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Why The Protagonist From Tenet Looks So Familiar

Now that we've seen the second trailer for Christopher Nolan's Tenet, we have a much clearer idea of what the picture is all about — no, wait, it's the opposite of that. Sure, we know that it's about a guy who is a secret agent of some kind, who has been tasked with helping humanity avoid a fate worse than Armageddon. We know that there's a Russian operative involved who can basically see the future, and that we'll be introduced to a whole new flavor of time travel: "Inversion," wherein time seems to run backwards for specific durations within certain areas.

We also know that, like much of Nolan's work, Tenet will be a brain-bender of the first order. Beyond those somewhat vague details, however, your guess is as good as ours as to the flick's actual story. It's not just the trailers; all of Tenet's promotional materials have been deliberately slight on information. We don't even know the name of the main character, who has literally only been referred to publicly as "the Protagonist."

We do know one thing, though: We've seen that guy before, and we're pretty sure you found his face to be familiar, too. The actor in the middle of all this Nolan-y weirdness is named John David Washington, and while he hasn't been in showbiz for too terribly long, he already has a pretty respectable list of credits,  a couple of which are pretty certain to have crossed your radar. Here's why the Protagonist from Tenet looks so familiar.

John David Washington starred on Ballers with Dwayne Johnson

Washington's very first credits are as a child actor in the '90s, and he owes those credits to his acting pedigree. He's the son of the legendary Denzel Washington, and his first appearance in a film was as a boy in the jarringly odd final scene of Spike Lee's mostly excellent Malcolm X, with Denzel inhabiting the title role. He also had a small part in dear, old dad's 1995 starring vehicle Devil in a Blue Dress, but his acting career didn't really start to pick up steam until 2015, when he was cast opposite Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the HBO sports dramedy Ballers.

The series followed the lives of some current and former professional football players, and Washington fit right in among its cast, since he was a college and pro running back, setting records for Morehouse College and playing four seasons in the now-defunct United Football League. The well-received series ran for five seasons between 2015 and 2019, with Washington appearing in all 47 episodes.

A main role on an HBO original series can do a lot for an actor's profile, and it wasn't long before casting directors for Hollywood features began to take notice of Washington's talents. His acting style is naturalistic, empathetic, and projects a certain gravitas, so it's no surprise that he began to regularly land roles in independent drama features. 

John David Washington has appeared in a bunch of indie features

The first of these gigs came in 2017, when he was cast by Wu-Tang Clan producer and filmmaker RZA as Mahlik in Love Beats Rhymes, a musical drama in which he co-starred with the likes of Azealia Banks, Method Man, Common, and Jill Scott. The flick received only a very limited release, but Washington's appearance helped him to score his first lead role in 2018's Monsters and Men, the acclaimed feature debut of director Reinaldo Marcus Green (who will soon direct Will Smith in the sports biopic King James). The flick won the Special Jury Prize for Outstanding First Feature at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Washington appeared in three more features in 2018 alone. First, he starred as William "Bobo" Evans in the harrowing drama All Rise, based on the Walter Dean Myers novel of the same name. Then, he was Lieutenant Kelly in the biographical dramedy The Old Man and the Gun. While his role in that film was relatively minor, it did afford him the opportunity to appear on screen with absolute legends such as Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, and Tom Waits.

None of these flicks were terribly widely seen, but if you haven't happened to catch any of them, we've still got a pretty good idea as to why Washington's face would ring a bell. His final 2018 feature appearance was in a totally bonkers historical drama which reunited him with Spike Lee for the first time since he was a child.

John David Washington starred in BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman's story is far-fetched even by Hollywood standards, but it also happens to be true. Washington starred as Ron Stallworth, who in the '70s was hired as the Colorado Springs Police Department's first black officer. Assigned to undercover work, Stallworth took it upon himself to expose the activities of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan by posing as a white man on the phone, and sending his Jewish co-worker Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to meet with Klan members in person in an eventually successful attempt to infiltrate the organization.

The flick was one of 2018's best, winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and ending up nominated for five Oscars (one of which it would win, for Best Adapted Screenplay), and Washington picked up a Golden Globe nod for his lead role. These are the kinds of things that can land an excellent young actor a starring role in a tentpole film, and in Tenet, Washington will lead a cast that includes heavy hitters such as Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Robert Pattinson.

Next on tap for the actor: He'll star in the thriller Born to Be Murdered alongside Alicia Vikander, Boyd Holbrook, and Vicky Krieps. The sophomore feature from director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino is currently in post-production, and is expected to be released later this year. It'll certainly be interesting to see how Washington's career trajectory plays out, because if it's anything like his dad's, we're going to be seeing his face on screen for a long, long time to come.