Jeffrey Wright Says He Doesn’t Consider Himself “A Black Man in Hollywood”

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by Barry Burch Jr.

Just because your name is at the top of an impressive resume, that does not thereby mean your name is familiar.  Actor Jeffery Wright must understand this perfectly.  After appearing in nearly 40 films and winning a Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe, without his picture, his name rings nearly silent bells.

Fortunately for Wright, he doesn’t care.

In 1996, the actor played painter Jean-Michel Basquiat in Julian Schnabel’s biopic.  This led to future major performances, including roles as Colin Powell in “W,” Muddy Waters in “Cadillac Records” and operative Felix Leiter in “Casino Royale.”

The success just keeps coming, as his versatility and ability to turn on the drama has landed him in the role of the ominous Dr. Valentin Narcisse in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” this season.

With his latest appearance in the film, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which is setting box office records across the world, Wright, 47, reflected on his expansive career in an interview with The Associated Press.

In response to whether he feels he is underrated, Wright said, “I don’t mind that I am not necessarily a household name because I think my characters have outshined me.”

He also said he “pumped the breaks” to spend more time with his two children.  “I wanted to be with my son and daughter (Elijah, 12, and TK, 8, with wife Carmen Ejogo).  Over the last couple of years I’ve started to go away and work a bit more,” he explained.

When asked about how he feels as an African-American man in Hollywood, Wright responded:

“I don’t really consider myself a black man in Hollywood.  I live in Brooklyn . . . and on purpose.  At the most base level, what an actor represents to the film industry is an investment.  Depending on the risk profile, an investor needs 1,000 reasons to commit and one reason not to.  That means you’ve got to do more work on your own and that the machine is not going to necessarily do the blocking for you.  The machine rarely accepted my code. That can be frustrating, but you just have to be aware.”

Barry is a scholar, who enjoys writing, arithmetic and politics.  Reach him @ Barryburchjr@gmail.com

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