Hired in desperation, thanked with faint praise

Denzel Washington is used to reading scripts, not giving speeches. But his son Malcolm was graduating from the University of Pennsylvania last may, and Washington agreed to give the commencement speech. As the big day approached, Washington began to panic, according to ContactMusic.com.

“First of all, I’m in South Africa (filming a movie) and I’m putting my ideas together, I’m really working hard, then I realise I’m not really a speechmaker. I didn’t know how to put it together. So actually my young agent said, ‘Hey, you need a speechwriter.’ So I actually got the guy who writes speeches for Mayor Bloomberg.”

Washington describes the process (the ideal process, if you ask a speechwriter):

“What you do is you get on the phone with him and we talk for hours and hours and he gets a sense for what I wanted to talk about. And then he would write something and I would read it, then you would talk some more, and I would come up with something.”

And the speech came together:

“I talked about my life and I talked about failing big and falling forward… I think it was alright. I was nervous. I’m an actor, I’m not a public speaker, I didn’t have character to hide behind. It seemed like it went over well. They said it was well-received. I guess what else are they gonna say? ‘You suck, we’ll never see you again.'”

Yep, that sounds like speechwriting.

(Hat tip to BP speechwriting chief John Barnes for alerting us to this.)

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