“I thought it was one of the worst auditions of my career, and I was depressed for a couple of days,” admits actors Mykelti Williamson about going through “a ring of fire” to receive the role of Gabriel in the new film “Fences.” Even though he played the same character in the Broadway play starring the movie’s director Denzel Washington, he was not immune to the process of auditioning. In our recent interview (watch above), he adds, “There were things that I wanted to convey through this injured character that I didn’t think came across. Apparently they did. They saw enough there that they knew we could build from that point on. I just feel very blessed. It’s beyond luck.”
The late August Wilson wrote the play “Fences” over 30 years ago about failed Negro League baseball player Troy Maxson (Washington) and his wife Rose (Viola Davis) living in 1950s Pittsburgh. Williamson plays Troy’s brother Gabriel, who had a severe head injury during World War II that eventually causes him to be institutionalized. The entire cast, which also includes Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, and Russell Hornsby, is nominated at this month’s SAG Awards for Best Film Ensemble.
Of the character, Williamson says, “Gabriel went into the military to defend his country, got shot in the head in World War II and came home a very different man than the man who left home. Trying to find a balance and make life work for him is a bit of a challenge, and he’s largely misunderstood. My job as an actor is to open up to other people’s pain and to try to help audiences understand.”
Williamson started his acting career at age nine, so he is now celebrating his 50th year in entertainment. He has over 300 credits, including “Forrest Gump,” “Heat,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “Con Air,” “Primary Colors,” and “Ali.” His many ongoing TV roles have been in “Hill Street Blues,” “Midnight Caller,” “The New WKRP in Cincinnati,” “The Fugitive,” “Boomtown,” “24,” and “Justified.” He will next be seen in the John Singleton limited series “Rebel” airing later this year on BET.
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