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‘Fences’ actors enjoy smooth transition from stage to screen

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Denzel Washington, left, and Stephen McKinley Henderson reprise their stage roles in the film version of “Fences.” (Courtesy David Lee/ Paramount Pictures)
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“It was like getting the band back together,” says Stephen McKinley Henderson of Denzel Washington’s “Fences,” a movie adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play.

Henderson, Washington, Viola Davis and Mykelti Williamson acted in the play on Broadway back in 2010.

Now they all appear in the new movie, which opens in theaters Christmas Day.

Henderson, who plays the protagonist Troy’s friend Bono, and Williamson, who plays Troy’s brother Gabriel, recently visited The City to premiere the movie at the Curran Theatre — where the play was first performed in 1987.

When Henderson speaks of “the band,” he’s not far wrong: “As Denzel says, August is the music,” he says. “I call it the ‘blues iambic.’ That blues base is in there.”

Before filming the story of trash collector Troy and his long suffering wife Rose, director Washington gathered the cast together for two and a half weeks of rehearsal.

Both Henderson and Williamson agree that only minor adjustments were needed to transition from stage to screen.

“The one main thing is intimacy,” says Williamson. “It’s just more intimate levels of truth. That adjustment itself creates a whole new world of experiences.”

It helps that Washington is a consummate director.

“Denzel doesn’t direct by handling anybody,” says Williamson. “He directs you with his intelligence, he directs you with his heart, and he directs you with inspiration.”

“He teaches you without you knowing he’s got his teaching cap on. He directs sometimes without you knowing he’s got the directing cap on,” adds Henderson. “It’s seamless.”

Henderson said the shoot had “so much serendipity.”

“There were times birds would fly through, on cue, and dogs would bark without stepping on your line,” he says.

“The fence at the end?” adds Williamson. “That gate closed by itself, on cue. Denzel will tell you, the only thing he added was a little creak sound.”

Even though writer Wilson died in 2005, the production had his blessing.

Henderson knew the playwright (who penned the screenplay) going back to 1993, and says he was always in awe.

“I would slip and be comfortable with him, and then he would say something, and I would go, ‘Aw, man, this dude is so deep!’ I didn’t know him as long as a lot of people, but I knew him deeply, and I love him deeply.”

“Fences” is the first of 10 proposed Wilson adaptations. Though Henderson was also heavily involved in another Wilson play “Jitney,” he’s not counting on automatically being cast in its movie adaptation.

“There’s no guarantees,” he says, laughing. “I’m guaranteed that I’m a part of ‘Fences.’ That’s bona fide!”

IF YOU GO
Fences
Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Henderson
Written by August Wilson
Directed by Denzel Washington
Rated PG-13
Running time 2 hours, 18 minutes

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