Denzel Washington took a bow on the stage of San Francisco’s Curran, for the first time, at a preview of his new movie “Fences.”
“I never had the chance to do it before, but I’ll do it now,” said the Oscar winner at Thursday’s screening of the film, which also marked the re-opening of the 94-year-old theater on Geary Street after a three-year renovation.
“Twenty-nine years ago, I came to San Francisco with $800 in my pocket,” Washington told the crowd. He had an apartment on Bush Street and worked at Salmagundi, where he tried all 31 soups. At the time, he said to himself, “One day, I’m going to be in this theater.” On Thursday evening, he said, “It took me years, but I’m here.”
The Curran is where August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play (on which the movie’s based) had a pre-Broadway run in 1987 with James Earl Jones and Mary Alice. It was produced by San Francisco impresario Carole Shorenstein Hays, who was among the VIPs at Thursday’s opening.
Washington, who directed and stars in “Fences,” was joined on a panel by costars Jovan Adepo, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Mykelti Williamson (Viola Davis couldn’t attend due to a work commitment) — most of whom appeared with him in the Tony-winning 2010 revival of the play.
“I knew I wanted to go with the core squad,” Washington said, about casting the movie. “We did about 114 shows. The band was tight. Why should I? Why would I go anywhere else?”
The playwright’s widow Constanza Romero, also on the panel, said she has seen the movie five times, and is “very proud and very happy” with it. She was pleased Washington retained the play’s poetry (Wilson wrote the screenplay before his death in 2005) in the film version.
Comparing Wilson’s drama about a 53-year-old 1950s Pittsburgh garbage worker and his family to works by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, Washington said, “I could have done a lot of things cinematically to trick it out,” but didn’t, because “the words are first.”
Following the success of “Fences,” which opens Dec. 25 and already has earned accolades and awards, Washington plans to continue focusing on works by Wilson, whose acclaimed 10-play “The Pittsburgh Cycle” explores the African-American experience in the 20th century.
“This is what I was put here to do at this point in my life,” Washington said, adding he already has a script for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and a nine-picture deal with HBO.