The Tragedy Of Macbeth might be courting a few theatrical curses. The big screen Shakespeare adaptation is being released on Christmas Day, where it’ll compete with a little movie called The Matrix Resurrections (releasing a few days earlier). Plus, the black and white drama is the very first film directed by a Coen brother (Joel) without the other (Ethan) being involved, which is the sort of epic brother-brother split that classical tragedies are made from. (The Matrix sequel also represents a sibling’s first directorial outing apart from their lifelong directing partner, for added parallel weirdness.)
Still, Oscar and Tony winner Denzel Washington isn’t having any of your namby-pamby theatrical superstition when it comes to his starring role (alongside the equally formidable Frances McDormand) in Coen’s film. “I’m a God-fearing man, I don’t play that,” a smiling Washington told Stephen Colbert on Wednesday’s Late Show, adding defiantly, “I don’t believe in ghosts.” Colbert, while noting that the Ed Sullivan Theater is, indeed, right smack on Broadway, quickly joined in, with the two even acting out the play’s most arguably famous speech for good measure.
With Washington holding up his hands in director’s framing, he pushed his imaginary camera in for a closeup as Colbert recited the opening lines of Act 5, Scene 5 by memory. And sure, self-described non-actor Colbert (what, he’s never seen himself in The Love Guru?) stumbled over a line, but, in the end, Washington gave the host a congratulatory high-five for delivering a creditable performance as Shakespeare’s ambitiously villainous monarch. Again, on Broadway, no less. It counts.
For Washington, Shakespeare’s nothing new, of course. He shouted out his holiday box office rival Keanu Reeves for their joint appearance as brothers Don Pedro and Don John in Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 Much Ado About Nothing, with Colbert quizzing the actor on his many Shakespearean stage roles. Noting that he prepared for his first Shakespearean lead in Othello by listening to Sir Laurence Olivier’s stage version on LP in the Fordham University library, Washington told Colbert that his late mother was always front and center for his starring roles.
“She didn’t get cheated,” Washington said of his mother, Lennis, who died at the age of 97 in June. With Colbert quoting Freud’s dictum, “A son who believes himself to be his mother’s favorite has a lifelong confidence that nothing can shake,” Washington countered by saying that, “A mother is a son’s first true love. A son, especially that first son, is a mother’s last true love.” Washington momentarily paused to collect himself, with Colbert offering his guest a handy tissue as the esteemed actor confessed, “I didn’t cry at her funeral,” and joking to the host, “I guess I saved it up for you.” Reflecting on his mom, Washington sagely advised Colbert’s audience, “Love ’em, hug ’em.” And you’ll all excuse us if there’s something in our eye.
A24's The Tragedy Of Macbeth opens in theaters and will be available for streaming on Apple TV+ on January 14.