John David Washington talks Tenet: "Dwayne Johnson gave me some great advice before he sent me off to the grad school of Nolan"

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Tenet is incoming! Christopher Nolan's time-inverting spy thriller reaches UK cinemas this week – US theatres next – and we're celebrating by putting Total Film's exclusive cover feature online. As part of that, the team interviewed John David Washington, who spoke about the new movie. Here's our interview with the actor – and be sure to read the cover feature here.

Total Film: What was the audition process like?

Washington: I guess I never looked at it like an audition process. I’m sure it was, but it never felt that way in the initial meeting. I was informed that Christopher Nolan wanted to meet me, so I appeared at his office, and we talked for several hours about everything and anything but the movie, really. It was like a first date, ‘getting to know you’ thing. It was like: ‘Are you cool?’ [laughs]

When did you get to see a script?

The mystery continues. When I found out that I got it... You know, the NFL draft is going on right now, so I feel a lot like these players when they get the phone call. After that, I returned to their office, and they took me to this other section of the office that I didn’t know was there. And I was by myself, locked in that office, with a lot of cool-looking things around the space. It took me about five hours to finish [reading the script], because I kept flipping back and forth in pure amazement.

We see you scaling a building in the trailer...

Mmm-hmmm. Yeah, that was maybe the most scary. You know, heights and I, we’re acquainted, but we’re not friends. It tested my limits in making me grow as an artist [laughs] and being able to hop over a balcony. So that was very challenging. And I thank the crew and Chris for being patient with me on that night, because it wasn’t easy, but we got through it.

You’ve worked with Spike Lee and now Nolan. Any more directing greats on
your hitlist?

There’s a whole bunch, man. The two that you mentioned – you never think you’ll be able to work with people like that. What I really love about those experiences is some of the similarities in how you can be that iconic and that legendary, and still stick to what it’s all about, which is storytelling, which is inclusion, which is familial atmospheres, which is cutting the nonsense, and egoless sets. They both have that in common.

As this is an action role, did you take away any lessons from working with Dwayne Johnson on Ballers?

[laughs] Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson gave me some great advice before he sent me off to the grad school of Nolan. He said, “Make sure you eat and stay hydrated.” He always was telling me to hydrate when we were shooting Ballers. I used to think it was funny, but I see what he means now. Hydration is key when it comes to that stuff, man.

Tenet reaches UK cinemas on August 26 and US theatres on September 4. Before then, make sure you read up on our celebration of Inception's ending. This piece was originally in Total Film – never miss another feature by subscribing here.

Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.