Jeffrey Wright Goes Beyond the Photo Op in Sierra Leone

Photos Ysa Perez

Jeffrey Wright carries himself with a benevolent swagger and has the unusual distinction of appearing physically larger in person than he does on screen. Of course, that may be because the majority of his film roles (and his investment in them) have established him as a character actor rather than a leading man. But Wright seems perfectly satisfied with the modest level of fame and fortune he has achieved in his thoughtful and industrious acting career. “I do have characters who are more well-known than I am,” he said in an oft-referenced 2005 Los Angeles Times interview with Susan King, “which suits me fine.” And why shouldn’t it, for an actor whose obvious talent and instincts for the right role have seen him pick up both a Tony and a Golden Globe award?

Those same instincts prompted Wright to move to Fort Greene in 1989—a full decade ahead of even those with legitimate claims to pre-gentrification credibility. He has never looked back. The two months he spent at NYU by way of a performing-arts scholarship were enough for him to know that Manhattan (and acting school) wasn’t the right fit. Within a year, he landed his first film role in Presumed Innocent, and dozens more would follow.

In April, Wright will appear alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in the sci-fi thriller Source Code, and shortly afterwards he will begin filming the screen adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s post-9/11 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Not surprisingly, that film will be shot on location in New York City, which is one reason why the married father of two signed on. Wright has been juggling those rehearsals with production on The Ides of March under the direction of his Syriana co-star George Clooney, who also plays the second lead (to Ryan Gosling). While advance press has suggested that Clooney’s character is based on Howard Dean—the film is a loose adaptation of the 2008 stage play Farragut North, which was loosely based on Dean’s 2004 Presidential campaign—Wright was reluctant to explore that assumption, preferring instead to discuss subjects a bit closer to home. The Atlantic Yards Project, for one.

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