Denzel Washington is one of Hollywood's most successful and respected actors. But the two-time Academy Award winner (for 1989's Glory and 2001's Training Day) is also one of Hollywood's highest profile Christians.
The son of a Pentecostal preacher from Mount Vernon, New York, Washington, 55, has been an active member of West Angeles Church of God in Christ for nearly 30 years, reads his Bible every morning, and always chooses roles that he can "bend" in the direction of a positive message or a reflection of his deep personal faith.
Faith is everywhere in Washington's new post-apocalyptic film, The Book of Eli, which opens Friday and is being marketed with "B-ELI-EVE" and "D-ELI-VER US" billboards. In the movie, Washington plays a mysterious machete-wielding traveler named Eli, directed by God to protect the earth's last remaining copy of the Bible—that's right, the Bible—and to take it "out West" for safekeeping while villains seek to take it by force and use it as a "weapon" of control.
Washington's character in the film is intensely violent—severing the limbs of bad guys at every turn—but begins to soften when he meets an innocent girl (Mila Kunis) who reminds him that we can get so caught up in protecting God's Word that we sometimes forget to live by it.
For Washington, "living by it" is chiefly characterized by love and sacrifice. The ultimate message of Eli, he says, is "Do more for others than you would do for yourself." It's a message Washington was surrounded by as a boy.
"We prayed about everything, everyday," Washington told members of the religious media last week in Los Angeles. "And we always ended with 'Amen. God is love.' I thought 'God is love' was one word. It took me a long time to learn ...