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John David Washington on "BlacKkKlansman" Story: NPR

John David Washington stars like Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee BlacKkKlansman.

David Lee / Focus Features

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David Lee / Focus Features

John David Washington stars like Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee BlacKkKlansman.

David Lee / Focus Features

A new movie from director Spike Lee has a prerequisite that is almost impossible to believe.

It is 1978 and a black police detective in Colorado Springs, Colo., Lyckas infiltrate the Ku Klux Clan. He not only receives a membership card directly from Grand Wizard David Duke, but he is also asked to lead a local chapter because he is all they are looking for – loyal, smart and true believers.

He establishes a relationship with David Duke over the phone. And for personal meetings he recruits a white employee to go to his place.

That sounds incredible, but the story is based on a real person's account. The film draws heavily from the 2014 book Black Klansman by real detective Ron Stallworth.

In BlacKkKlansman, Stallworth's role is played by John David Washington. 19659009] "I thought it was crazy and I was not sure if that was true," Washington said in an interview with NPR's Michel Martin for All Things Considered . "It sounded like a famous crap by Dave Chappelle, as he did years ago. Before I did the survey I was not really sure how true it was. And then when I did the survey, I was just so surprised."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Spending time with the real Ron Stallworth, in preparation for the role

It is interesting. Spike [Lee] held me away for several months until the first day of shooting. I feel that he did it for purpose, but when I came to meet him at the table read – it's crazy – he passed his membership card. The actual Ku Klux Klan clan membership card, he is a member of the Ku Klux Klan! He passed it around for us at the table and it was a trip.

For some reason, the card kept making all the stories and the research seems more real than ever. He was very helpful and he could share with me, not just his attitude tactically to the investigation and sting operation, but what he was going through in these times – what it was like to be a black man in the 70's in Colorado Springs. So all kinds of things gave me insight and helped me cut the results.

On Ron Stallworth's gratitude to his white colleagues

He was a man of his mission. He totally believed what he was doing. He could not become too emotional and keep in character to drive this man and take down this organization of hatred. He was also very grateful and acknowledged the people who were white in his department who helped him who believed in him. He was not on his own by this. He was supported and it took that kind of support to make this mission a success.

When he learned about the character's relationships with the Jews

In his initial phone call to Klan, he incorporates all who he hates. If you're not pure white Aryan blood that goes through the veins can all get it, everyone is hated, everyone is worse. I thought it was important to have everything in there, and it was a good learning experience for me. If people sometimes struggle to be Jewish and try to fit in, we have a lot in common in that way.

About different perceptions of law enforcement and new knowledge of the profession

The divide is generational and it is continuous. But I was ignorant of that too, until I did my research and had to spend time with policemen and spent time with Ron Stallworth specifically and realized it's an incredibly thankless job.

There are men and women out there protecting and serving, doing it properly, not being talked about. People in their department are doing their job in the wrong way, it will come out there. There are now viruses. I love what he says – I do not want to give the movie away – but he addresses it specifically for the love interest and says that it can change from the inside. And I think it's true.

The men and women who serve and protect, do it right, I want them to be proud of it when they see it. I want them to get up and put a pat on their backs – those who do it the right way, that is to say. And maybe now we can start, instead of generalizing our frustrations about the misunderstanding, maybe start to recognize those who are and highlight them as much as we highlight the negative parts of how the police do the job. I hope that's what this movie can give.

The sound story was produced and edited by Dustin DeSoto and Janaya Williams.

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