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

Leslie Uggams
Photo by Krissie Fullerton

Stephen: When we were doing Jitney, in the third city August had a one-on-one session with each actor to chat about our character. He asked me, 'Why does Turnbo gossip all the time?' I said it was because people had done it about him all the time when he was a kid. You don't have anything in there about it, but I think I was left at a settlement house in a basket, probably the product of a rape, and the old folks knew and they'd talk.

Anthony: And Turnbo grew up around a lot of women.

Stephen: Yes. August said people would always come up with elaborate things. It's got to be founded on the text, it has to have roots in there. Then he was fine with it.

Ebony: My memory is how Ruben used to harass him.

Ruben: We didn't speak for two weeks once. One time he said Floyd's a better musician then Canewell. I said 'No he's not.' I played Jimmy Rogers' "That's All Right" and asked him, 'What did you hear?' and he said 'The harp' and I said, 'That's Little Walter. And he eclipsed Jimmy Rogers, but it ain't about talent. Floyd is ambitious. I'm not. He wants money and fame. I just want three rooms and a garden.' So August finally said, 'All right,' and he let me get away with that. We argued about a lot of things with Canewell. He wanted me to pull my knife on Floyd. I didn't want to so we want back and forth, back and forth. Finally one day he said, 'You, Canewell, I'm writing for you.'

Leslie: The first week I didn't even speak to August. I was so in awe of him. August would sit with eyes closed and arms folded and if you said one wrong thing those eyes would open up.

We were at the Goodman in Chicago through Thanksgiving and Christmas so I decided we would have a Thanksgiving dinner in our hotel room and I'd cook for everyone. I had the collard greens on my burner and the turkey in the oven, and Richard Brooks was downstairs so I said, 'I'm going to do the yams in your oven.'

I was so honored that August came. And then he said, 'Ms. Uggams you know how to cook, honey. This is one of the best Thanksgivings [I] ever had.' I was floating from then on.

My character Rose just used to hum, then it became a couple of lines, then all of sudden August came in and said, I've written a whole song for you, and I went, 'Wow, those collard greens must have been really good.'

On Lloyd Richards, August's Mentor and First Director

Ebony: August Wilson and Lloyd Richards were a package deal. They were like glue, during the mentorship period.

Ruben: Lloyd was the final say. He was the consummate leader, so we feared nothing. He offered us insulation so we could do our art. And you didn't want to disappoint him. Even August was under his leadership. It was a great marriage, and it hurt me because I was there when they had the divorce in Seven Guitars, on that journey. August had to outgrow the father. I understand that. But after Lloyd was gone it became a free-for-all.

Ebony: Lloyd spoke very quietly, he was never bombastic. He was like Buddha.


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