Of the writers in competition at the 2017 Oscars, Fences playwright August Wilson is singular in multiple respects. The only writing nominee to win a Pulitzer, Wilson is also of course the only posthumous nominee — the first writer granted a posthumous nomination since Bridget O’Connor for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011. Wilson died in 2005, bu his wife, artist and theater designer Constanza Romero Wilson, spoke with Deadline about her husband’s legacy and what he would have thought about receiving his first Oscar nomination. Married to the playwright for over a decade, Wilson first met her future husband in the winter of 1987, the same year that he sold the rights to Fences.
“He would be very proud. He wasn’t as jubilant as I am, or he didn’t double over, as I am, but the film that Denzel [Washngton] made of Fences I think is exactly how he would have liked this movie to be treated,” Wilson said. “So I think that he would be overjoyed, would be proud, and he’d be savoring this moment, because when he sold the screenplay, it was in 1987, so 30 years ago.
“When Denzel met August, I was here in Seattle,” she continued. “Denzel came here to visit him, when August was alive, he never knew Denzel’s plans or wishes to direct Fences,” Wilson said of her husband’s first meeting with the actor. “But when Denzel did decide to do the film, he called me up and said, ‘The first call had to be to you. Because I want to do the film Fences, and I want to make August proud.’”
What’s the secret to Wilson’s longevity — to the way in which his plays have so transcended time? “I think it’s the poetry, I really do,” Wilson said, also pointing to Wilson’s dignified portrayals of common people. “He has a way of writing dialogue scenes to be natural, but at some point — and it’s usually at the end of the first act if it’s on stage — you realize that you’ve been transported by the power of language, by the heightened dramatic quality that August brings to these characters. You realize you’re hearing arias because of the musicality of the poetry.”
As Washington looks ahead to bring to the screen many more of August Wilson’s plays from The Pittsburgh Cycle, Wilson is excited to be involved as a co-producer and to see her husband’s works being brought to the cinema. “It’s going to be fantastic. We have a contract with HBO to make either movies for an HBO screen or other major motion pictures, and I’m going to be a co-producer on that project,” she said. “The way I feel about it is that each one of those plays is a precious — if you will allow me — masterpiece, so each of them needs to be treated like a jewel. We’re going to start with the first one and see how we go down the line.”
Today, Fences was nominated for four Oscars — for Best Actor (Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.