Jovan Adepo appears ready to break out in 2017. Besides starring in HBO’s post-apocalyptic drama “The Leftovers,” Adepo portrays the ambitious but belittled son, Cory Maxson, in Denzel Washington’s acclaimed adaptation of August Wilson’s “Fences.” Adepo holds his own in intense scenes with Oscar-winner Washington, who plays his father, Troy, and Emmy-winner Viola Davis who stars as his mother, Rose. Ahead of the movie’s Christmas Day premiere, we spoke to Adepo about acting with legends, race in Hollywood and the enduring value of “Fences.”
Most of your co-stars performed “Fences” on Broadway, and some knew playwright August Wilson before his 2005 death. Given your comparative newness with the material, what was your biggest acting challenge?
Getting out of my own way. I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself. lt’s easy to fall into this obsession of trying not to mess up. Being around such great company—these are the elite: Mr. [Stephen] Henderson, is a national treasure on the stage. Denzel [Washington] and Viola [Davis]—I really don’t need to tell you who they are. Russell [Hornsby] and Mykelti [Williamson] are both brilliant. Being in such good company, you don’t want to be the person who can’t keep up. It was a testament to my castmates for being completely open and making sure I felt comfortable taking [creative] risks.
I think it’s a great time [in Hollywood], that people are definitely more open in their choices for casting. It’s not just about Black culture—for Indian and Asian culture, for instance, it’s a good time for storytelling. To [paraphrase] my castmate Mr. Stephen Henderson, I’m a revolutionary optimist. It’s rare to feel that way in these times, but I try to be hopeful about it and keep on trucking.
What do you hope, more than anything else, audiences take away from “Fences”?
I love that this film highlights the experience of different characters but doesn’t incriminate anyone. I don’t think that anyone can label [the characters] as bad [people]. I hope that people who see this film will open dialogue about their own relationships and try to do the best they can with what they’re given.
Catch Jovan Adepo in “Fences,” directed by and starring Denzel Washington from a screenplay written by Wilson, in theaters on Christmas Day.