With three Golden Globe awards, a Tony Award, and two Academy Awards, Denzel Washington is undoubtedly one of the greatest African-American Hollywood actors of all time.
Having acted in more than 50 films over a career spanning four decades, Denzel remembers a time when there were almost no black movie stars apart from Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor.
He got his career break as Dr. Phillip Chandler in the TV drama St. Elsewhere, and was one of only a few African-American actors to appear in the series for its entire six-year run.
Still, he says he never let it get to him.
"I can't," he told GQ in a 2012 interview. "I'm an actor. First of all, I don't take myself that seriously. I take what I do seriously, and I try to do a good job."
The star has been repeatedly praised by critics and audiences alike and was nominated for seven Academy Awards— including Best Actor in Malcolm X and Flight— and won two, for 1989's Glory and 2001's Training Day.
His feature length directorial debut in 2016's Fences, in which Denzel acted as the lead, was described by The Guardian as "dense with intelligence and compassion."
It is almost as if Denzel was not forbidden from watching mainstream Western movies as a child.
Only, he was. Son to a church-minister father, he grew up in a household where wine was not allowed and the screen only ever showed titles like King of Kings and The Ten Commandments.
"I went [to church] every Sunday as a kid," he says, "so I can relate to people who don't like it because there was a time when it felt like a job.
"We all go through our rebellion."
Denzel's own rebellion included befriending a group of three friends who all went on to do time in prison.
But as much as he rejected his parents' religion in his early teens, he did consider becoming a minister for a while after being told by his mother's friend that she believed he was, "going to travel the world and preach to millions of people."
Acting, he found, was just another platform on which he could share his faith. He told The Guardian in 2013: "I remember some years ago asking my pastor: 'Do you think I'm supposed to be a preacher?' And he said: 'Well, you are. You have a pulpit of your own."
"That's not to say that I'm preaching, necessarily," he added. "I don't want to tell you what you need to do. I mean, I'm not turning it up to 10 when it comes to being correct, I'm not that guy, I like my wine."
In 2015, according to The Christian Post, Denzel made a speech to Dillard University's graduating class and advised them to put God first.
"There's never been a time when God didn't direct, protect, and correct me," he said. "There may have been times when I was less faithful to Him, but He had faith in me.
"I've felt the hand of God on my life, no doubt about it."
"My father was a minister for 50 years," he said in an interview with Parade in 2010.
"We would say prayers for everything and end with, 'Amen, God is love.' I thought 'God is love' was like one word, 'Godislove.'
"I didn't really realize what it meant. I'm still learning. But the fundamental message is in the Bible, which I've read three times from front to back.
"If you don't practice love, you're missing the point."
Denzel's point is summed up in a Bible passage which says, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God's love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (see 1 John 4:8-10).
That is how Denzel uses his position - not to preach, but to love, encourage and to share.
The 61-year-old told the annual "We Care" Charities Banquet in St. Louis, Missouri last November, "Give thanks for blessings every day. Every day. Embrace gratitude. Encourage others. It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time."
He is not shy about his faith in front of the cameras, openly sharing in interviews that he reads the Bible and prays every day. And he lives out his faith through his demeanor and the way he treats his wife, fellow actress Pauletta Pearson, and four children John David, Katia, Olivia, and Malcolm.
He may consider himself an actor more so than a minister or a celebrity— but the truth is Denzel Washington is all those things. He just likes to have his wine both at communion, and at fancy restaurants.
"Don't aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference," he says famously— words he lives by.•