Denzel Washington Recalls Working with Whitney Houston on“ The Preacher's Wife”: 'I Wanted to Protect Her'

"She wanted to be so tough, but she really wasn't," Washington said of Houston

<p>Kevin Winter/Getty; Vinnie Zuffante/Getty</p> Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston

Kevin Winter/Getty; Vinnie Zuffante/Getty

Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston

Denzel Washington is looking back fondly on his time working with Whitney Houston.

Washington, 69, and the late multi-hyphenate starred as Dudley and Julia Biggs respectively in the 1996 movie The Preacher's Wife. Nearly 30 years later, Washington shared his experience filming the classic with Houston while reflecting on his decades-long career at his African Black Film Festival retrospective on Saturday, June 15.

"I felt like I always wanted to protect her," he said of the "I Will Always Love You" singer.

Chaz Ebert, host and widow of film critic Roger Ebert, pointed out, "There was a vulnerability that you saw."

"So you really got that?" Washington asked in response.

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Ebert, 71, affirmed and the audience laughed as Washington added, "Well, of course."

He reiterated, "I always felt like I wanted to protect her. You know? She wanted to be so tough, but she really wasn't. That's all. Okay."

The Preacher's Wife also starred Courtney B. Vance, Jenifer Lewis, Gregory Hines and Justin Pierre Edmund. Lionel Richie, Loretta Devine and Houston's mother, Cissy Houston, also had notable appearances. It is a remake of the 1947 movie The Bishop's Wife.

Houston appeared to develop close friendships with the cast before her untimely death in February 2012. She died of accidental drowning with contributing factors of heart disease and cocaine use.  She was 48.

<p>Fotos International/Getty</p> Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington film 'The Preacher's Wife'

Fotos International/Getty

Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington film 'The Preacher's Wife'

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Related: Kevin Costner Says He Was Whitney Houston's 'Imaginary Bodyguard': 'I Basically Embraced It'

Vance, who portrayed Houston's husband Reverend Henry Biggs in the acclaimed Penny Marshall-directed film, shared with PEOPLE in November how starring opposite The Bodyguard star greatly impacted his career.

“I loved her so much,” he said. "For me to be playing her husband, I was in a state of euphoric shock."

He added, “It was a turning point in my life and Whitney was a huge, huge part of that.”

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He shared that he didn't dive too much into her personal life while on set, and instead embraced the mutual "respect" they had for one another.

“We just were on sets together and respecting each other,” Vance said. “But I didn't go into the depth of what was happening in her life.”

He shared that he was too devastated to attend her funeral, adding, “It might've hurt my spirit. And I have in my mind our time together and it was beautiful.”

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