EXCLUSIVE: Award-winning playwright and writer Tony Kushner has been brought aboard to help pull together a screenplay for a film based on August Wilson’s beloved play Fences. The project, which Denzel Washington will direct and hopefully star in with his Fences Broadway co-star on Viola Davis (schedules pending), is trying to get before the cameras as soon as possible in order to be ready for the big screen this year — in time for Academy Award consideration. Wilson did a rough draft of the screenplay, and Kushner and Washington are working on it now to be true to Wilson’s work. “They want to use everything Wilson has done,” said a source. “They want to use all of his words.”
Washington has a deal with HBO to bring a number of Wilson plays — those within the context known as his Pittsburgh Cycle — to the screen. Each of those 10 plays is set during a different time in black history. One of Wilson’s best known plays, Fences was the sixth in the Pittsburgh Cycle but was excluded from the HBO deal. Rather, it is set up at Paramount with producer Scott Rudin; Washington also will produce. The team hopes to shoot the project within about 35 or 40 days to get it ready by year’s end.
This project has a long history of trying to get to the big screen. Years ago, Wilson publicly stated that any movie adaptation of his work should be directed by an African-American — and his statement was controversial at the time. Before the lack of diversity in Oscar noms hit a raw nerve in the industry and around the country, Washington already was aboard to direct Fences.
Written in 1985, Fences examines race relations and follows a man who dreamed of being a baseball great but ended up collecting trash. The play won both a Pulitzer and a Tony in 1987. The original starred the incredible duo of James Earl Jones and Mary Alice, earning Tonys for both of them. The 2010 revival starred Washington and Davis — and they also scored Tony Awards. Rudin produced that show, which also won a Tony for Best Revival of a Play.
Interestinglt, Kushner — like Wilson — also won a Tony and a Pulitzer for Drama: for his groundbreaking play Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia On National Themes.
In a collaboration with director Mike Nichols, Angels In America then became a special series on HBO and drew such top talent as Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Al Pacino, Jeffrey Wright, James Cromwell and Mary-Louise Parker (to name a few). It won an Emmy for best screenplay for a mini-series/dramatic special. Kushner followed that with two Oscar nominations for screenplay, one for Munich (which he co-wrote with Eric Roth) and the other for Lincoln.
Rudin and Kushner have worked together in the past (The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures comes to mind) and continue to collaborate on a number of plays and screen projects, including one about playwright Eugene O’Neill).
Rumors are that Washington would like to have Michael B. Jordan join him and Davis in Fences, but there is no finished screenplay as yet and, as you can imagine, offers are pouring in for the Creed actor. Still, both are repped by WME. Kushner is repped for literary at CAA. Davis is repped by CAA. And Rudin? Uh, he reps himself pretty darn well.