A respected actor who became one of the more prominent figures in the growing African American cinema of the 1990s, Isaiah Washington has made his name in gritty crime dramas and romantic ensemble comedies alike.
A native of Houston, Texas, Washington spent four years in the Air Force before studying drama at Washington, D.C.'s Howard University. Following graduation, he won a role in playwright Ntozake Shange's Spell 7 and then moved to New York to further pursue his career. He appeared in a number of stage productions, and he became one of the founding members of CityKids Repertory, a theatre group that visits high schools and community centers throughout New York.
Washington began his screen career on television, appearing in the soap operas As the World Turns and One Life to Live. He made his big screen debut in Spike Lee's Crooklyn (1994), and he subsequently appeared in Lee's Clockers (1995), Girl 6 (1996), and Get on the Bus (1996), the last of which cast him as a gay man on his way to the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C.
Some of Washington's other memorable credits during the '90s included the Hughes brothers' Dead Presidents (1995), the warmly received ensemble romantic comedy Love Jones (1997), Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998), in which Washington gave a memorable turn as a scheming con's violent brother-in-law; Warren Beatty's Bulworth (1998), and Clint Eastwood's True Crime (1999), which cast Washington as a man awaiting execution on death row after being falsely accused of murder. In 2000, Washington could be seen starring opposite Chinese action star Jet Li in Romeo Must Die, an urban update of Romeo and Juliet set between rival Asian and African American gangs in Oakland, California.
In 2005, Washington was cast as Dr. Preston Burke, one of the leads on the ABC medical-drama Grey's Anatomy. The show quickly became a runaway hit, garnering a large and loyal audience as well as Emmys and Golden Globes. However, through the show, Washington would soon gain a great deal of unwanted notoriety. In late 2006, a controversy exploded after an onset altercation between Washington and costar Patrick Dempsey, wherein the former allegedly used an anti-gay epithet to describe castmate T.R. Knight. Months of media coverage followed, and in June 2007, ABC announced that Washington was being cut from the show.
Despite the controversy, it wasn't long before Washington was fielding offers from other networks. In July 2007, NBC announced that they'd nabbed him for an extended arc on the remake of The Bionic Woman.