The 51-year-old Jeffrey Wright has more than made a name for himself throughout his 26-year acting career, taking turns as the Gravedigger in Michael Almereyda’s controversial (but excellent) 2000 adaptation of Hamlet, the iconic Felix Leiter in the James Bond reboot that is Casino Royale, and, of course, Beetee in the Hunger Games franchise.
What’s been conspicuously absent on his resume, however, is television. When compared to his odd guest star here and there since 1991 – including for such wonderfully diverse shows as The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, House, and The Venture Brothers – his status as not only a main cast member, but as one of the central-most protagonists, on Westworld stands out like a sore thumb. There was obviously some sort of transition that had to have happened, something that made TV acceptable for him to do.
ET Online has an interview with Wright which manages to fill in the missing puzzle piece: Boardwalk Empire, which he joined during its final two seasons as the deliciously villainous Dr. Valentin Narcisse. Being able to dig into one character for a greater length of time was a game-changer for the actor, making him realize how far the medium had come in the past two-and-a-half decades and what storytelling strengths now exclusively reside in the format:
Assuming he would be bored by playing the same character season after season, Wright admits he would have balked at the idea of doing TV years ago. But his time on the HBO drama opened his eyes to a new dynamic he had been unfamiliar with. “There are these sympathetic exchanges between writer and actor as you go forward. You begin to inform one another, which is really an unusual dynamic, and I found it deeply satisfying.”
This is why, when co-creator/-showrunner Jonathan Nolan reached out to him to play the dual Arnold-Bernard, Wright jumped at the chance.
I was curious by the opportunity of taking the risk of starting at the ground floor, as opposed to Boardwalk, where everybody else built the building, and then I moved into the penthouse. I wanted to help shape the unknown.
There is little doubt that the performer regrets the decision – Bernard is easily one of the most nuanced roles the actor has had to sink his teeth into during his long career, and one that afforded him the opportunity to work with such heavyweights as Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Robert Ford), to boot. By being able to peel layer after layer off of Bernard, revealing his true synthetic nature and his basis in the psychology of an entirely different individual, both Wright and viewers get to take a fascinating, winding, subtle journey, shifting through various strata of theme and character. It’s easily one of the best aspects of Westworld’s first season – and one of the biggest allures of its second.
Jeffrey Wright goes on to discuss what he did and didn’t know about his role when he first signed on and reveals which single actor knew everything every step of the way, so make sure to check out the whole article.
In the meantime, share your thoughts about Wright’s best performances in the comments below. What other role do you think can stand a candle to Bernard? Not only am I curious to hear, it’ll also give us something to check out while waiting for 2018’s second season.