Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Jeffrey Wright

If you've gone near any major American pop culture properties in the last two decades, chances are you've encountered a memorable performance from Jeffrey Wright. This performer has shown up in roles of all shapes and sizes in everything ranging from a Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show to a series of James Bond titles to "Westworld" to even acclaimed indies like the 2019 feature "O.G." All the while, Wright has cultivated a consistent streak of garnering widespread praise for his performances on-screen. His commitment to his idiosyncratic roles, as well as that unforgettable voice of his, have made him one of the most interesting actors of our time.

In looking at a filmography as varied and widely-praised as Wright's, it shouldn't be a surprise to discover there are parts of this artist — such as how he balances his personal life with his acting pursuits as well as how he tackles roles in gargantuan blockbusters — that aren't common knowledge but speak volumes to his process. The untold truth of Jeffrey Wright is one full of rich layers that can only increase one's appreciation for a guy that's been all over the pop culture map in recent years.

Jeffrey Wright's preparation to play James Gordon

When you're taking on the role of Commissioner Gordon in a live-action "Batman" movie, you have no shortage of prior performances to turn to for inspiration. Everyone from Gary Oldman to J.K. Simmons has taken on this part. This collection of actors also includes Jeffrey Wright, who took on the role for the Matt Reeves directorial effort "The Batman." In tackling this role, though, Wright didn't take inspiration from other cinematic incarnations of Gordon. Instead, he found inspiration in another famous fictional detective.

"As Gary Oldman once described, you know Gordon is something of a Watson to [Batman,]" Wright explained to Heroic Hollywood. "The script honors that and also sets a tone that's very clear and a tone that's been captured in that trailer." Another sources of inspiration for Wright, if his Instagram activity is any indication, is "Batman: The Long Halloween." By going through so many points of inspiration for his Gordon, Wright aimed to follow in the footsteps of all those classic Commissioner Gordon performers that came before him while also making sure he wasn't just providing a retread of what the likes of Oldman and Simmons have already delivered.

What kind of roles Wright wants to pursue

One of the best parts of Jeffrey Wright's filmography is how so many of his roles are realistic. His characters from "O.G." or "Hold the Dark" so rooted in everyday qualities. This recurring trait across his performances is a conscious choice on the part of Wright, who, early on in his career, opted to pursue parts that didn't feel too detached from reality.

"I don't want to be the guy who runs through walls and saves the world in every movie, and be the savior of mankind from the giant evils and nuclear frogs," Wright explained to Believer magazine. "That's not fun for me. I'm not going to be that guy, so let me figure out a way to satisfy these same impulses and perhaps control the resources as well." Going down this route has allowed Wright to inhabit some truly fascinating and authentic characters, ones that may not inhabit traditional ideas of heroism but are all the more compelling because of that trait.

What was the chilliest set Wright's ever worked on?

When you're on a movie set, you have to deal with all kinds of turmoil, especially when you're shooting in practical locations. Mother Nature doesn't stop for filmmakers and that means rain, heat, and all the other hardships of the natural world can cause havoc for a film set, which is meant to run with precision. For Jeffrey Wright, his most brutal experience working on a set that was racked by the cold came when he was being directed by two-time Oscar winning filmmaker Ang Lee.

"The coldest set I've ever worked on ... well, it was one day on 'Ride with the Devil,' Ang Lee's film that we shot in Missouri and Kansas," Wright recounted to RogerEbert.com. "There was one day, while we were still in pre-production ... I got up that morning at five o'clock and we headed out to the middle of the prairie somewhere — just windswept, bitter prairie — and I looked at the thermometer in the car and it said -17 ° Fahrenheit. I was like, 'Oh, wow.' So we stepped out in our little Civil War-era boots and felt hats and froze ... But we got the shots and it was really cool." After that experience, Wright was more than aware of the hardships that come with shooting out in the elements.

How he balances family life with acting responsibilities

Ask any actor whose also a parent and they'll tell you the toughest part about their job is figuring out the balance between being an attentive parent and a dedicated performer. Jeffrey Wright is no exception. As he was getting off the ground as an actor in the 2000s, Wright made it clear that he didn't want his career as an actor to come at the expense of his family life.

"Since my son was born ten years ago, I've tried to stay closer to the house," Wright told Believer Magazine back in March 2012. "I'll go away for two weeks maximum at a time, and maybe once a year. When I did ['Casino Royale'], that was about a four-week responsibility, and my whole family came with me for half of that. The producers were incredibly gracious and generous in doing that. But those are the conditions on which I work in. My priorities are different. I don't mind going away and doing a small supporting role that will take care of my financial responsibilities and won't distract me too much from my family..." Taking the time to lay down those conditions has allowed Wright to tackle the kind of tricky balance so many actors have to confront.

How he approached the lead role of Hold the Dark

Russell Core, the lead character of "Hold the Dark," isn't all that animated a character. Instead, Jeffrey Wright portrays someone whose quite restrained, a fitting contrast to all the grisly carnage that's unleashed around him. Rather than viewing this kind of character as an insurmountable challenge, Wright viewed Russell Core as a fascinating figure to inhabit.

"One of the things that I found interesting and satisfying about playing Core was that he stumbles into a type of heroism that he's completely unprepared to handle," Wright elucidated to RogerEbert.com. "And somehow through his being thrust into this crucible, he manages to find what he's looking for, which is something closer to himself. Jeremy [Saulnier, director of 'Hold The Dark'] would often talk about him being broken, so even though he's in this epic environment, and though he's clearly a man who's skilled with nature, he should never really perceive himself to be heroic. So, Jeremy and I would say, 'No, that's too heroic. More broken.'" By leaning on that tragic quality, Wright was able to make sure that Core could captivate the audience even while being such a largely subdued figure.

Who Jeffrey Wright based his Westworld character on

Ask any actor and they'll tell you the same thing: inspiration can come from anywhere. Perhaps it's from a loved one from your personal life or another person you ran into on a film set. If you're an actor, it's critical to have an observational quality that can lead you to discover the inspiration behind your next exciting performance. For Jeffrey Wright, he got the inspiration behind "Westworld" character Bernard from a most unexpected domain: Reddit.

"That's what I try to emulate, you know? That's who my character is based on: a Reddit user," Wright said about Bernard according to The Verge. Though a humorous line, it's easy to see how the calculated nature of stereotypical Reddit users could seep their way into Wright's similarly detached performance as Bernard. Clinging to real-world inspirations like Reddit users is critical for Wright when portraying this robot, who can never seem totally hollow. "You can't just stare off blankly," Wright said of his acting style of "Westworld." "You have to have a very specific understanding of what it is you're looking at and why you're looking at it. You're kind of acting and you're editing and you're envisioning all at once."

Why he didn't give The Watcher a British accent

For the first major appearance of The Watcher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jeffrey Wright, who was tasked with voicing the character on "What If...?," was faced with a series of challenges. Most notable among these obstacles was what exactly should this character sound like. Should The Watcher have an accent? If so, what kind of accent? Boston? French? Perhaps even British? In the end, Wright had a more specific and low-key approach to what kind of vocals The Watcher should have.

"A lot of times, we hear a character like this that's very powerful and wise and dramatic, if you look at some of the old films of Greek mythology and even Egyptian mythology and things like this or history, we find that the characters have a British accent," Wright contemplated to Entertainment Weekly. "And I have never really figured out why that is. Why does every wise man in the history of cinema or wise woman or sage need to be British? So the first time we encounter The Watcher in the comics on the moon, I figured it was wide open where we could go with the voice and how can we craft together an idea and music to his voice that's resonant today. So I just went for it and put it down."

His first response to getting offered the role of The Watcher

Getting offered a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be a daunting prospect. This is such a world-renowned series that it can be overwhelming to contemplate joining something so widely beloved. For Jeffrey Wright, a confluence of emotions greeted the initial offer from Marvel Studios to voice The Watcher in the animated series "What If...?" Most of those emotions, though, were filtered through an air of excitement over being a part of a rich pop culture tapestry.

"I got the invitation to be a part of all of this incredibly dynamic and well-loved storytelling that Marvel is putting out now and so it was a very easy invitation to accept," Wright said to Entertainment Weekly. As for how he prepared for the part after getting offered it, Wright went back to the source material. "I went back and dug in, went back to 1963 to the moon with the Fantastic Four to discover Uatu, The Watcher," he explained. "And then I dipped into some of the 'What If...?' comics themselves, which I think began in 1977. It's a really exciting opportunity to go back and reinvent some of the characters from the MCU that everyone loves."

He was surprised he didn't show up in Skyfall and SPECTRE

Three of Daniel Craig's five turns as James Bond has involved Jeffrey Wright as C.I.A. agent Felix Leiter. An unexpectedly notable character across this collection of 007 blockbusters, that doesn't mean Wright is always latched to the side of Craig's take on James Bond. His character was notably not onscreen in either "Skyfall" or "SPECTRE." Though Wright teased to ComingSoon.net in September 2011 that his character may get namedropped in "Skyfall," Leiter ended up being M.I.A. for both projects. As the years went by, this absence didn't go unnoticed by Wright.

"The surprise for me was to not be called in the previous two!" Wright told Total Film (via Games Rader) about those particular entries in the James Bond franchise. "But it gives more weight to Felix's appearances if we don't see him too often." When it came time for Leiter to bounce back onto the screen in "No Time to Die," though, Wright immediately knew what he wanted to emphasize. "We wanted to establish what is at the core of this relationship between them, which is this brotherhood," Wright explained. With these clear goals in mind, Wright was ready to leap back into the 007 franchise for the first time in over a decade. 

His biggest takeaways from working on the Bond movies

One of Jeffrey Wright's earliest blockbuster roles was portraying Felix Leiter in the first two Daniel Craig James Bond movies. Getting the chance to appear in multiple entries of one of the biggest franchises of all time is extraordinary. Wright was conscious of just how rare this opportunity was, and because of that, he was very precise on what lessons he took away from appearing on-screen with this superspy.

"I enjoy doing these films," Wright told Black Film about his experience on "Quantum of Solace." "They are big budget films, but there is a quality of humanity on the set that I like. There are very little egos involved and it's a very comfortable environment to work in." That kind of environment largely comes from Wright's rapport with Craig, a performer that Wright said he "enjoyed working with him as an actor and I enjoyed his company. We both look at acting in similar. We're serious about it and we enjoy it and when we work together, we try to create interesting scenes."

What attracted Wright to the Hunger Games movies

It's easy to see why anyone would want to be in the "Hunger Games" movies. They're ultra-successful box office hits that resonate deeply with moviegoers across the planet — who doesn't want to get a piece of that action? But for Jeffrey Wright, who portrayed the character Beetee in the last two "Hunger Games" movies, there was a more specific quality to his role and the franchise that attracted him to join the world of Panem.

"I liked that his primary weapon was his capacity to think, and that he was less a fighter than a tinkerer," Wright said of Beetee to SlashFilm. "I thought that was interesting in the first movie, in 'Catching Fire,' that among all these warriors there's an inventor. It just seemed contradictory and curious to me. And then I think I was attracted to his sense of responsibility to his fellow citizenry, to the cause, and his loyalty to the ideals behind this rebellion. Because I think he, like everyone else, has a personal engagement with this and his commitment to this is driven by personal damage as having been a previous participant in the Games... he, I think, is highly political and is driven by — maybe I'm romanticizing, but driven by moral outrage at the society that he finds himself within. And I like that."

How his upbringing influenced his career

Now that he's worked with blockbusters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the "Hunger Games" franchise as well as delivered performances under the direction of auteurs like Jeremy Saulnier and Wes Anderson, it's fair to say Jeffrey Wright has truly come into his own as an actor of note. It's not something anyone could have ever predicted, least of all himself, and Wright see's these career peaks as ones that he owes to his upbringing.

 "A lot of people look at acting and see the glitz and the glamour of it," Wright told Soul Vision Magazine. "They see the award shows and all. What they don't appreciate is that underneath all of that is a lot of hard work and a lot of persistence to be able to sustain yourself in the business ... I guess I owe the ability to handle that from the lessons I was taught by the country folks that raised me." Those "folks" included a grandfather who apparently was up at the crack of dawn to tend to his crops and proceeded to work tirelessly the entire day for the benefit of himself and the people around him. This work ethic spread to this man's relatives, including grandson Jeffrey Wright. Thanks to family members like that grandfather, Wright developed the fortitude to become the beloved performer the world knows today.