Jeffrey Wright Bio: In His Own Words – Video Exclusive, News, Photos
Jeffrey Wright (born December 17, 1965) is an American actor and producer. He is known for his roles in movies, television shows, and plays such as Shaft, Boycott, Angels in America (both on television and on stage), Cadillac Records and Boardwalk Empire. He’s also well known for his roles as Felix Leiter in the James Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, as well as Beetee in three installments of The Hunger Games movie series. Jeffrey Wright has won an Emmy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Tony Award during his career.
Jeffrey Wright Bio: Early Life
Wright was born on December 7, 1965 in Washington, D.C. After the death of his father at an early age, his mother, a customs lawyer, raised Jeffrey with her sister. Wright attended St. Albans School, a prestigious boys’ prep school in Washington, for his pre-collegiate education.
From there he went to Amherst College in Massachusetts to pursue a degree in political science. Although he was planning to use his political science degree from Amherst towards law school, he decided to study acting instead. He went to New York University under an acting degree for graduate school, but then dropped out after two months to go into acting full-time.
Jeffrey Wright Career
Wright started his career in off-Broadway plays in New York City and Washington, D.C. He made his first film appearance in 1990 in the legal drama Presumed Innocent, which starred Harrison Ford, as a prosecuting attorney. In 1991, Wright joined The Acting Company, a national touring company that travelled to put on plays, for productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Blood Knot.
His breakthrough performance came on the stage in 1994 in Tony Kushner‘s play Angels in America. Wright was cast as Norman “Belize” Arriaga, a gay nurse who’s the ex-boyfriend of main character Prior Walter and is forced to take care of Roy Cohn as he is dying of AIDS. His harrowing performance in the seven hour play would net him the 1994 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play.
Two years later, Wright won the acclaim of film critics just as he did to theatre critics in the 1996 biopic Basquiat. Wright played the lead role of portraying artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, with music legend David Bowie portraying Andy Warhol alongside him. The hauntingly accurate portrayal of the artist showed Wright’s versatility in acting and won him over many new fans. He would be nominated for a 1997 Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance for his work in Basquiat.
The late 1990s and early 2000s saw Wright take on a variety of roles. He would appear on television screens for three episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, while making his rounds in movies such as Cement, Ride with the Devil, Shaft, and Woody Allen’s Celebrity. In 2001, Wright portrayed biographer Howard Bingham in the biopic Ali, which told the story of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, played by Will Smith.
Wright also gave a commanding performance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 2001 television film Boycott. The movie, which tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956, was well acclaimed much in part to Wright’s portrayal of the heroic civil rights leader. Wright won the 2002 American Film Institute (AFI) Award for Male Actor of the Year in a Television Movie or Mini-Series, while the film itself won a 2001 Peabody Award.
In 2001 and 2002, Wright made a return to the stage in a successful run of the play Topdog/Underdog. The play was about two African American brothers who coped with many problems they faced, including their troubled upbringings. The play started off-Broadway before moving on Broadway in an extended run from April 7-August 11, 2002. Wright starred alongside Don Cheadle and Mos Def through its run. Topdog/Underdog won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and landed Wright a nomination for the 2002 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.
Wright reprised his role as “Belize” in the HBO miniseries version of Angels in America in 2003, based on the play he performed in nine years earlier. Just like the play, the miniseries was a smashing success among critics and audiences alike. The miniseries was the most watched made-for-cable film in 2003 and was a hit for HBO. Wright’s performance also landed him a wide array of accolades, including the 2004 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Mini-Series or Movie and the 2004 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie. Wright also received a nomination for the 2004 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie. Angels in America, between the original play and the HBO miniseries, put Wright in a prestigious category of actors who have won a Tony Award, a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
After an appearance in the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Wright played another HBO made-for-TV film role in Lackawanna Blues in 2005. Also in 2005, Wright joined a star-studded cast of George Clooney and Matt Damon in the geopolitical thriller Syriana, where he played Bennett Holiday, an attorney investigating a proposed merger of oil companies. Later in the year he made a brief return to the stage in the play This Is How It Goes, which dealt with interracial love triangles in rural America.
In 2006, Wright made history by becoming the first non-white actor to take on the role of Felix Leiter, James Bond’s friend and CIA operative ally, in the Bond series. He would take on the role for two Bond films– Casino Royale and 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Wright would join up with Daniel Craig, who played James Bond in the two films, once again in the 2007 sci-fi thriller The Invasion, which also featured Nicole Kidman.
In addition to Quantum of Solace, Wright took on two more film roles in 2008, both of which dealing with historical matters. He would portray Secretary of State Colin Powell in W., Oliver Stone’s biographical drama on President George W. Bush. He would also portray blues musician Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records, a biopic that’s based on the story of Chess Records.
Wright returned to Broadway in 2010 in the world premiere run of A Free Man of Color, where he played the main role of Jacques Cornet. In it, Cornet is the richest African American of 1801 New Orleans, but his world changes for the worse as racism enters the city. The play was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and once again Wright won praise from critics for his performance.
After roles in The Ides of March and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Wright made his return to television in 2013 by taking on the role of Dr. Valentin Narcisse in HBO’s prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire. Wright would be on the show for its final two seasons as Narcisse, a Harlem philanthropist who plans on taking over the heroin trade in Atlantic City. The show capped off its run in 2014 as one of HBO’s biggest hits of the early decade.
Jeffrey Wright took on another high profile role in 2013 by joining The Hunger Games saga as Beetee, a “tribute” who is rescued from the arena by main character Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and becomes one of her allies through her journey. He made his first appearance in the second film of the series, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and has since appeared in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. He will also appear in the series’ next film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.
Prior to the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, Wright spoke to uInterview in an exclusive conversation about the film. “Beetee is committed to the rebellion for two reasons,” he said of his character. “One, because he’s injured psychologically and physically by his participation in the games but also because he’s fairly conscious of the injustice of the society he inhabits so on a political level he engages, too. He infiltrates the system, pretends to be of the system, only to destroy it.”
Wright also told us about working with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who played one of his final roles in Mockingjay, Part 1 before his death. “I knew Phil for a long time,” he said, “because we both came up in the New York theatre scene together. But we only done one movie together prior to The Hunger Games movies [The Ides of March] and the thing that struck me working with Phil in those two movies is I can’t recall him doing two takes alike ever.” He added that “he was inspiring to anyone who worked with him” and that his death “was a terrible, terrible blow” not only to him personally, but to the drama community at large.
Jeffrey Wright Personal Life
Jeffrey Wright married actress Carmen Ejogo in 2000 and had two children, a son named Elijah and a daughter, during their marriage. The two have recently divorced.
Wright currently resides in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Wright received an honorary degree from his alma mater, Amherst College, in 2004.
Wright also spends his time as an activist against resource-related conflicts. He is the founder of Taia Lion Resources, which was created in 2011 as a mineral exploration company that focuses on ethical and sustainable mining.
Get Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 here:
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