When you've been handpicked by Denzel Washington to sign on to a multimillion-dollar film that he's directing, you know you’re doing something right. And for actor and director Mykelti Williamson, who plays Gabriel in Washington's rendition of Fences, this is indeed the case.
It's safe to say that as a director, Washington was judicious in choosing his cast, realizing the importance of the creative chemistry and the synergies that each character brings to a film. Washington and Williamson (who play brothers in the film) worked together on the Broadway run of Fences and have created a bond—a brotherhood—on- and off-screen.
For Williamson, taking on the role of Gabriel, a man challenged with traumatic brain injury, was what he described as “an absolute privilege,” but being led by a black director was of the utmost importance.
“[When working with white directors,] [m]ore often than not, you get language that is not your own," Williamson told The Root. "You get a journey that is not specific to your culture, and you have to make that organic somehow and still tell a story.”
There is fluency among various ethnic communities, which Williamson refers to as elevated communication, and the renowned playwright August Wilson (a black man) understood this and represented it in his work.
Williamson, who has been acting since he was 9, seeks to live in his truth and speak life into roles while maintaining the integrity of just who they are. This commitment is evident in his work, and might account for his name being mentioned in this year's Oscar buzz.
For achieving excellence, the thoughtful actor offers advice: Control the power of the mind.
"Your mind is your world. What’s going on outside of you ain't got nothing to do with you; you can get around that,” Williamson said, adding, “All you’ve got to do is shift your thinking and you can do anything.”
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Felice León is multimedia editor at The Root.