During a hectic movie-making schedule, Washington and Pearson welcome twins Malcolm and Olivia. The actor – conscious of his image as part of a religious family with young children – refuses to do graphic sex scenes. "He'd say, 'I'm a family man. I don't want to do that," Mo' Better Blues director Joie Lee tells USA Today.
Washington delivers an iconic performance as the slain black hero in Spike Lee's Malcolm X. Preparing for the role, Washington studies Malcolm's writings, follows Muslim dietary restrictions and talks to Nation of Islam acolytes. He even names his newborn son Malcolm. His performance leads to a third Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actor.
The Pelican Brief hits theaters and earns more than $100 million, making it Washington's highest-grossing movie (until Remember the Titans in 2000). He costars with Julia Roberts, who specially requests Washington for the film. A few days later, Philadelphia is released with Washington playing a homophobic lawyer opposite Tom Hanks' AIDS-stricken lawyer.
PEOPLE names Washington its Sexiest Man Alive. "I don't take myself too seriously…I don't stop in the mirror and go, 'Hey, Sexy Man.,'" Washington tells PEOPLE. In 1998, though, Washington's first interracial love scene, in He Got Game with Milla Jovovich, creates a stir. "For a lot of black women, Denzel represents everything that's right in the black man today," says Sonia Alleyne, editor of Black Elegance, to the Observer. "I think they are looking at his new role almost as though he is being unfaithful to black women."
In order to portray the story of Rubin Carter, a boxer wrongly convicted of murder who was jailed for 19 years, Washington loses 40 pounds and exercises up to four hours a day for 16 months. His performance in The Hurricane lands Washington another Best Actor Oscar nomination as well as a Golden Globe win.
His largest-grossing film to date, Remember the Titans with Hayden Panettiere, pulls in more than $115 million at the box office. Washington plays a strong family man, Coach Herman Boone, in the sports drama about overcoming racial tensions.
Washington starts shooting his directorial debut, 2002's Antwone Fisher, in Cleveland. During filming, he thanks his favorite directors, telling Entertainment Weekly, "I used to joke about my 'homage' every day: 'Today is my homage to Spike Lee, tomorrow is my homage to Steven Spielberg.' In other words, I'm stealing from everyone.'"
Washington takes home the Best Actor statue for his against-type rogue cop in Training Day. "I was never asked to play the heavy," he tells PEOPLE. "I guess they thought I was the noble, nice guy." He also makes history that night alongside Best Actress winner Halle Berry: it is the first time African-Americans win both lead acting statuettes. In 2003, he joins the $20 million paycheck ranks of Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz and Tom Hanks, with his 30th film Out of Time.
In the remake of the The Manchurian Candidate, Washington takes on the role of a troubled war veteran, originally played by Frank Sinatra. Washington's performance earns critical praise and praise from costar Meryl Streep. "He's amazing in this part because he brings this disheveled dignity," she says to PEOPLE. "The more crazed he gets, the more powerful he gets."
The actor, director, and producer takes on a new project: writing. The Boys & Girls Club of America asks Washington, who is a spokesman, to author a book marking the 100th anniversary of the organization. He delivers A Hand to Guide Me, an inspirational compilation of more than 70 celebrities' stories of former mentors. Contributors include Bill Clinton, Antwone Fisher and Bonnie Raitt. Profits from the book will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs, and it makes The New York Times Best Seller list.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): BILL JONES; WARNER BROS.; TriStar Pictures/Everett; Everett; FOX SEARCHLIGHT/AP; LISA ROSE/JPI; KEN REAGAN/PARAMOUNT