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John David Washington says being known as 'Denzel's son' is 'inescapable'

Despite carving out his own Hollywood success in films like Tenet and BlacKkKlansman, John David Washington knows that any story about him (including this one) will inevitably identify him as "Denzel's son." It's something the 38-year-old Amsterdam star, the eldest son of actors Pauletta and Denzel Washington, has finally made peace with, he tells CBS Sunday Morning's Kelefa Sanneh in a new interview.

"I have to understand I could have the best game, career ... the headline's always going to be what it is," the football-player-turned-actor says. "So to try to prove something to somebody is a fool's errand."

But the younger Washington at first resisted following in his parents' acting footsteps.

"My mother is an extremely talented artist, and my father is one of the greatest of all time. He's my favorite actor," says Washington, adding that the idea of going into acting seemed "intimidating" given the inevitable comparisons that would come.

"It didn't seem as simple to just pursue it," he says of his deciding to make his mark not as an actor, but as a college football star. Choosing to keep his acting dreams under wraps "because of who I'm related to" Washington instead threw his energy into playing for Morehouse College and, later, the United Football League.

"What motivated it, really, is independence — was my own name, was being able to carry my own weight in my life, even though I was hiding what I really wanted to do," says Washington, who was also signed by the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent. "It gave me an identity."

In addition to that identity, Washington says he "felt football would change that narrative" of being the son of a certain two-time Oscar winner. Spoiler: It did not.

John David Washington says it was
John David Washington says it was "intimidating" to follow in the acting footsteps of parents Pauletta and Denzel Washington pictured in 2010). (Photo: Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)

His father's superstardom also cast a shadow over his football achievements, says the Malcolm & Marie actor. He recalls a headline early on his college career as a running back.

"I had a great game and [read] 'Denzel's son runs for this many yards and this many touchdowns,'" he says. "I realized then it was inescapable."

Washington got his breakout role in the series Ballers, which he admits reading for just to get some audition experience under his belt. He's now making his Broadway debut in August Wilson's The Piano Lesson opposite old family friend Samuel L. Jackson, and says his parents are frequent audience members. "I get notes from them too," he says.

And while Washington is hopeful that one day he'll have his own child to carry on the Washington name, he doesn't waste time wondering if he'll ever eclipse his famous father's legacy.

"Nah. I don't see it as a reality for me," he admits. "He's larger than life. So no, I don't think of it that way. I can't.