Friday, August 17, 2007

Joining the ranks of Adopt an Actor

Several of the blogs I visit on a regular basis are part of the Adopt an Actor scene here in the blogosphere. The idea is to take an actor that you think is good but possibly not as well known as he or she should be, and make it part of your mission to extol this person's virtues. I looked over the complete list of actors over on I, Splotchy's blog a few weeks ago, and decided to draft the lovely and talented Jeffrey Wright. This first picture of him, smiling at the camera, pleasantly confident in both his loveliness and his talent. Yay!

A lot of Mr. Wright's work is on the stage in New York City, but his work in film and on TV has been really terrific so far. Sometimes the movies he is in are fantastic and some just okay, but I've never seen him give anything but an A #1 Tip Top performance.

The top of the list of movies to see with Mr. Wright in them is Angels in America, the HBO production of the award winning play. The most famous actors in the cast are Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson. Like Streep and Thompson, Wright plays multiple roles. He is cast as a nurse named Belize who takes care of the dying Roy Cohn (played by Pacino), he plays the Angel of Europe and he also plays Mr. Lies, the tour guide of Mary Louis Parker's character when she takes drugs, which is pictured here. They cast really good actors to take the multiple role parts in this movie, and Jeffrey Wright is a really good actor. If you haven't seen this movie, you really should. It's why the little baby Jesus invented DVD players.

Next up is also an HBO movie. Boycott dramatizes the story of the Montgomery bus boycott. Wright plays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. No pressure there, right?

Wright has a head start on playing Dr. King, since he is both not very tall and African American. What makes him a better choice than Gary Coleman or Emmanuel Lewis, for example, is that Wright has a brilliant ear for mimickry. He really gets the voice of Dr. King down to a tee, and his ability to command the screen when he is on camera is second to none among actors working today.

The first chance Wright got a starring role is in the little seen movie Basquiat, directed by the artist Julian Schnabel. Wright plays the title role of a graffiti artist living in poverty in New York City who becomes world famous, but the makers of the film decided not to put Wright's name at the top of the cast list. The rest of the cast includes Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Claire Forlani, Benicio Del Toro and David Bowie playing Andy Warhol. This movie is also worth seeing, though I should say that I love a good movie based on real life events.

Most of Wright's work in movies is in Small But Pivotal roles. In the most recent James Bond movie Casino Royale, Wright takes on the role Felix Leiter, Bond's contact in the CIA. This puts Wright in the Felix Leiter fraternity, which includes Jack Lord, David Hedison and Bernie Casey. Isn't Wright somewhat more talented than the rest of these actors? I don't know. Isn't Shaquille O'Neal somewhat taller than the Backstreet Boys?

A role which showed off his vocal abilities is the part of the Puerto Rican drug dealer Peoples Hernandez in the recent remake of Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson. Here, Wright is shown opposite Christian Bale, playing a racist scumbag. It is arguably the best scene in the film.

He also has a small but pivotal role in the movie Syriana. Again, like Angels in America, Wright is in a huge ensemble cast, but he makes good use of every moment he is on the screen. Other movies where Wright plays character roles are Ali, Woody Allen's Celebrity and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate.

If you get the idea that I can't say enough good things about Jeffrey Wright, then I have done my job here. On, he is listed as the star of a new Easy Rollins movie in production. I look forward to that, as well as any chance to see Jeffrey Wright on the silver screen. Matty Boy says check him out.

And with that, we go to the Random 10.

Kathleen (Catholicism Made Easier) Randy Newman
When You Were Mine Prince
Just One Cornetto Pookiesnackenburger
Town Called Malice The Jam
The Heart’s Filthy Lesson David Bowie
L-Y Tom Lehrer
When I Was Cruel No. 2 Elvis Costello
Reeperbahn Tom Waits
At Last Etta James
Bald Head Professor Longhair

The obscure explained: Pookiesnackenburger has a song on the Stiff Records boxed set. I do not own a Pookiesnackenburger album. I'm not sure they ever made one.

The semi-obscure explained: L-Y is a song Tom Lehrer wrote for the PBS show The Electric Company. It's about turning adjectives into adverbs. Every sports commentator should be sent a copy of this song before every game. As football season approaches and I watch more sports on TV, I will be chronicling The War On Adverbs being waged by the second guys in the booth.


Splotchy said...

Wow, what an amazing choice for an adoptee!

I wasn't aware of Jeffrey Wright until I saw him in Basquiat, and I was just blown away by his performance.

After that, I always would get excited when I saw he was performing in a film.

I loved him in the otherwise forgettable Shaft remake, and also thought he was one of the best parts of the Jim Jarmusch movie Broken Flowers.

Great choice!

sfmike said...

I saw "Angels in America" onstage on Broadway and Jeffrey Wright was by far the most interesting actor in the cast, underplaying Belize in a way that was mesmerizing. Good choice.

Matty Boy said...

Thanks, Splotchy. There are still lots of really good actors undrafted, but getting Jeffrey Wright this late in the proceedings is like drafting the best quarterback in the history of the game in the third round.

Of course, that would never happen in real life... oh, wait! Joe Montana was a third round draft pick! How about that?

I'd love to see him on stage, Mike! You are one lucky and culturally happening guy, though your kind words about Chuck Norris still confuse me deeply.

KELSO'S NUTS said...

Three bells for Wright. He and Mos' Def were absolutely brilliant in stage production of Top Dog/Underdog and in the category of a few of my favorites, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, Ryan Gosling, Wright's range is incredible. Never plays the same personality twice. Probably Hollywood's most under-rated actor.


"Scarlet Begonias" GRATEFUL DEAD
"Maggie's Farm" BOB DYLAN
"The Passenger" IGGY POP
"Maintstreet" BOB SEGER
"Allentown" BILLY JOEL
"Fight The Power" PUBLIC ENEMY
"My Summer Vacation" ICE CUBE
"Frank's Wild Years" TOM WAITS
"Personality Crisis" NEW YORK DOLLS

KELSO'S NUTS said...

Oh, Matty, very apt analogy to Montana. And you know we Jet fans are still smarting over selection of Ken O'Brien over Dan Marino, solely because Leon Hess didn't like the "rumors" of Marino's "partying" at State. To quote Pete Gent: "They give us stronger stuff just to get us on the field."

dguzman said...

WONDERFUL new adoptee! I loved him in Basquiat, and he was just great in Syriana -- SO much going on in there, all evident with just the slightest change to his facial expression. He is just amazing.