Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington, Tony Award-winner George C. Wolfe, Academy Award winner-Viola Davis, and Constanza Romero, widow of writer August Wilson, talk with Tracy Smith about bringing the famed playwright's plays to the screen on "CBS Sunday Morning," to be broadcast December 13.
The Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Wilson wrote a play for every decade of the 20th century, each reflecting the Black experience at the time. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is a new Netflix film inspired by the true-life story of the blues legend, with Washington serving as a producer. Davis leads the cast, which includes Glynn Turman and the late Chadwick Boseman.
Washington (who directed the 2016 film of Wilson's "Fences") told Smith he's glad to be in a position to bring Wilson's stories to audiences beyond Broadway, and the notion of doing 10 films did not seem overwhelming.
"No, it was, what's left for me to do, professionally?" Washington said. "This is perfect, you know? It's not hard. It's a joy, it's an opportunity, it's a privilege, really, to shepherd [this] material. You know, no pressure. The pressure's not on me. The pressure is on the filmmakers."
Wolfe, who directed the adaptation of "Ma Rainey" and worked extensively with Wilson (who died 15 years ago), said it was a little intimidating bringing this project to film.
"Well, it's a brilliant piece. And it's a celebrated work," Wolfe said. "And so that if I did it badly or redid it badly, everybody would go, 'You did it badly.'"
Davis, who stars as Ma Rainey, said Wilson could get to the essence of human emotion in a sentence or two.
"I think that he captures our humor as Black people," Davis said. "He captures our humor, our vulnerabilities, our tragedies, our trauma. And he humanizes us. And he allows us to talk."
Asked to describe Wilson, his wife, artist Constanza Romero, replied: "Power. Courage. Magnificence."
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" also marks the final film for Boseman, who died last August from colon cancer at the age of 43. Boseman kept his diagnosis a secret, and none of his castmates knew he was ill.
"When I look back on it, I go, 'Oh, that's why he was tired between takes sometimes, or he had to go back to his trailer and re-energize,'" Washington said. "You know, I just thought, 'Oh, that's the actor's process and he has to, you know, do what he has to do.' But, now we know."
To watch a trailer for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" click on the video player below:
For more info:
- "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" debuts in theatres and on Netflix December 18
The Emmy Award-winning "Sunday Morning" is broadcast on CBS Sundays beginning at 9 a.m. ET. "Sunday Morning" also streams on CBSN [beginning at 9 a.m. ET] and CBS All Access, and is available on cbs.com and On Demand.