On the December 18 installment of CBS’ 60 Minutes, two-time Oscar winner and Tony winner Denzel Washington talked about his passion project, Fences, that finally hits screens nationwide Christmas Day. He directs and stars in the movie, opposite two-time Tony winner Viola Davis, set in late 1950s/early 1960s Pittsburgh. Adapted from the play by August Wilson, Fences is one of ten works in Wilson’s American Century Cycle. Washington is producing the other nine for HBO.
Washington filmed Fences in Pittsburgh (in the neighborhood where the late Wilson grew up) to lend his film authenticity. “The stories I get from people, all of that helps to feed the film,” said Washington.
Washington drew some inspiration for his character, Troy Maxson, from his own father. “He had the same conversation with me about getting a good trade. He worked for the water department in New York,” said Washington. “Like Rose, my mother could see further. ‘Oh no he’s gotta get an education.’”
Much of his father resonates in his performances. “I remember seeing my father in the driveway listening to the ball game,” he said. “I realized as I got older, it was the only place where he had a chance because he just dealt with one boss, now he’s about to go in the house and my mother’s in there, the other boss, and he maybe had ten minutes to himself to be the boss.”
As for directing while starring in the movie, Davis says it was an effortless flow between roles. “I think that’s a testament to him as an artist, that his ego took a backseat to anything,” she said.
The two both starred in the 2010 stage version of Fences on Broadway, both earning Tony Awards that year. “I think this is a role of a lifetime for her,” Washington said of Davis. “She bites down and she tears it up.” Davis has not returned to Broadway since, but Washington took on Walter Lee Younger in director Kenny Leon’s 2014 Tony-winning revival of A Raisin in the Sun.
Both Davis and Washington admire the great work of Wilson, who captured the nuances of African-American life through his language. “It’s like Shakespeare, the punchline is set up if you just play the music,” said Washington.
Bill Whitaker of 60 Minutes delved into Washington’s past roles and his ability to disappear into his characters from film like Flesh and Blood, Malcolm X, The Hurricane, and Training Day. Though Washington loves to direct, and he’s producing the other nine Wilson works, he says he’ll go back to acting for now. “Do what you gotta do so you can do what you wanna do,” he said. “I just did what I want to do, now I got to get back to what I gotta do.”