Denzel Washington and Viola Davis On their Friendship and 20-Year Working Relationship
The Oscar nominees recall their first meeting and why they love working together
“He came [backstage] and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I met Denzel Washington!'” Davis recalls to PEOPLE alongside her Fences costar and fellow Oscar nominee. The two became better acquainted years later when Washington, 62, cast Davis, 51, in his 2002 directorial debut, Antwone Fisher.
“I remember you were at the Trump Towers [in New York City] holding the auditions,” Davis says to Washington.
“I tell you what, it was a short audition process after that,” Washington remembers. “I’m not just saying that because you’re sitting here. [I thought] ‘I know there’s other folks sitting out there, I guess we’ll have a look at them because I don’t want them to feel bad.’ “
Their work together on Antwone Fisher was the official start of a very happy working relationship, although the two didn’t cross paths again until they began work on the 2010 Broadway production of Fences. The play, about a troubled 1950s family, won three Tony awards including best revival of a play and best actor and best actress for Washington and Davis.
Both actors agree that one of the main reasons they agreed to do the film version of Fences was the opportunity to work together again, along with several of the other original actors from the play.
“You miss these actors,” says Davis. “Usually I hate being the only girl because I feel like I’m so shy and awkward, I don’t like being around a lot of male energy.”
“Look at her, as she pulls her coat closed,” laughs Washington, watching Davis. “That’s interesting.”
“I know but I just loved being around all of [them],” she adds. “They’re just great, great men. To me Denzel is familiar, he’s easy. It’s like I know him. It’s like, ‘That’s Denzel.’ I feel that it’s always been that way. He, his wife, his kids, and at the same time, I’m a fan. I don’t like telling him that but I’m a fan. But I think he always makes interesting choices, I think it’s always rooted in truth and humanity and I think he has a lot of courage, he’s not a wimp and I like that. I think it takes a lot of courage to be an artist and to really go for it with your ideas, he has all that.”
“And thank you, goodnight,” laughs Washington at the compliments. “And, scene!”
So how does Washington feel about Davis?
“I just like Viola,” he says. “Viola is a great actor, I love working with her and I love watching her. I love being a part of it. It’s interesting working with her because we’ve worked together twice, but in both those cases other than the play I directed her, but not really directed her. When we did Antwone Fisher, because we’re actors, I recognize one when I see one. I know how I am and I could see she wanted to be left alone [during filming], she was in the zone, so I knew what to do. Just leave her alone and just watch.”
I don’t want to just say a cliché answer, she’s good and I love her,” he adds. “She’s a sweet lady and she’s talented and here we are.”