Mykelti Williamson reflects on Pittsburgh filming as 'Fences' arrives on Blu-ray, DVD
March 12, 2017 12:00 AM
Mykelti Williamson plays Gabriel in "Fences." The film was directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August Wilson’s Hill District is near at hand for Pittsburghers, but the movie adaptation of “Fences” brought just a taste of life on the Hill in the 1950s to millions of moviegoers.
Now anyone can bring “Fences” into his or her home.
The movie directed by and starring Denzel Washington and co-starring Viola Davis has been available in Digital HD since Feb. 24 and now arrives in Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand Tuesday from Paramount Home Media Distribution.
A bonus featurette on the Blu-ray disc is “August Wilson’s Hill District,” and another visits Ms. Davis on set, where she discusses her preparation to portray Rose Maxson — a role that has brought her a Tony Award as best actress in a play and an Oscar as best supporting actress.
The late Pittsburgh playwright Mr. Wilson received an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay in transferring his Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the big screen. The bulk of “Fences” was filmed last spring in and around an Anaheim Street house on the Hill.
“Fences,” set in the 1950s, tells the story of former Negro League ballplayer Troy Maxson (Oscar nominee Mr. Washington), whose dashed dreams have a chilling effect on those around him. Mykelti Williamson was among the cast members who made the leap with Mr. Washington and Ms. Davis from stage to screen. He played Gabriel, Troy’s brother who was wounded in World War II and has a metal plate in his head.
The film shoot was Mr. Williamson’s first extended stay in Pittsburgh, and he made the most of it. “It was a great time of year to be there, the people were amazing, the food was good — Pittsburgh exceeded my expectations. I expected to have a good time, but nothing like I actually did. It was great,” he said.
The actor who played Bubba in the Oscar-winning film “Forrest Gump” was speaking by phone recently when he discussed his experience filming in Pittsburgh.
Q: What was it like filming in the Hill District and having people in the homes all around you?
A: We were welcomed with open arms. One of the most intelligent things that Denzel did was to insist upon this being shot in Pittsburgh, in the Hill District. No one can authenticate the spirit of the people in the Hill District, the way they keep their yards — I don’t care who the landscapers are. Just the character and the personality with the way people decorate their front porches, it’s all right there. So why try to fake that? You go to the community and it’s there.
The beauty of being in the community was coming home from work, you could smell the food cooking, and in the morning you could smell them cooking breakfast and brewing coffee — you could smell the neighborhood and hear people moving around in their houses and it was just great. That actually elevated our experience and made it extremely authentic. That goes to the intelligence of Denzel Washington.
Q: What is Denzel Washington like as a director?
A: The way that Denzel inspired and led us as a director is by his intelligence, and he’s amazing himself. There’s no actor in the world better than Denzel. So he inspires you because he’s so good at what he does, you want to bring your best work no matter what the challenge is. And Mr. Wilson’s language is challenging, because you can do so many things with it.
Q: When did you know you would be playing Gabriel again, this time on screen?
A: When we were on Broadway, there were plans to flush the material out to see how we could take it to the screen. We knew August had a screenplay, and we knew Denzel was interested in a cinematic application of “Fences.” One day at Denzel’s house, after we had finished the play, he said he had not seen one script that was on par, certainly not better, than “Fences.” So we knew at that time, sitting at Denzel’s house, that it was something that he intended to pursue, no matter what it took.
Q: Is there a kind of “Fences” family now, including Stephen McKinley Henderson and Russell Hornsby, who went from Broadway to filming together?
A: Bonding on stage brought us together in a way that no one can ever separate us. Seeing an actor work super hard, struggle with the material to try to flush it out — everybody does the same thing. When you are working in the woodshop like that with your peers really close to each other, and then to have another opportunity to so-called bring the band back together again, it’s amazing.
Q: What do you think of the film now being on DVD and Blu-ray, so it can be seen in homes and in schools?
A: We are privileged to be the first ones to take August Wilson in a visual form, in a motion picture, to the world. We are so privileged to be in this position. Knowing people will have the DVD or the Blu-ray in their homes, in their own libraries, is just amazing. And in schools, where kids are studying August Wilson, they can put it on and let August Wilson do the talking.
The “Fences” Blu-ray Combo Pack ($39.99) includes more than 30 minutes of bonus content, including interviews with Mr. Washington and Ms. Davis and other members of the cast and crew, and a feature about bringing “Fences” from stage to screen and another titled “August Wilson’s Hill District.” The combo pack includes access to a Digital HD copy of the film. The single-disc DVD ($29.99) includes the film in standard definition.
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