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Why John David Washington 'couldn't get over' filming Tenet's opening scene

Christopher Nolan's upcoming flick Tenet is going to blow a lot of minds — and it already did so with its star.

John David Washington, whose lead character is so far known only by the vague name "the Protagonist," recently spoke with Entertainment Weekly about his experience working on the flick — in particular, how shooting its epic opening scene had his brain spinning.

Previewed for audiences ahead of IMAX screenings of last year's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the opening scene of Tenet involves Washington's secret agent character and his cohorts infiltrating a crowded opera house with the aim of extracting a single audience member before an opposing team of terrorists can do the same. The tense, thrilling sequence briefly demonstrates the flick's "time inversion" technology (in which some objects and locales appear to experience brief reversals in time), and it manages to feel claustrophobic despite its massive setting.

It was certainly the biggest set Washington had ever set foot on, and he confessed to EW that it felt a bit overwhelming. 

"I couldn't get over the scale of it all, how many background artists we had," the actor said. "Those are not digitally enhanced people, those weren't painted in — they were all there and present. And they were so game, they were so enthusiastic to be in a Chris Nolan film, as I was excited to be in a Chris Nolan film running for my life. It was extremely intense, so many moving pieces."

And how did Nolan manage all of those moving pieces? Like the consummate professional he is, of course. "Nolan on set, he just works at such pace and is so well organized," Washington said. "I mean, it was chaos when he yelled 'Action!' but getting it done, it felt very organized."

John David Washington had to conquer his fears to star in Tenet

Playing the lead role in such a massive production would be enough to give any actor a case of the jitters, but Washington had plenty of additional fears to overcome while shooting Tenet. He also revealed to EW that he has a fear of heights — or rather, he had a fear of heights before being forced to get over it.

"The only thing that probably was tough for me were the heights at first, but I ended up getting over that," said Washington. "That became a great accomplishment for me, because I'm not too comfortable with heights and I became better acquainted with heights after that experience."

The actor also became better acquainted with boats, which he said in a separate sit-down with EW late last year was just as tough. One of the exclusive promo stills released to the publication at that time depicted Washington and co-star Elizabeth Debicki (who plays the wife of Kenneth Branagh's Russian character) aboard a speedboat, with Washington's character at the controls — another situation the actor said he wasn't completely comfortable with.

"I was terrified, but when Christopher Nolan yelled 'Action!' I had to throw all that away and make it look cool," he deadpanned. And what, exactly, was the problem? "It's a boat, man!" Washington said, chuckling. "I don't know how to drive a boat! But I had to act like I did."

Well, that still has us convinced — about the boat thing. We didn't need any convincing as to how cool Washington is, and we doubt the rest of world will once Nolan's latest opus hits the big screen. Like his father Denzel Washington, coolness just seems to be in John David Washington's blood — and we're about to find out if superstardom also runs in that family. We have a sneaking suspicion it does.

Tenet is currently slated to hit the big screen on July 31, 2020.