Kerry Washington has been on tour around the US and UK in support of her memoir, Thicker than Water. She has been joined by a special guest in each city – and Manchester had none other than James Corden OBE. The hour-long conversation was divided into two sections. The first saw Corden ask Washington a series of questions about her book – and also about writing the book.
Corden is, of course, a skilled interviewer – and whilst his interviews are generally comic, he successfully asked Washington, his friend, a series of serious questions, one of which even made her cry.
Corden made sure that this was Washington’s talk but he did offer some fantastic responses. On the topic of parenthood, he told us that he recently asked his 12-year-old son if he thinks that he is young. When his son said “yes”, he responded, “I’ve only been a father as long as you’ve been alive,” – i.e. he is still learning and he might make mistakes but he is doing his best.
Whilst Corden was an excellent interviewer, I do think that this particular talk benefits from having a speaker from a marginalised community, whether a woman, a person of colour, or a member of the queer community – or, at the very least, an activist. Other cities have had more suitable speakers.
Prior to writing a memoir, Washington had been writing a book about what Olivia Pope, her character in Scandal, taught her when her parents dropped a bombshell: her father is not a biological father. She was instead conceived with the help of a sperm donor.
Suddenly, Washington was unable to write this book; she was learning new things about herself and there was so much more she wanted to know. She tried to give the publishers their money back but they insisted that they still wanted a book; she instead decided to write a memoir.
Washington is thus determined to meet her biological father, and Corden presses her on this. As a friend, he was genuinely worried about this and he does not want her to feel like a part of her is missing when she is such a wonderful person. Washington told him that he was the first person on the tour to make her cry.
Washington’s mother was in attendance; she must have felt a wide array of emotions during the talk.
The second part of the talk was a Q&A with members of the audience. As is often the case, some fans took this as an opportunity to air personal grievances. Instead of asking Washington questions, they performed emotional monologues, meaning many of the people who had queued up to ask questions were unable to do so.
There was even a person who merely thanked Washington for the talk and revealed that she had been in the meet and greet prior, which seemed like a bit of a show-off moment – but also meant a person who had not been in the meet and greet missed out on asking a question because this greedy person wanted another moment with Washington.
Perhaps there should be some rules in place for Q&As: you get 30 seconds to ask a question – not make a statement. The audience paid for a Washington tell-all, not to hear some random person tell us about them.
In the Q&A, Washington delivered an exceptional answer about imposter syndrome and being “the only one in the room” (i.e. the only person of colour, or woman of colour, in the room). She revealed that she “bookends” with fellow actresses of colour, such as Gabrielle Union and Tracee Ellis Ross; she talks to them before and after the meeting. Washington told us that she was not saying that just to name-drop, which reveals her modesty and humbleness. She is, irrefutably, in the same league as the aforementioned!
Washington was also asked to give advice to people who aspire to get into acting and producing. She brutally said, “If there is anything else that you want to do, do that instead,” – echoing my A-level theatre teacher. She then told the person that if they “must” do it, then that is a good sign. She proceeded to give the person some pretty good advice.
It’s a shame that the talk was only an hour long. It would have been great if there were two acts: sometimes, the first act is an interview and the second act is a Q&A. It also would have been great to hear Washington talk about other aspects of her life – for instance, Scandal!
I think that the talk could have been a bit more layered. Some in conversations make greater use of the screen, with clips from the actors’ work shown to us. Dame Joanna Lamond Lumley DBE FRGS made great use of her screen!
But I appreciate that this was an intimate, one-hour talk focused on Washington’s memoir – and, in particular, the shocking revelation about her father.
Washington ends her Thicker than Water Book Tour at Miami Dade College as part of the Miami Book Fair in Miami, Florida, USA, where she will be in conversation with fellow actor-activist Eva Longoria.