A standing ovation greeted the cast of Fences today at Deadline’s the Contenders panel discussion of the film, and it was a fitting scene-setter for a chat that felt like a victory lap.
On hand were director-producer-star Denzel Washington, joined by Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby and Saniyya Sidney to talk about the film based on the Tony-winning play by August Wilson that’s already drawing Oscar talk for Washington and Davis.
If Washington and Davis end up taking home Oscars, it’ll be a repeat of their Broadway triumph. Both won Tonys for the 2010 production of the play, and the main cast, aside from Adepo and Sidney, are all vets of that production. Unsurprisingly, the cast reunion was a big topic of discussion today, as well as the task of adapting a work the cast already was intimately familiar with.
“I always say that you always have to come from a point of honesty, whether you’re doing it on stage or on screen,” said Davis. “One of the things Denzel said is he basically wanted to press the reset button and didn’t want us to kind of just do it by rote. And on stage you didn’t have to see me go into the kitchen, so I didn’t have to handle the pots and pans and food, so I was in shock doing that onscreen.”
Davis cited the film’s shoot in Pittsburgh shoot, where Wilson grew up, as a particularly effective aspect of filming. “It was different in the sense of intimacy, in being up close and personal, being able to be in the house, in the rooms,” Davis said. “And I think it’s always great to rediscover something that you’ve done for so long. And one of the things Denzel said when we started it was ‘remember the love … if it doesn’t come from a place of love, then you can’t feel the loss.’”
Washington unsurprisingly was happy to have made the film and seemed positively overjoyed to be in the room, but he kept is comments largely focused on his cast members, who he praised. They all repaid the compliment and then some.
“He was so prepared to do this film; everybody that worked on it is witness to that,” said Henderson. “He was just so prepared. So when we got together we knew it was very special to be brought back together as a cast. The times it wasn’t work it was fun, and the times it was work it was fun.”
Henderson wasn’t alone. “I just wanna say that I love this film,” Sidney said. “He’s such an inspirational man, I learned a lot from him. He taught me a lot. He’s a lovable man; he’s like a teddy bear.”
Adepo described meeting Denzel for the first time when he auditioned on the Paramount lot. “It was my first time hearing Denzel’s voice outside of a movie,” he said. He had to leave the casting office for a moment to calm himself down and told the crowd today that he worked himself up by preparing a spiel for Washington to make it clear how professional and ready to work he was. Only to find an extremely friendly, easygoing director greeting him. “I had built this whole scenario in my mind … [but] as soon as I opened the door, he gave me a pound and a handshake and a hug and I was like ahhhhhhhhh…”
Williamson gave the most direct tribute to Washington. “I seem to be humbled by things almost on a daily basis, [but] being called upon by someone you respect so much like Denzel, who you’ve watched and you’ve worked real hard not to steal from because he’s so amazing. He’s always been that kind of an actor and peer, but to watch his trajectory and to watch how he’s remained this pillar of strength. He’s not trying to be a role model, but he means the world to all of us.”
Fences will open December 16 in New York and Los Angeles and get a wide break on Christmas Day.
Also under discussion during the same Contender segment were Paramount’s Florence Foster Jenkins and Arrival.