Articles: Sharen Davis Talks Dressing the Cast of ‘Fences’




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By Samantha Ofole-Prince

A casual look for Denzel's character Troy

Costume design is a fabric of movie-making that doesn’t always get its due accolade and yet in movies, so much of the character is accentuated by the clothes. Just ask Sharen Davis, who has designed costumes for over 40 films, running the gamut from ‘The Magnificent Seven,” “Django Unchained,” “The Help” to “The Pursuit Of Happyness,” and earning two Oscar nominations for doing so.

For Davis, who was tasked with designing the costumes on “Fences,” a film adapted from August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning period play, this marks her third collaboration with director Denzel Washington. Davis, first met Washington onset of the 1991 film “Mississippi Masala,” where she worked as a wardrobe supervisor. She has worked with him on his previously directed films: “Antwone Fisher” and “The Great Debaters.”

Costume sketch for Jovan's character from Fences

"Denzel as a director is amazing. I love to watch him work and how concerted he is," shares Davis.

Nominated twice for an Academy Award for her work on “Dreamgirls” and “Ray,” Davis, who has designed costumes for a variety of films that include “Godzilla,” “Looper,” “High Crimes,” “Money Talks” and the sci-fi drama “The 5th Wave,” enjoys designing costumes for period dramas.

“I love designing the clothes and having them made. You have to be creative with the shopping and it’s so exciting to go buy fabric and sketch it and have someone make it. I feel like I have more control over the arc of these characters. The beauty of doing a period show is that once you dress somebody they can go back to that time and see themselves.”

For “Fences,” it took her six to weeks to get the sketches and ideas together after an initial meeting with Washington and several discussions on the textures and clothing designs of the characters. Keeping some of the silhouettes of the play, her job was to make the costumes more realistic, a task she says posed some challenges.

“I wanted to pull ideas from the play, but our film is based more in reality. You are dealing with camera and we are also set in a real location, in a house. I had to scale everything down, tone down the clothing a little and make them look a little basic,” she shares. “Denzel had a lot of research, which was fantastic. He had done so much, so I had a great beginning as I had of lot of research to go off. The understanding and the conversations—it was amazing how we just clicked on this one."

Davis' sketches of Viola's character Rose from Fences

A film about a Black League baseball player-turned-garbage man struggling to provide for his family in 1950s Pittsburgh, the film’s cast includes Denzel Washington, Viola Davis (who won a supporting actress Oscar), Jovan Adepo, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby and Mykelti Williamson.

“The most exciting thing about Fences for me was that I could really relate to these characters. I was just captivated by the small ensemble and the different people in this family and the direction they were going."

Davis’ next project is the upcoming film “The Solutrean,” a tale of survival set in the Ice Age directed Albert Hughes who she worked with on “The Book Of Eli.”

“Fences” is out on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand.

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