CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
Profile of Scott Peterson; Denzel Washington
Aired November 1, 2003 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS what appeared to be a perfect marriage becomes the plot for a national murder mystery.
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SCOTT PETERSON, CHARGED WITH WIFE'S MURDER: I had nothing to do with Laci's disappearance.
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ANNOUNCER: A pregnant wife who was bright and vivacious.
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ANNE-MARIE O'NEILL, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: I guess you could call Laci an all-American girl.
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ANNOUNCER: The seemingly ideal husband accused of murdering her.
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ABBA IMANI, OWNER, PACIFIC CAFE: People really liked him. He was a very likable guy.
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ANNOUNCER: A storybook relationship that ended in a tabloid confession.
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AMBER FREY, HAD AFFAIR WITH SCOTT PETERSON: We did have a romantic relationship.
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ANNOUNCER: A murder case that's got the country talking.
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JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Even though Scott has been convicted around every water cooler in America, the actual evidence against him is far from overwhelming.
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ANNOUNCER: Beyond the hype and the headlines. The story behind the relationship of Scott and Laci Peterson now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.
They seemed like the all-American couple until Laci Peterson and her unborn son were murdered and her husband, Scott, was charged with the crime. Now, a primarily hearing will decide whether Scott Peterson will stand trial as the prime suspect in a case that has fueled a media free-for-all. Here's David Mattingly.
SHARON ROCHA, LACI PETERSON'S MOTHER: I love my daughter so much. I miss her every minute of every day.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a story that has captivated the country. A murder mystery played out daily in the media.
TED ROWLANDS, REPORTER, KTVU: People wanted to know where she was, whether she was OK and whether that baby was OK.
MATTINGLY: Last year in the state of California alone, thousands of adult men and women were reported missing, but in the final days of 2002, one of those cases went from an ordinary disappearance to an extraordinary media phenomena that has mesmerized the country.
S. PETERSON: I nothing to do with Laci's disappearance.
TOOBIN: One of the great mysteries about the Peterson case is why the public has responded to it so passionately, because it doesn't have a celebrity involved. No one had heard of these people before, but there is something about it that has grabbed many thousands of people.
MATTINGLY: Twenty-seven-year-old Laci Peterson gone without a trace on Christmas Eve. The media was flooded with images of a beautiful, beaming young woman and the tearful family members desperately seek her return.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Laci Denise, if you're hearing dad, we love you very much and we want you home.
MATTINGLY: it just didn't make sense. Laci had a handsome, loving husband, parents, siblings and in-laws who cherished her. Plus, the substitute teacher was eight months pregnant when she suddenly disappeared.
Things had been good for Laci Peterson. She was starting a new chapter of her life in the place where her very first chapter began.
Modesto, California, a mid-sized city with a very small town feel, a place where happiness is spelled out in the welcome sign.
Laci Peterson was born in Modesto on May 4, 1975. Even as a young girl, Laci Denise Rocha had the same sunny disposition that was so familiar in her adulthood.
STACEY BOYERS, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: Laci is always smiling. No matter where we are or what we're doing, she's always bubbly and talkative. And she's usually the center of attention.
MATTINGLY: Laci was into everything and she had no shortage of friends. As a student at Downey High, Laci wasn't your typical angst- ridden rebellious teen. Quite the opposite, in fact.
COLLINS: I guess you could call Laci an all-American girl. You know, she was a cheerleader in high school. She was vivacious. She was outgoing and friendly. Her stepfather used to call her Jabber Jaws because she talked so much.
MATTINGLY: Pretty soon, cooking and gardening joined chatting on the list of favorite Laci pastimes and her green thumb planted her at San Luis Obispo at California Polytechnic State University with a major in horticultural sciences.
There she would meet the man who would become her husband. Scott Peterson was a handsome, athletic California boy from San Diego.
COLLINS: People who knew Scott at high school have described him as a kind of jock, very confident, slightly arrogant and yet still friendly and easy to talk to.
MATTINGLY: The consummate outdoorsman, Scott loved hunting, fishing and golf, but he also had an entrepreneurial spirit. As a student at Cal Poly, Scott made a good impression on his teachers in the agriculture and business department.
JAMES AHERN, PROFESSOR, CALIFORNIA POLYTECHNIC STATE UNIVERSITY: Very nice guy, a good guy, a capable student, interested beyond just getting grades and interested in knowing people and a good interactor, charming person that could talk well and was interested in what other people had to say, a very likable guy.
MATTINGLY: Scott's agreeable personality worked for him outside the classroom, as well. He parlayed his charm into a part-time job at the Pacific Cafe.
IMANI: His mom and dad were a customer here. They ate here regularly. And then when Scott graduated from high school he came and ate with them a few times and then he asked for a job. He was a very good worker, very responsible, but most importantly, very polite person. People really liked him. He was a very likable guy.
MATTINGLY: One customer in particular took a liking to Scott, fellow Cal Poly student Laci Rocha. After talking to Scott a couple of times, Laci asked a friend who worked at the Pacific Cafe to give Scott her number. He called right away.
RENEE GARZA, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: They're like teenagers in love.
MATTINGLY: That's how most everyone described Laci and Scott. Their relationship turned serious quickly and when Laci said she was bringing her mom to dinner meet Scott, he went out of his way to impress her.
IMANI: He asked me to make some special appetizer for them. And I did. Some scampi, if I remember right, and he had some flowers on the table.
MATTINGLY: The storybook courtship led to a storybook union.
COLLINS: The wedding was really elaborate. Laci had a big part in planning the wedding. She made sure the flowers were just how she liked them. And she -- it was -- there was a white dress. Him feeding her cake, you know, the full routine. He carried her up the stairs. For a while there, his family thought he that might drop her, but he didn't. So the wedding by all accounts was a big and happy affair.
IMANI: It was a gorgeous day out on the beach, outdoor wedding. Perfect. Everything was just right and a nice couple. They were, like, perfect for each other.
MATTINGLY: It was a picture of perfection that would suddenly be shattered.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Laci and Scott Peterson went from ocean front wedded bliss to a shack. The couple wanted to create a hangout spot where students from their alma mater Cal Poly could eat well for cheap. This was a dream they shared and they each took an active role.
BLAKE REED, FRIEND: Scott's an entrepreneur, and he pretty much just built the place up, you know, from the ground up.
CHRISTINE REED, FRIEND: Laci's involvement, too, in the restaurant was significant. She loved to cook. She would go on these trips to France and learn to cook for a week or two and then come back and they kind of both sat down and developed the concept and the menu and then went and then found a location.
MATTINGLY: The restaurant soon took off.
When they weren't working, Laci and Scott were out spending time with friends like Blake and Christine Reed. They say this picture taken at a dinner party perfectly summed up the dynamics of their relationship. B. REED: All of the guys were sitting out in the back porch and we were all smoking cigars and drinking a scotch or whatever and just hanging out and it was all of the guys.
And so somebody wanted to take a picture of all of the guys sitting back there and they were just getting ready to snap the shot and Laci comes behind all of the guys and she wanted to get right in the middle and that's a really good way to describe Laci. She was really gregarious and she liked to be in the center of things and be -- you know, she was real comfortable being the center of attention.
C. REED: You know, I never saw Scott feel -- or I never saw the expressions or his behavior never said he was embarrassed by that or angry by that. I mean, he kind of just stood back and smiled and said, "That's my wife."
MATTINGLY: Though surrounded by friends and fulfilled by the success of their restaurant, Laci and Scott decided to move back to Modesto to be closer to Laci's family and to start a family of their own.
COLLINS: Laci was really excited about getting pregnant. They'd been trying to get pregnant for some time and when she did get pregnant and she got the news she was pregnant she was on the phone at 7 a.m. the next morning, calling her relatives and telling them of the news.
SUSAN CAUDILLO, SCOTT PETERSON'S SISTER: She and Scott were just thrilled about the coming of their baby boy and everything in their life that they had planned for the past five years and their marriage was coming. This was a big event for them and everything was going wonderfully.
MATTINGLY: Which is why it was so stunning when Scott called family members on December 24, saying he had just come home from a fishing trip and couldn't find Laci anywhere.
JACKIE PETERSON, SCOTT PETERSON'S MOTHER: They were all ready for Christmas, their presents wrapped, their plans laid and they had a little free time. And it's just like Laci to let Scott go do something he wanted to do, and she wanted to do a little more shopping privately, so that was their agreement and it was only for a few hours. It should have been fine.
MATTINGLY: But it wasn't fine. Hours passed with no sign of Laci. The family sprang into action, pleading for help on the airwaves and putting Laci's picture on every tree, lamppost and window in sight.
ROWLANDS: When Laci was missing, literally thousands of people who didn't know her came out to help search for this missing woman and they started to know her.
MATTINGLY: Laci's family, her parents, her brother and sister, as well as Scott's parents, became familiar faces.
ROCHA: I'd like to make a plea to the person or persons who have my daughter.
MATTINGLY: They appeared on television night and day. Noticeably absent, her husband Scott.
ROWLANDS: When someone's going through this you don't know how they're going to react, but normally you've got a father or a spouse or a family member of a missing person who wants media coverage, who wants the picture out there, the flyers, wants to do interviews, wants to really do anything to get help to find this person.
And with Scott it was a little different story where he was real standoffish; didn't want us to take his picture, didn't want us to interview him.
MATTINGLY: Slowly, people began to question Scott's demeanor.
TOOBIN: For better or worse, the public seems to have kind of a script in mind for how bereaved relatives ought to behave and he didn't follow that script. He was not quite sad enough.
MATTINGLY: Modesto police also seemed to think something about Scott wasn't right. He wasn't named a suspect, but he wasn't ruled out either. Police repeatedly questioned him and searched the home he shared with Laci. But the people who knew him best ignored all that whispering.
LEE PETERSON, SCOTT PETERSON'S FATHER: If you knew Scott as far as him being implicated it's just a non-issue.
COLLINS: Laci's mother Sharon told us that she was calling Scott every day. They were speaking on the phone and she was telling him that they loved him and not to worry.
MATTINGLY: With Laci missing for one full week, the family and the town of Modesto came out on New Year's Eve for a candlelight vigil.
Scott Peterson raised eyebrows and got stares of disbelief as he laughed and joked with friends and even took a cell phone call while the rest of the family was in tears.
That, combined with frequent out of town, overnight trips and his steadfast refusal to speak publicly, turned Scott into a villain in the media.
But it only got worse. When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, a potential motive for murder surfaces.
FREY: I met Scott Peterson November 20, 2002. I was introduced to him. I was told he was unmarried.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Nearly one month after the disappearance of Laci Peterson, a shocking revelation.
KIM PETERSON, ROCHA FAMILY SPOKESPERSON: Approximately two weeks ago Ron Grantski, Laci's stepfather, asked Scott if he had a girlfriend. Scott told him no and Ron believed him. Now, however, they believe that he has lied to them about this and possibly other things, as well.
MATTINGLY: At first, Scott continued to deny the affair, but a press conference with the other woman, Amber Frey, erased all doubts.
FREY: Scott told me he was not married. We did have a romantic relationship. When I discovered he was involved in the -- the Laci Peterson disappearance case, I immediately contacted the Modesto Police Department.
TOOBIN: The fact that Peterson was having an affair at the time his wife disappeared certainly raised suspicion on him and obviously gave him a motive for murder.
MATTINGLY: It was also the turning point in Scott's relationship with Laci's family.
TOOBIN: That was the moment when they went from being largely supportive of Scott to neutral to hostile.
MATTINGLY: Engulfed in a torrent of bad press, Scott Peterson agreed to what he had resisted for so long, on-camera interviews, but it had to be on his terms.
ROWLANDS: He called me on the phone the night before and said no lights, just one camera guy. I just want it to be a simple interview. He said I'd like to see the questions you want to ask me.
I've never had anybody ask me that before, so it was a definite situation where he was in control and he didn't want to say anything that quite frankly, would, I think, make him look bad.
MATTINGLY: And when it came time to speak he chose his words carefully.
S. PETERSON: I had nothing to do with Laci's disappearance. Even if you think I did, think about Laci.
MATTINGLY: He seemed the most emotional when speaking of the empty nursery for the baby they had decided to name Connor.
S. PETERSON: The nursery's ready for him. That door is closed. I can't look, you know? All of the little itty-bitty clothes and all of those wonderful things we have for him.
MATTINGLY: But public reaction was mixed. ROWLANDS: I think that people thought he was guilty, and I think seeing him in his sort of pat answers and his reluctancy to really open up didn't help him.
TOOBIN: And then he started doing things like trying to sell Laci's car. Actions that seemed inconsistent with a grieving relative and more consistent with a criminal suspect.
MATTINGLY: The downward spiral continued for Scott Peterson, but the darkest days were just ahead.
On April 13, just miles away from where Scott said he was fishing on Christmas Eve, the body of a fetus washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay, followed by the partial remains of a woman.
The question on everyone's mind, could this be Laci Peterson and baby Connor?
Claiming Scott was a flight risk; the Modesto police didn't wait to find out. On April 18, he was arrested near a posh golf course in San Diego, just an hour away from the Mexican border.
Despite appearances, the Peterson family stayed strong and supportive.
L. PETERSON: They made a rush to judgment because of all of the media pressure, I believe, and politics. And he's in there, he should not be and we're going to find out who did it.
MATTINGLY: But the attorney general disagreed, calling the case a slam-dunk. And the state of California said it would seek the death penalty against Scott Peterson.
After DNA results confirmed their worst fears, that the bodies that washed up were indeed Laci and her baby, Laci's family held one final heart-wrenching press conference.
ROCHA: I literally get sick to my stomach when I allow myself to think about what may have happened to them. No parent should have to think about the way their child was murdered.
RON GRANTSKI, LACI PETERSON'S STEPFATHER: I know all of you would like for us to say something about Scott, but we're not going to do that. We owe it to Laci to let the courts bring the facts out.
MATTINGLY: The family took the high road and refused to publicly discuss their feelings toward Scott.
TOOBIN: Anyone who has followed the case at all closely can see that the Rocha family, Laci's family, has gone pretty much over to outright hostility to Scott, even though they have never said the words publicly, "We think Scott did it."
MATTINGLY: The defense tried to provide alternative theories.
MARK GERAGOS, SCOTT PETERSON'S ATTORNEY: We know that there are specific individuals who have information that relate to this -- to the kidnapping and the abduction and the murder. And we're asking that you come forward and we'll do everything possible to protect you.
TOOBIN: A cult murder. A random murder. A kidnapping. That gives the public something to think about except the obvious possibility, which is that her husband did it.
MATTINGLY: The defense had also worked hard to remind potential jurors that their client had a perfectly clean record.
ROWLANDS: He has a history of cheating which is coming out, but as far as could he be responsible for this? There was nothing in his past and especially in the beginning, people were ready to stand up for this guy and say yes, he's acting strange, but believe us, he's a great guy.
MATTINGLY: The prosecution has largely kept quiet, allowing the circumstantial evidence to speak for itself.
TOOBIN: The prosecution will undoubtedly focus on a basic appeal to common sense, which is who else could have done this? Who else had the motive? The opportunity?
MATTINGLY: But the prosecution still has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
TOOBIN: This case is not a slam-dunk, at least not in terms of the evidence that's public. There is no murder weapon. There is no eyewitness. There is no time of death established. Those are all things that the defense can explore.
MATTINGLY: In the meantime, two families are left to grieve the loss of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Connor. Forced to wonder how their loved ones came to their deaths in a watery grave, so close to home.
ZAHN: Even though cameras had been barred from Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing, officials received nearly 200 media applications for courtroom credentials, a courtroom open to fewer than two-dozen reporters.
ANNOUNCER: Up next, he's a preacher's kid who followed his heart to Hollywood.
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DENZEL WASHINGTON, ACTOR: My father was a minister and I couldn't go to the movies.
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ANNOUNCER: After a turn behind the camera, this box office heavyweight is captivating audiences again on screen. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) career of Academy award winner, Denzel Washington when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.
ZAHN: Hi, welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Denzel Washington is one of the most respected and recognizable actors in Hollywood. From action to drama, Washington's on screen achievements have won him countless nominations and awards, including two Oscars. His latest film, "Out of Time," is a thriller and a bit of a departure even for a star famous for his range. Here's Heidi Collins.
WASHINGTON: Like me?
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With more than 30 films under his belt, like "Philadelphia," "Glory," and "Training Day" and star power that now commands $20 million per film, Denzel Washington is at the top of his game. His career has been built on dead on portrayals of larger than life characters, "Malcolm X..."
WASHINGTON: We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.
He put me in prison.
COLLINS: ... and Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.
WASHINGTON: I've been locked in here for 30 years.
COLLINS: Now, shortly after his directorial debut, the two-time Oscar winner is back in front of the camera in "Out of Time."
WASHINGTON: Julie Anderson called and said she saw a prowler in the neighborhood.
COLLINS: Washington plays a respected police chief in a small Florida town, who must solve a double homicide before he, himself, falls under suspicion.
WASHINGTON: He's like us. He's human, you know. He makes some bad choices. And, you know, I'm curious to see how he's going to work his way out of it.
COLLINS: The film grossed more than $16 million in its opening weekend. Another strong opening for a man who as a teenager once dismissed some prophetic words that proved to be uncannily accurate.
Denzel was born on December 28, 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York, a multiracial, working class area just north of the Bronx. Denzel's parents, a Pentecostal minister and a beautician, ran a tight ship at their home on Monday Lane, with an emphasis on religion and discipline.
WASHINGTON: My father was a minister and I couldn't go to the movies.
COLLINS: Hollywood was off limits, but athletics were not. So Denzel's mom brought him here to a place where he could indulge in sports and learn a few life lessons as well.
BILLY THOMAS, BOY'S CLUB MENTOR: Denzel was involved in everything. Junior bittyball (ph) at six years old and that's a house league basketball. He also had a wiffle league -- wiffle ball league, which he was involved in and gymnastics.
COLLINS: The budding athlete became a standout in the club's football league, but he also enjoyed opportunities off the playing field.
WASHINGTON: I became police commissioner for a day. And you would meet the police commissioner and go into a jail and realize that you didn't want to be in there. But somebody was mayor for a day and this and that.
COLLINS: But then, when he was 14, an event that shattered Denzel -- his parents announced they were getting a divorce. The teen stopped listening to both his mentor and his mother.
WASHINGTON: So I started making friends with and hanging out with the guys in the projects. And then, I also had a little money in my pocket not that the projects themselves were what was bad. But we were just at that age in a time where you began to; you know, head down the wrong path and make some of the wrong choices. So she made a decision to send me away to school, to get me out of there.
THOMAS: She had the courage to see that, that there's a possibility that he can get caught up in that.
COLLINS: Denzel was sent to a private boarding school in upstate New York where he excelled in sports, but not in the classroom. After graduating in 1972, he returned home to attend Fordham University. Denzel davelled in pre-Med courses and journalism, but bad grades forced him to leave school.
WASHINGTON: I was taking a semester off from school involuntarily. And I was sitting in my mother's beauty shop, and you know, they had mirrors on both sides of the wall, so I was looking in the mirror here and I could see this woman looking at me. She was having a prophecy, which I probably didn't even know what that meant at that time. But she just said to me that, you know, I was going to preach to millions of people, that I was going to travel the world and I'm going to have something very important to say to millions of people. Well, at the time, I was flunking out of college, so I was more interested in like, do you think I'll be in -- back at the school in the fall semester? Do you see anything there?
COLLINS: A few months later, Denzel did go back to school and that prophecy began to unfold in the form of theater. Denzel took the lead role in a student production of "Othello" and it was clear he had found his calling. Other plays followed and by the time Denzel graduated in 1977, he knew he would dedicate his life to acting. That year, Denzel also got his first television gig as the boyfriend of Olympian, Wilma Rudolph, in a TV movie about her life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once you know it in your heart, you can win, it don't matter if you win.
COLLINS: And on the set, he met an actress and singer from North Carolina who would eventually become his wife. Denzel says he was not only taken with Pauletta Pearson, but with her family as well.
WASHINGTON: I came from a broken home, but we didn't have that kind of a closeness. In fact, you know, when I went down there to visit her that really nailed it for me. I was like, oh, I got to get in this family. This is good for me.
COLLINS: On the acting front, things were good for him as well. But there as once performance in particular that really turned heads.
LEAH ROZEN, FILM CRITIC, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: I saw him in "A Soldier's Story," which was his breakout role at the Negro Ensemble Company and you said, "Hey, who's that really" -- first you said, "Who's that really good-looking guy at stage?" and then you said, "Who's that really good-looking guy who can really act?"
COLLINS: Denzel won an Obi (ph), off Broadway's highest honor for his portrayal of Private First Class Melvin Peterson in "A Soldier's Play." His acting career was starting to take off.
O.L. DUKE, FRIEND: Denzel was cool. He was always, like, very focused and very determined to, you know, get ahead. I mean he was like -- he was like at total vision. He was really in his -- it showed in his work.
COLLINS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, Denzel Washington nearly passes up his big break on the TV series "St. Elsewhere."
WASHINGTON: I was really looking to not be too well known, just to try to keep a low key.
ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, here is Denzel Washington.
COLLINS (voice-over): By 1998, Denzel Washington was a bona fide star with more than 20 movies under his belt and the ultimate Hollywood sign that one has arrived, his hand and footprints immortalized at Mann's Chinese Theater.
Box office goals like "Malcolm X" and "Crimson Tide" cemented his place in film history, but it was television that actually gave Denzel his biggest break.
WASHINGTON: By the way, my name's Phil.
COLLINS: In 1982, he was cast as Dr. Phillip Chandler on the acclaimed NBC drama, "St. Elsewhere." Being a part of the ensemble was a major step for the actor who nearly majored in pre-med, but he still had reservations.
WASHINGTON: Well, I don't think this is quite ready for the "New England Journal of Medicine," but...
Actually, I didn't even want to do the show. Ruth Aaronson (ph) was my agent and she always instilled in me to -- she kept me out of a lot of TV series that I was offered. And she says, "No, I'd rather give you the money not to do it myself than" -- because you know, she really wanted me to have a movie career.
COLLINS: And there was another potential obstacle.
WASHINGTON: When we started the show, you know, they wanted the character to be an ex-gang leader and a basketball player. Well, not all black people are gang leaders and basketball players.
COLLINS: Even as a young actor, Denzel was deeply conscious of how African-Americans were portrayed in the media and he didn't want to play to negative stereotypes. During "St. Elsewhere's" sixth year Emmy-award winning run, the show producers gave him an opportunity to work elsewhere on the big screen.
WASHINGTON: The executive producer, God rest his soul, Bruce Paltrow, was instrumental in allowing my film career to exist. I did three movies during that six years. One was called "Power." One was called -- with Sidney Lumet. One was "A Soldier's Story" with Norman Jewison and one was "Cry Freedom" with Richard Attenborough. And if he hadn't allowed me to leave the show to do those films, I -- we wouldn't be talking, not about this.
Bill, will you get the hell out of here with that backwater crap.
COLLINS: "A Soldier's Story" put the actor back in the role that won an Obi.
WASHINGTON: No, our movement seeks to avoid violence.
COLLINS: While "Cry Freedom" gave audiences their first taste of Denzel's chameleon-like ability to transform to real-life characters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who are you referring to specifically?
WASHINGTON: I specifically would refer to people like Mandela, Zubucawe (ph).
COLLINS: As a murdered, anti-Apartheid activist, Denzel took the caps off of teeth, learned a South African accent and studied tapes and film recordings of the actual man. The attention to detail paid off. In 1987, Denzel Washington earned his very first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Two short years later, the Academy honored him again with a nod in the same category for "Glory."
WASHINGTON: He thought he was different, didn't he?
ROZEN: The director, Ed Zwick, I believe said that when he was cutting the movie, his editor just like couldn't cut away, wanted every scene to just put in the Denzel Washington tape because the editor said there was just something always going on with him.
COLLINS: Playing Trip, a former runaway slave fighting in an all black Civil War regiment, Denzel's most powerful moment in the film was wordless. This time, he would win the Academy Award.
This marked his shift from supporting actor to leading man in films like Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues."
WASHINGTON: Did you ever have it mo' better?
COLLINS: And as is often case in Hollywood, leading man status led to sex symbol status.
ROZEN: If there's any great lack in his career, certainly, as far as women viewers are concerned, is that Denzel Washington has never done enough sexy.
COLLINS: Married to Pauletta Pearson since 1983, the father of four says contrary to rumors, he doesn't object to love scenes; he just doesn't want to do anything gratuitous.
WASHINGTON: Well, I just think that my criterion is very simple. You know I only do the kinds of things that I would want my children to see.
ANNOUNCER: He was a man of many names.
COLLINS: In 1992, Denzel would team up with director, Spike Lee, again and this time, they would recreate history. Denzel transformed his appearance and his speech to bring a slained civil rights icon back to life. But this was not his first experience becoming Malcolm X. He had the role a decade earlier off Broadway in the play, "When The Chickens Come Home To Roost."
WASHINGTON: We had tremendous success with this play in New York. I mean we were at a theater with 175, 200 people and we had 1,000 people standing out there at night trying to get in, you know. So the word was out, you know. So going into the movie, I wasn't going in blindly or with doubt. I knew that I could play Malcolm X because I had already played him on stage.
Please, please. Yes, as I stated earlier that...
COLLINS: The second time around, the now seasoned actor went deep into character.
WASHINGTON: You been had! You been took! You been hood wigged, bamboozled! DUKE: He did not talk to anybody. He was -- he would just -- he would keep his hood on when he would come to work, you know, in between takes and stuff like that. You know it was like he was Malcolm. He wasn't Denzel.
COLLINS: At times, he was perceived as aloof or unfriendly on the set.
DUKE: He would be taken the wrong way sometimes. But I knew he was just focused on his work, you know. That's what it is. It's not personal, you know. He's -- you know, he's about business.
COLLINS: In the end, Denzel nailed the highs and the lows of the complex figure and was nominated for Hollywood's top honor.
ROZEN: "Malcolm X" was an Oscar worthy performance. The problem is every year, there are far more Oscar worthy performances than there are Oscars to give. So it's either your year or it's not.
COLLINS: Nineteen Ninety-two would not be his year.
COLLINS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, Mr. Nice Guy takes a nasty turn and takes on the Oscar voting academy.
WASHINGTON: It turned out to be nice day? It'll get darker. I guarantee you that.
ZAHN: Our look at Denzel Washington will continue in a moment, but first, here's this week's "Passages."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on down.
ANNOUNCER: Rod Roddy, a one-time announcer for the game show, "The Price Is Right," died this week after a long bout with cancer. Born in Texas, Roddy got his first break in television as narrator for the sitcom, "Soap." He worked on other game shows such as "Press Your Luck" before bringing his trademark, "Come on Down" and flashy wardrobe to "The Price Is Right" in 1986. Rob Roddy was 66.
Rocker, actress, Courtney Love was booked in Los Angeles this week for drug possession. The rebellious Love, who is out on bail, is charged with illegally carrying prescription painkillers. Now, this is yet another legal battle for Love, who is fighting for custody of her daughter, Frances Beam. Now, Love, who was to release her first solo album on the day the charges came down, will be in court for the drug charges in November.
It's getting hot in here now that a lot of Nelly's ice is missing. The seamless rapper reported that more than $1 million worth of jewelry was stolen from this Las Vegas hotel room.
Michelle Branch, who was also staying at the Aladdin hotel, reported computer equipment stolen from her room.
Good news for Nelly fans though, his trademark band-aid is present and accounted for. For more celebrity news, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week. Our look at Denzel Washington will continue after this.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
COLLINS: Denzel Washington has been building his reputation as a serious actor for years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Action!
COLLINS: But as a leading man, his hopes for the grand prize, a Best Actor Oscar, kept eluding him.
WASHINGTON: So you were concealing your illness?
COLLINS: In 1993, Denzel went head-to-head with another A-list co-star, Tom Hanks, in the film, "Philadelphia."
WASHINGTON: Didn't you have an obligation to tell your employer that you had this dreaded, deadly, infectious disease?
COLLINS: And once again, the Oscar for Best Actor was a distinct possibility.
ROZEN: And you're just completely aware of how much Denzel Washington is on par with Hanks and how important he is to the film. He plays the lawyer, who starts out initially sort of homophobic. He's the one who actually makes the change. He's the one who has the journey in the film.
COLLINS: But Denzel was shut out by the Academy. He wasn't even nominated. Then, another challenging role, wrongly convicted boxer, Rubin Carter, in "Hurricane."
WASHINGTON: I don't have a few more years, Myron.
COLLINS: The intense, powerful portrayal of a man, who spent 30 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, made the actor a front runner in the Oscar race for 1999. But this time, it would be no different.
ROZEN: When it came Oscar time, there was a very successful word-of-mouth whisper campaign to undermine the film. The film had played it a little fast and loose with some of the facts. And I think Denzel Washington lost out what was a real good shot at an Oscar because of that.
COLLINS: The leading man so popular with audiences and critics alike became deeply disillusioned.
JAMIE FOXX, ACTOR: Some of the bodies of work that he's done, he didn't really get, you know, recognized. I mean when you look at "Hurricane," I mean what a great performance. Like when you look at "Malcolm X," what a great performance. And you know, he had felt a little -- felt a little slided by that.
WASHINGTON: All right, listen up. I'm Coach Boone.
COLLINS: He was already in production for the film, "Remember The Titans," but he decided to take a risk with his next role.
O'NEILL: He is such a marvelous leading man that he was finding himself in, you know, being typecast as a certain kind of standup guy.
COLLINS: As Detective Alonzo Harris, the rogue cop in "Training Day," Denzel went against type with a vengeance.
WASHINGTON: You did what you had to do.
ROZEN: Washington made evil so seductive.
DUKE: He had a lot of fun playing Alonzo. He talked about that character more than another other character. When we would come in, he was doing Alonzo, he'd be telling you, you know, scene-by-scene almost, you know, what he was doing. He was really excited about it.
ETHAN HAWKE, ACTOR: Just the animals wipe themselves out.
WASHINGTON: God willing.
COLLINS: Once again, Oscar came knocking, but he was up against the odds on favorite, Russell Crowe, in "A Beautiful Mind."
Finally, after three nominations for Best Actor, "Training Day" made March 24, 2002 Denzel's day as he took home the top honor. This would make him only the second African-American to win as Best Actor in the 74-year history of the Academy.
WASHINGTON: This time, it's a little -- I just had a peace about me all week and all day. And I told my kids, "Win or lose, I'm going to home and hang out with them." And that's what I'm going to do.
ANNOUNCER: Here is Denzel Washington.
COLLINS: Denzel Washington has played 30 different characters on film. But role he relishes most is that of real-life husband and father.
O'NEILL: He's not someone who goes to a lot parties and premiers just to get out and be seen. He lives a life as a regular guy and then comes out as a movie star when he has to.
COLLINS: The regular guy is a regular dad who makes time for his kids' activities. Now, it's Denzel's turn to cheer. John David, the oldest of his four kids, started at Moorehouse College last year with a football scholarship.
WASHINGTON: I really give my wife all the credit there. She's been the consistent one in their lives. I've always been the one on the road and not with them all time, you know, working. And you know, I'm just bringing home the bacon.
COLLINS: In 2002, work took him in a different direction. Denzel decided to test out the director's chair with the story of Antwone Fisher.
WASHINGTON: Well, I've been very fortunate to work with some great directors and hopefully; I've used and applied something from them all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still standing. I'm still strong.
COLLINS: Denzel also has a key onscreen supporting role as a Navy psychiatrist in the film. And as a first time director, he jokes that working with a certain two-time Oscar winner was tough.
WASHINGTON: Do you want to talk about it?
I had to really work with Denzel. I had to really work with him. He was very difficult and unprepared, you know, and just a tyrant on the set and -- yes, if I had to do anything over again, I would have never had hired him.
COLLINS: But Carl Franklin was in the director's chair for the October release, "Out of Time" and did hire Denzel for the lead.
WASHINGTON: Agent Stark said to send the money to his office.
COLLINS: Denzel hasn't given up the director's hat just yet. Since his directorial debut, he's received several scripts.
WASHINGTON: I haven't found anything I want to do yet. I'm just taking my time, but I definitely want to get behind the camera again.
COLLINS: With a career spanning nearly three decades and still going strong, Denzel still reflects on an old woman's handwritten prophecy that he would travel the world and speak to millions of people.
WASHINGTON: For some reason, I kept the piece of paper. I still have it. And I always felt since that, you know, I do have a purpose and so I try to apply that to what I do, to stay humble. And you know, for years, I thought, well, am I supposed to go like become a preacher now in church. And life ain't over. Maybe I will. I don't know.
COLLINS: It is a prophecy like his career that continues to unfold.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: Denzel Washington is busy these days. He's just wrapped up another movie and he's about to start a second, a remake of the classic, political thriller, "The Manchurian Candidate."
That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, Russell Crowe takes the high seas for an epic adventure in "Master and Commander."
I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. Hope you'll be back with us next week.
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