August Wilson's American Century Cycle Comes to Life With Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Leslie Uggams and Stephen McKinley Henderson

By Stuart Miller
13 Sep 2013

Stephen McKinley Henderson
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Stephen: The first time I got a chance to do Joe Turner, in Buffalo, my grandmother came. Before that she always said, 'Baby you do that Shakespeare, I guess that's nice,' but when she saw this play she asked, 'Do you think I could go on this stage?'

She got up on this stage and started touching things, she said, 'This was my grandmother's kitchen,' and I realized this was August's mission — he knew there were people who didn't see their life out there. He said, 'This is my mother's culture, these were sacred things and they were worthy of art.'

Working With August

Leslie: The key for me in learning the dialogue came when I realized his writing is music — people approach it like they do other playwrights, but you have to have the music in you. It's the blues.

Ebony: August loved the blues more than anything in the world. I imagine he felt an authenticity there.

Ruben: Many of his lines are from blues songs.

Stephen: Even the play title "Two Trains Running" is a blues song.

Anthony: The first time I worked with him was at Yale and during the rehearsal breaks the smokers like myself would go out and start smoking. August would come out — I'm smoking two packs a day, he's smoking five. Five packs.

Anyway, he'd approach you and talk to you from the side at first, but we found out we were both boxing fans and we connected. After rehearsals we had four days off and I was in the hotel lobby going to catch a train to New York and he beckoned me over to where he was eating and said, 'I have a car outside. You can ride with me.' On that ride down he bore his soul to me for however many hours we were in that car. Most of what he said I've always kept to myself.

Stephen: He was such an incredibly gentle man, but then he could be fierce. That time in North Carolina...

Ebony: Oh my god. He jumped over the counter at the hotel.

Stephen: They were being disrespectful to him.

Ebony: He went ballistic.

Anthony: I've seen him do that three or four times.



Continued...

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