Denzel Washington Praises the Team That Helped Him Build ‘Fences’

Actor-Director Denzel Washington on His 'Fences'
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Denzel Washington directed and stars in Paramount’s “Fences,” his third film as helmer. He plays Troy Maxson, and Viola Davis plays his wife, Rose — reprising their roles in the 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s play, which won both a Pulitzer and a Tony in 1987.  When Washington spoke with Variety, he singled out the work of his team of artisans. “Everybody read the script and said, ‘We don’t often get a chance to work on movies like this,’” he says. “August Wilson wrote a masterpiece — there was pressure to not screw it up. I don’t want to sound all kumbaya, but everybody worked so well together. It was a real team effort, and everyone brought their best game. I pray that August would have been proud.” Washington speaks about some of the artisan contributions.

On Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Cinematographer

I wanted to shoot in a practical location, so Troy could walk from the yard and through the house. It was a challenge because it was a small house. Coming from Europe, she had a whole different perspective. She’s very thorough, and she operates the camera as well. She likes handheld; for example, that scene in the dining room was almost completely handheld. The angle was on me, but we kept it static. That was the one time he was king of the castle, the one time Troy felt he was in charge — until he wasn’t.

On Hughes Winborne, Editor

We talked about the rhythms in August Wilson’s dialogue, and the music of it. Hughes had a good sense of that, and we always kept that in mind. I didn’t want to be literal, cutting on the note in the dialogue scenes between the characters. The interesting question was, who to be on? And there are monologues, so when do you cut away? How do you keep the other characters alive when, for example, Troy is doing a monologue? Bono and Rose — when do you cut to them? And when you do cut to other people, and why? What does that mean? Hughes was great at all of this.

On David Gropman, Production designer

His background is in theater. I liked that. When he and I first sat down, I liked his ideas. And he had a total commitment to research. We found a house that was perfect — we had a lot of choices, but the right house, on the right street. That street gave us length and perspective, so that with CGI we could add factories in the distance. And that house was only five minutes from where August Wilson had lived. The neighborhood itself was a character. We had to do it in Pittsburgh.

On Sharen Davis, Costume designer

Sharen has done period films. She built my uniform and, I think, everything else — I don’t think there was anything off the rack. I’m from the “less is more” school. If things are overdone, they lose their effect. I don’t like the “look at me” process. That’s why Sharen is so good. That’s why I wanted her.

On Willie D. Burton, Sound mixer

We added a lot of subtle things that Willie recorded, like the sounds of neighborhood kids playing out front when Troy talks about his father. Then we slowly take the sound of the kids out, and it gets quiet. Then we bring back the sounds of chickens in the neighborhood. It was a different time in 1957. People in Pittsburgh had chickens. They were one foot from the South. They were living in the city, but still agricultural at heart. Also, in the Bible, there’s a reference to betrayal: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times,” says Jesus to St. Peter. So we had a rooster crow three times just before Troy goes into the house to tell Rose his news, which floors her.”

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