Washington recently spoke with ET's Kevin Frazier while promoting his forthcoming Shakespearean drama The Tragedy of Macbeth, and he reflected on his friendship and connection to Poitier -- who died on Thursday at age 94.
"He was a mentor, needless to say, an example, a friend. He's someone who had been there, walked the walk, talked the talk," Washington, 67, shared. "When I [first] met him 40 some-odd years ago, I was doing a play and he came backstage, and he said to me, 'You know, you're good.'"
"For Sidney Poitier to say to some 20-year-old, 'Hey, you're good,' that's all I needed to hear," Washington explained. "That kept me going. If he thinks I am, then maybe I got something."
While accepting an Oscar for Best Actor in 2002 for his role in Training Day, Washington famously stood at the podium and acknowledged Poitier, whom he presented with an Honorary Award earlier that evening. The acknowledgement drew a rousing ovation and brought Poitier to his feet.
Looking back on that moment, many have suggested that Poitier was, in a sense, passing on a torch of sorts to Washington. However, the actor says he didn't feel that way "in the moment."
"I didn't think that then. Nor have I thought about it since then like that," he said with a laugh. "I'm just trying to do good work."
"It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years. God bless him and his family."
Poitier's supportive words to a young Washington certainly had a profound impact, and fueled a career that has led to Washington earning two Oscars and being nominated eight additional times. There's also heavy Oscar buzz surrounding his latest performance in The Tragedy of Macbeth.
The film -- which is based on Shakespeare's Macbeth and stars four-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand -- is now playing in select theaters and is streaming on Apple TV+ beginning on Jan. 14.