Roland Martin talks with actor Jeffrey Wright about his new film “Broken City,” mixing politics and Hollywood.
MR. MARTIN: Welcome back.
Hollywood loves a good political thriller. The latest is “Broken City,” the story of an ex-cop; the mayor; his beautiful wife and, of course, a scandal.
Take a look.
MR. MARTIN: The start-studded cast includes Mark Wahlberg; Russell Crowe; Katherine Zeta-Jones; and my guest, joining us from New York, Jeffrey Wright.
Jeffrey, welcome to “Washington Watch.”
MR. JEFFREY WRIGHT: I appreciate it, Roland. Thank you. Good to see you –
MR. MARTIN: We’ve been trying to make this –
MR. WRIGHT: — or, hear you, at least.
MR. MARTIN: — happen for a couple of years, so [I’m] certainly glad we’ve been able to do this here. And, of course, I know your mom is also a fan of the show. So, go ahead and give your mom a shout-out. [Chuckles.]
MR. WRIGHT: Hey, Mom. How’s things in D.C.? Love you! Love you.
Yeah, she’s a big fan of yours, Roland –
MR. MARTIN: Well, man, I –
MR. WRIGHT: — as am I.
MR. MARTIN: — certainly appreciate it. Thanks a bunch.
Let’s get right to it.
It’s very interesting. Hollywood really loves to mix politics in terms of being a thriller, and so talk about that because, although you’re dealing with a[n] ex-cop here, this really is a political thriller.
MR. WRIGHT: Sure. I don’t think that’s a new idea, though, Roland, if you look at – you know, you go back to Shakespeare. Look at Julius Caesar. He used, you know, the politics of ancient Rome as, you know, the framework for great human theater.
When you’re dealing, obviously, with power; with influence; with money, it’s fertile ground for storytelling. And, of course, in Hollywood, even, if you go back to the films of the ’70s, films that I was really drawn into, like “All the President’s Men,” “Network” – great films like that – you know, this film really is a throwback in some regards, you know, to that era.
But as well, it’s a throwback, for me when I first read it, to the noire films of Humphrey Bogart. You know? These were stories that dealt with human behavior and the kind of animal instincts of the organism and, you know, trying to survive and navigate through halls of power and things like that, with corruption, you know, evidence as well.
So, yeah, it’s a long tradition, I guess, of theatrical storytelling; and this film just carries on that tradition.
MR. MARTIN: And, of course, in this film you play a police commissioner. And I tell you I saw the movie and, really, up until the end, we couldn’t figure out whether you were a good guy or a bad guy.
MR. WRIGHT: [Chuckles.] Well, I think that’s a good thing. We wanted to keep him mysterious, to an extent.
He does have a little bit of a subversive through-line – my character – and they thought it was important that we kind of conceal his motives and, you know, conceal which side he’s on until the final reveal. So, that’s fun to play. You know, the character is very much an observer of the action and kind of a manipulator from behind the scenes – and also a survivor. So, we wanted to make him as quiet and stealthy as possible.
MR. MARTIN: Now, you’re a native of D.C., and … you played Secretary of State Colin Powell in “W.” You also were in “The Ides of March,” playing a presidential candidate. So, man, what’s the deal with you and all these political roles? I mean are you a political junkie?
MR. WRIGHT: [Chuckles.] Well, I mean I grew up in D.C. You know, we’re weaned on that stuff, you know? So, it’s just been an interest of mine, you know, since I was a kid. And what has been exciting for me as an actor is to be able to marry my profession with my political interests. It’s just what kind of turns me on.
Now, not everything that I do, obviously, is political in nature; but I am one who tends to think that everything –
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MR. WRIGHT: — is political. [Chuckles.]
But, you know, I guess as well, I had the great, you know, privilege really early in my career of being a part of a play that we eventually turned into a movie called “Angels in America” –
MR. MARTIN: Yeah.
MR. WRIGHT: — which, you know, was at the time one of the leading voices around the advocacy for gay rights and bringing greater attention to the struggle that folks were having with HIV and AIDS.
MR. MARTIN: And, of course, you won a –
MR. WRIGHT: And –
MR. MARTIN: — Tony Award for that role.
MR. WRIGHT: — yes. Yes, I did. But what I’m even more proud of is the role that that played, and the subsequent movie has played, in the advancement of gay rights now that we see. And so to have played some small role in that is very satisfying, as an actor, or as an artist, that our work can be relevant and can actually, you know, in some small way, you know, play a role in advancing social justice and social change and things like that – which is, you know … what it’s all about.
MR. MARTIN: Well, I’ll tell you what. I mean, obviously, you have a huge fan base. Folks love your work. And I’ll tell you, still, out of all the characters, I can tell you we all still remember Peoples from “Shaft.” I mean –
MR. WRIGHT: [Chuckles.] Yes.
MR. MARTIN: — even now, I still play that, and all we talk about is “Tiger Woo” every time. So –
MR. WRIGHT: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: — I know folks, when you see them around, when they see you in public, folks are quoting your lines back to you/
MR. WRIGHT: Yes!
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MR. WRIGHT: Peoples is a man of the peoples. Yes, I hear –
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MR. WRIGHT: — his lines every day. [Laughs.]
MR. MARTIN: Nothing wrong with that.
Well, Jeffrey, man, we certainly appreciate it. Thanks a bunch for being here. We look forward to having you back on “Washington Watch.”
MR. WRIGHT: Well, I appreciate it. Thank you, Roland.
MR. MARTIN: Folks, “Broken City” opens nationwide on January 18th