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Meet Russell Hornsby

The East Bay actor talks about his role in Fences and a new Netflix series.


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by Benjo Arwas

For Russell Hornsby, it was one of life’s “wow” moments: “When I worked with Denzel Washington onstage, I was over the moon. You say to yourself, ‘I am working with Denzel Washington doing August Wilson—I have arrived,’ ” says Hornsby, who first played opposite Washington in the 2010 Tony Award–winning reprisal of Wilson’s Fences on Broadway, and then last year repeated the role in the Oscar-nominated big-screen adaptation. The most gratifying aspect? Washington sought out Hornsby for the movie role.

“Being invited to be in the film was a great honor. [Washington] chose me, and he chose me for a reason. It was a thrill to work with him again and experience the profundity in his work: There is an intimacy that you have on film that is not there onstage.”

Hornsby began his thespian journey as a child in Oakland. “My mom [worked at] Oakland high schools for 30 years, and she would take my brother and me to see plays at Oakland High School,” says Hornsby. “It was more about her supporting her students’ productions than about exposing us to the arts, but the magic rubbed off. She would take us backstage after the show, and I thought it was the coolest thing.”

By the time Hornsby was in high school at Berkeley’s Saint Mary’s College High, he was deeply bitten by the acting bug, and he continued his studies at Boston University’s theater program. Since then, Hornsby has built an impressive résumé of work in film, onstage, and on television—including six seasons on NBC’s Grimm.

Hornsby recently finished filming Grimm’s final season. One of his cast mates has been Alamo-raised actress Bree Turner. “We share lots of stories about our love for Northern California,” says Hornsby. “She would tell me about her adventures going to hang out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley—the same things I did growing up.”

Next up for Hornsby is a Netflix drama, Seven Seconds, currently filming in New York. The show deals with race and the justice system, and Hornsby hopes it will resonate with audiences the way HBO’s The Wire did. “Every year or two, I watch all five seasons of The Wire,” he says. “TV does not get much better than that.”

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