Warner Brothers Studios hosts college roundtable for Christopher Nolan’s new movie “Tenet”

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Melinda Sue Gordon

JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON stars in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic “TENET,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

“What the hell are we doing, what did I just read?”

This was John David Washington’s first impression when he read for the role of “The Protagonist,” the lead in director Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic adventure “Tenet.” 

Despite his wide-eyed introduction, Washington knew if anyone could pull off this absurd story, it’d be Nolan. After all, Nolan was the one who wrote it. But regardless of the film’s ambiguous nature, Washington couldn’t wait to get started.

“He chose me to be in it, so I’m gonna do my part, I’m gonna do my job and we’ll see what happens,” Washington said.

“Tenet” follows Washington’s character, an ex-CIA operative, tasked by Tenet, a secret espionage organization from the future, to save the world from a mysterious apocalyptic threat. The film’s two and half hour run-time is highlighted by vulnerable performances, exhilarating action sequences, and a beautiful score from Ludwig Göransson. 

Though it features many hallmarks of Nolan’s usual action fare, the film’s time-bending stunts, non-linear storytelling and outright rejection of the laws of physics set it apart from standard spy flicks and safely among the acclaimed director’s most ambitious efforts.

In promotion for the film, Warner Brothers held a college roundtable interview with Washington. The Daily Aztec got a chance to participate along with a fellow journalist from UCLA’s The Daily Bruin. 

Throughout the interview, Washington elaborated on the enigma of “Tenet” and how he was able to prepare for the role.

One of the biggest challenges of bringing the story to life was the intricate and physically demanding action scenes, which included running with various equipment and training for inverted fighting displays.

Director/writer/producer CHRISTOPHER NOLAN and JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic “TENET,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Melinda Sue Gordon)

In preparation for the physical aspect of the role, Washington thought back to his football experience, replicating his intense training and diet from his playing days. 

He readily embraced the challenge and loved every second of it, but the experience left him ready to take it a little easier in his next film.

“I’m ready for a rom-com now because I can’t put my body through that again this year,” Washington said.

The role made such an impact on Washington that it began inspiring his own life, including the limits in which he was willing to push himself and made him question what the ultimate expression of sacrifice would be. Washington began to view his day-to-day situations through the lens of his character, as he tried to avoid succumbing to whatever temptations were on his mind.

“I was asking myself what could you actually die for, what are you willing to put on the line,” Washington said.

Reflecting on his character’s personality along with his own, Washington saw a lot of similarities including the Protagonist’s selfless tendencies and competitive edge. As he grew accustomed to the character, Washington learned to accomplish things he never thought he could with his acting.

“As The Protagonist was learning things about himself in the film, so was I as an artist,” he said.

JACK CUTMORE-SCOTT, JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON and ROBERT PATTINSON in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action epic “TENET,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Melinda Sue Gordon)

As a lavish, big-budget blockbuster, everything was done to make the film a grand, must-see spectacle. Many of “Tenet”’s perks were a dream come true for Washington, such as shooting at the Nysted Wind Farm in Denmark, wearing extravagant tailored suits, and working alongside film legend Sir Michael Caine.

“I love playing the protagonist and I hope to do it again because of the clothes,” Washington said.

Besides sharing his perspective of the film, Washington praised the work of all his co-stars, but he specifically admired Kenneth Branagh’s convincing turn as Andrei Sator, a Russian arms dealer attempting to wipe out earth’s population. 

Washington emphasized Sator was the exact opposite of Branagh’s friendly real-life personality, and because of the role’s complexity, he applauded Branagh’s extensive practice to nail the character.

“He was able to speak and do his lines backward in a Russian accent, I mean that’s next level guys,” Washington said. 

When asked about the plausibility of “Tenet” and if a time-traveling secret agency could be existing right now, Washington had an optimistic response.

“Hell yeah, it exists, they’re probably working with time right now and we’re going to do a version of this, maybe in a hundred years or something,” Washington said. 

“Tenet” is available to watch in theaters now — wherever they’re open. 

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