Russell Hornsby Discusses Revisiting Fences

first_imgRussell Hornsby & Viola Davis in ‘Fences'(Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures) View Comments Russell Hornsby is no stranger to the work of August Wilson; in addition to the 2010 revival of Fences, he’s appeared off-Broadway in King Hedley II and Jitney. Now, he’s taking the playwright’s work to the screen as he reprises his performance as Lyons in the film adaptation of Fences, in theaters on December 25. Among his co-stars are four returning faces from the 2010 Broadway production, including Denzel Washington (who also directed the movie) and Viola Davis. recently sat down with the stage and screen alum to discuss his return to the classic, this time with Washington at the helm.How did Denzel Washington reassembling the majority of the revival cast come about?It was important to him that we keep the band together—that the same band plays the same music. He didn’t want to have a learning curve. And with him doing double duty of acting and directing, you don’t want to have to hold anybody’s hand. So everybody was ready and knew their part.So once you were back together, it was like riding a bike?Absolutely. We got right back into it. When you embody any character of August Wilson’s, the experience stays with you for a lifetime. It never leaves. The characters are so three-dimensional; it stays in your bloodstream.How did the dynamic between the five of you change or evolve since 2010?It had evolved because we had evolved as people. When we did the play, I was only married for two years, but now I’m married for eight and have a newborn son. Viola Davis at the time did not have a child, and now she has a six-year-old. She’s evolved; she’s settled down. Everybody can appreciate what Denzel would call “The Love Movement.” That love becomes more impactful as you go on the journey. The first thing Denzel said when we got to the table read was, “Let’s always remember the love.”Were there any particular moments in the play that Denzel made you consider in a new light?That final scene between me and Jovan Adepo, who plays Cory. I could not get through that during rehearsal without weeping. As the actor, you’re thinking, “I’ll use this.” But you haven’t done the work to use it; you don’t even know why you’re crying. So we get to that moment on the day of shooting, and I’m dry as a bone. I wasn’t getting it, so we went to break for lunch. We’re getting ready to start shooting again, and Denzel says to me, “Take care of your brother.” That’s all he said. That impacted the scene like you wouldn’t believe. I was too busy being selfish about what I needed my result to be instead of taking care of my scene partner—my brother. That’s a moment I’ll never forget. It reminded me of what this work is about. It’s a sense of ministry to take our experience and lift people up.The film shot in Pittsburgh—a city that’s almost its own character in August Wilson’s work. Did being on location inform your approach in any new ways?I became so familiar with Pittsburgh through his work. The Brady Street Bridge, Squirrel Hill, hearing all these neighborhoods, street names, restaurants. Then I got to go back to those places and see them. It gets into your system. It feels familiar, so it feels like home. It’s like when you go back to your mom’s house. You suddenly know where everything is.How would you describe Lyons’ place in his family and in the story?He represents that first moment of conflict for Troy. There’s an interesting line that August put in there. He’s trying to get ten dollars from his father, and he says, “I don’t criticize you and how you live.” It’s subtle, but he’s letting Troy know that what he’s doing outside his home is not a secret. Their relationship is fractured, so Troy starts another life without completing the relationship that’s here. Lyons is trying to reach out to his father and say “Love me. I matter.” He’s trying to find a way in. The ritual of coming by every other Friday to see his dad is something he can look forward to. And yeah, maybe get some money from his father for what he didn’t get.There’s also tension because of Lyons’ choice to pursue his dream. He has that line, “I stay with my music because that’s the only way I can find to live in the world.” There’s a similar quote from Howard Thurman: “Ask yourself what make you come alive, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”Right. And it’s important to be a person of passion and to believe in something. That’s what August Wilson is trying to say through Lyons: “Don’t diminish my light because yours got diminished.” Lyons and Troy both have dreams that got deferred through life’s circumstances. Troy tried to play baseball; Lyons wants to play music.Why does this story need to be told in 2016?Since the play’s inception, it needed to be told. This is an African American family. We’re living with their culture, but it’s human behavior. We’re talking about family, ego, love, resentment, all of those things that are human. These issues were here yesterday and they’ll be here today, and they’ll be here tomorrow. We need to look at a mirror and say, “My God. I need to better communicate with my family or friends. I need to be a better human being.” You take out the racial issues, and it’s still a universal story.Denzel has been tapped to bring all of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle to the screen. Are there any roles or titles you want him to keep you in mind for?I would go a happy man if I had the honor of doing King Hedley II. I was fortunate enough to do the off-Broadway revival in 2007. You’re talking about a man walking around with a scar, scarred by life, who has been told he doesn’t count or matter. We’re dealing with those elements today in our community. People who are serving jail time and coming out and hearing, “You don’t count anymore.” August speaks to that and how to redeem yourself from the inside, not just looking at redemption from society. It’s one of the more under-produced plays, but it deserves to be seen.last_img

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