on a Presidential Performing Arts scholarship. It required her to “audition for everything,” she says.

“It’s one of the best things that could have happened to me. I learned how to be a longshoreman … it’s just about the work,” says Miss Washington, who performed at Arena Stage, among other local venues.

Miss Washington returns as the Thing’s girlfriend, Alicia Masters, in this summer’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.”

She can’t reveal anything about the film’s plot, but her casting says plenty about the modern movie scene. Miss Washington, who is black, plays a character who is white in the comic book series.

“It’s important there are certain roles where race is not important,” she says, before adding that her race has helped her land her share of plum roles.

“Thank God I wasn’t born white. Then, I wouldn’t have been able to play the wife of Ray Charles,” she says.

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