Back in 2016, moviegoers got the chance to see the now critically-acclaimed film, Fences, based on August Wilson’s work on the same name. Returning to pen the screenplay for the movie, August worked alongside producers Todd Black, Scott Rudin and Denzel Washington; the latter of whom also stars in the film opposite Viola Davis. Also amongst the cast is incredible young talent Jovan Adepo. Here in an interview exclusive to Female First, he discusses his experience on the set, working with some of the biggest names in the business and more.
Can you talk about your experience joining this Broadway cast and how it felt to be selected?
It was, or it has been just an unbelievable experience. I… Just being able to come into this… Everybody else in the cast was on the Broadway cast, so it was essentially a family that I was coming into, and I think it was really important for me to come in from day one and just do my absolute best to respect the time of the other actors and their efforts and just come in and handle business the best I can. So, just from the audition, all the way to the, you know, the weeks of rehearsal, everything, I just wanted to come in and really just try to blend in the best I could and try to keep up with these vets, ‘cause they’re all just super talented.
What about the other August Wilson material you’ve done?
I had workshopped Fences before with my theatre, my scene study class at my theatre company before, and I had read all of the August Wilson plays, but I had never done an actual play before. So, this was my first time actually getting to do one of August Wilson’s stories, it just so happened it turned out to be my first feature film. So, it’s just a blessing.
How do you describe this movie to the people who aren’t familiar with August’s work?
It’s a story of self-discover, of appreciation of family, appreciation of, I guess the human experience. I would say those are a few words that come to mind. I think that’s… those would be the themes that would play out even for a newer audience immediately.
What roles were you doing when you were workshopping?
I had workshopped Cory, so I mean, I was very familiar with the character when it was time for me to audition for this film; it definitely wasn’t anything new as far as material, but, you know, this was my first actual time performing the role, you know? Workshopping is quite different.
Did it give you a level of comfort?
Absolutely. I think with August Wilson’s writing, as long as you just stay true to the material, I mean, the characters, they’re written so perfectly that if you just stay true to what August has written, I think it… you can’t really go wrong and it was… it was easy. I’m not saying it was easy for me to go in and audition for it, but it was an easy, I guess, effort of research for the character, I guess I’ll say that.
Tell us about the Maxson family at the beginning of the film…
This is a family that’s, you know, they’re grown, they’re growing and still learning about each other in the 50s, you know, it’s… it’s just like any other family; we all have our ups and downs, and we have disputes with one another, but more than anything I think it’s a home of love and just a home of… that’s it really, it’s a loving family I think.
And tell us a little bit more about who you play in this film.
I play Cory Maxson who is the youngest Maxson boy, he’s great student, great athlete. He loves his dad, I mean, his dad, that’s his hero. I think one of Cory’s biggest obstacles was trying to allow himself to not… I guess not having the pressure of trying to be just like Troy, and every young guy wants to be like his dad; his dad is the big, strong, man of the house, and he wants to emulate that. So, I think he looks up to Troy but he’s still trying to find his way to communicate what his dreams and aspirations are without, I guess without disappointing Troy, if that makes sense.
And they have a heated discussion about Troy wanting him to go work down at the AMP, right?
Right, and it’s funny because when I was first really going through the rehearsals and talking to Mr. Washington about the whole… Cory’s whole process, it was hard for me to understand how somebody, Troy, who’s so into his legend of being an athletic legend, how he couldn’t support Cory who is, especially at this time just young, this young African American male getting ready to go to college on scholarship playing football, why would he not want him to do that? Because I’m pretty sure they weren’t just throwing out scholarships, you know, everywhere around the neighbourhood, so that would have been something I would say of bragging rights for Troy, but, you know, for whatever reason, Troy wanted to be the only star in the household, I guess.
What do you think this movie says about the whole theme of fathers and sons?
I would say the overall message would be to just… and it’s actually something that Viola kind of mentioned to me is that fathers and sons, you know, they tend to bump heads once in a while because it’s a difference in opinions and a difference… you have somebody who’s experienced life and can give you information based off of experience, and then you have the son who is just going off of impulse and feeling and trying to express himself without really having experienced the world yet.
And I think one of the important things that Miss Viola pointed out to me was that the children in general, not even just sons, you know, children have to understand that more often times than not, the parent is giving you the best of what they had, you know, in whatever that means as far as raising the child; you just have to come to an understand that whatever they’re given, in their own upbringing, they’re trying their best to, I guess exert that to you and, you know, in the only way that they know how.
What will a younger audience get from seeing this film?
I think the younger audience would probably latch onto the whole coming of age aspect of it, especially coming from Cory; this is a young kid who’s trying to find himself and trying to find where he fits in the world, trying to find the best ways to communicate with his parents what he wants to do with his life, and I think I would say we all have that moment in our lives growing up where our parents wanna see, okay, well, do you have a plan? What are you gonna do with the rest of your life? How do you plan on getting there? What are the steps you’re gonna take and what have you… so I think that may be something that the younger audience might latch onto above anything else, I would think.
Have you had a chance to appreciate how Denzel Washington goes from acting to directing?
It’s amazing. It’s a masterclass, getting to witness something like that because he can be in the middle of just this intense scene, this 10-15 pages of back and forth and all these ups and downs in the scene, and then once it’s finished, go to his monitor, check it out and, he’ll see the smallest things that aren’t necessarily right or wrong choices, what I’m talking about the other actors, what they’re doing, but he’ll just come over and he’ll suggest a note, ‘let’s just try this, let’s try something different and see what happens’.
It’s not a right choice, it’s not a wrong choice, it’s just different. ‘Let’s try it’. And we’ll play it, and it comes out completely different and it changes the entire mood of the scene. So it’s just been amazing just to be able to sit back, especially on the days when I’m not filming, I like to come on set and watch whenever I’m able to and watch them, deal with the rest of the cast, and it’s just amazing to be able to see him able to switch it on and off and on, in just a moment’s notice. And it’s something definitely to aspire for moving forward.
What’s it been like working with Viola Davis?
It’s been… I feel like I keep using the same terms, just amazing, this whole production has just been awesome. Viola is one of the most giving actors that I’ve ever had the chance to work with in my short career, because no matter what, if we’ve been on set for 15 hours, it’s a long shoot day, it’s a heavy scene and we’ve done the take like, a billion times. She’s always just present, you know, ‘is there anything else I can give to help you get through this scene, or anything like that?’ Any time I had questions about my character and relationship with Rose, me and her would, you know, spend late nights texting, talking about it and writing each other letters, you know, trying to figure out our stories.
I mean Viola, she’s just like Denzel, just very much about the work and about creating strong, interesting characters. So I think it’s just been such a blessing to be involved with the two of them and the rest of the cast, it’s just been amazing, that’s all I can say about it.
Fences is available now on digital download, DVD and Blu-ray.