‘Fences’ Film Stars Speak Candidly

Fence cast members l-r: Jovan Adepo and Stephen McKinley Henderson

This Christmas holiday will be one of the more memorable times for movie-goers. With some strong potential Academy Awards contenders dropping on Dec. 25, one film has the industry buzzing.

The film adaption of the August Wilson play “Fences” is high on the list. Directed by Oscar award-winning actor Denzel Washington, the film stars both Washington and Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis. The pair reunite after a stellar rendition of the Broadway play in 2010, earning “Fences” a Tony award for best revival, best actor for Washington and best actress for Davis for their electrifying performances.

It is one of 10 dramas written by poet and playwright August Wilson, who has earned numerous awards including a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award and a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, sealing his place among some of America’s most prolific writers.  His epic series of The American Century Cycle included a drama set in each decade of the century about the African-American experience.

The story is set in the 1950s, centered on an African-American working-class family that deals with the complex relationship shared between character Troy, who’s role as father and husband is played by Washington. . With the backdrop of Pittsburgh, Troy is the head of the household that finds a second chance with rebuilding his life with Rose, his wife, played by Davis. They share a son, Cory, a teenager who is growing into his own individuality yet trying to live up to his father’s expectations.

fences2Cory is his second and youngest son, played by newcomer Joven Adepo, who gives a rousing performance in some intense moments as we follow this complex and familiar story.

No stranger to the ensemble cast of “Fences,” veteran actor Stephen McKinley Henderson revisits his character of Bono from sharing the stage on Broadway across from Washington and Davis. The Tony-nominated actor has co-starred in eight of the 10 August Wilson dramas over the years, but revealed there was a distinct difference between translating that performance onstage versus on-screen.

“Well you know, when you’re onstage you have to consider the audience. You have to make certain that the back row can hear you. It depends on the optics of the size of the space, so you start life on a ‘level of truth,’ but you have to raise your voice so that the people can hear it in the back,” he said.  “When you’re doing the film and you’re really in the backyard and you’re really in Pittsburgh, then that life level of truth — that’s where it stays.

Learning From top Actors

Henderson’s career has included his work in the theater, but his face is a familiar fixture on both the small and big screen in supporting character roles. His wealth of work is respectable, and his experience as an actor spans four decades. He feels working with A-list actors such as Washington and Davis pushes you to another level when you’re on film. 

“It’s just the other actor’s eyes, you don’t have another responsibility so that your only responsibility is to ‘pinch and ouch’, ‘pinch and ouch’ to really connect. It’s intimate. It’s more intimate and it’s inspiring because of that on the stage, you start from the beginning, you have to go through it every night and forget that you know how it ends. “

fencescene1He says it’s far too easy, it’s much more available to actors to stay in the moment. With Washington as his director? “You leave it up to Denzel on how he’s going to put it together. Your responsibility is to right now — to be here now. It’s freeing, it makes you much more free.”

As the youngest co-star, Jovan Adepo agrees.

“As far as the intensity of those scenes, I think that credit goes to Denzel for creating that tone and we’re just following and feeling completely comfortable with what he was setting up. I feel like every young man has had that moment where they might have not agreed to what their father was saying or what their father was directing for their life. It’s just one of those things where you have to establish yourself as a man,” Adepo said.

For many film-goers, flocking to see “Fences” will be their first introduction to August Wilson’s works. His drama reflected the dialect of Black people and social complexities that took place during that period. His written use of the ‘N’ word is no secret throughout his storytelling, and Henderson says it not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Henderson explains. “It’s definitely authentic to the time. There’s an expression, ‘Words are beautiful but deeds are divine.’ It’s how you treat people that’s really crucially important, how you actually treat people. You can use speeches and actions, when you’re dealing with words or you can say it so affectionately,” he explains. “It’s really important stuff going down out here, let’s not get lost. Especially when you consider that the primary message here is family, love and extended family and how much people mean to each other—how much they care for each other.”

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