PROFILE
Name:
Jeffrey Wright
Birth Date:
December 7, 1965
Birth Place:
Washington, District of Columbia, USA
Height:
5' 11" (1.80 m)
Nationality:
American
Famous for:
His role in 'Basquiat' (1996)
BIOGRAPHY
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Angels in America

Background:

“I do have characters who are more well known than I am, which suits me fine.” Jeffrey Wright

A highly regarded actor of film, television and stage, Jeffrey Wright has achieved the reputation of being one of the most versatile character actors of his generation. In 1994, he gained extensive praise with his Tony Award winning portrayal of the candid nurse Belize in the Broadway production of Tony Kushner's “Angels in America: Perestroika.” Nine years later, he gained even more recognition when he recreated the role for a six-part TV series directed by Mike Nicols titled “Angels in America” (2003), which won him an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Black Reel Award. Other remarkable TV performances include portraying Martin Luther King in Boycott (2001, netted an AFI TV Award) and Mr. Paul in Lackawanna Blues (2005, won a Black Reel Award).

On the big screen, the Washington D.C. native first received attention as the famed, but doomed, graffiti artist in the critically acclaimed Basquiat (1996), from which he netted an Independent Spirit nomination, and went on to acquire accolades with his role as drug dealer Peoples Hernandez in Shaft (2000, won a Toronto Film Critics Association Award), Al Melvin in The Manchurian Candidate (2004, received a Black Reel nomination), a crime-novel enthusiast in Broken Flowers (2005, nabbed a San Diego Film Critics Society Award and an Independent nomination) and Bennett Holiday in Syriana (2005, earned a Black Movie and a Black Reel nomination). He is also known for playing roles in such films as Sidney Lumet's Critical Care (1997), Woody Allen's Celebrity (1998), Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil (1999), Michael Mann's Ali (2001), M. Night Shaymalan's Lady in the Water (2006) and the blockbuster hit Casino Royale (2006). His forthcoming credits include The Invasion (2007), One Blood (2008) and Little Scarlet (2008).

Outside the spotlight, the 5' 11” performer is happily married to actress Carmen Ejogo and has a young son with her. The family currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. In 2004, Wright received an honorary degree from his alma mater Amherst College. He is friends with director Adrian Pasdar, who helmed Wright in the 1999 movie Cement. About Cement, he said, “That was a film that Adrian Pasdar directed. He's been a good friend of mine. It's kind of a cops and criminals film, but it's hard to decipher who's who. We shot it guerrilla-style, mostly out in Long Beach, California. My character struggling to maintain his balance in an imbalanced, criminal underground.”


Athlete

Childhood and Family:

Jeffrey Wright was born on December 7, 1965, in Washington, D.C. His father passed away when he was only one year old and Jeffrey was raised by his mother, who was an attorney for the US Customs Department and his aunt, a nurse. Although he grew up in a black neighborhood in DC, Jeffrey commuted across town to the prestigious, predominantly white St. Albans School for Boys, and after graduation, went to study political science at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, with the intention of following in his mother's footsteps. It was there that he was bitten by the acting bug and after receiving his B.A in 1987, moved on to New York University with an acting scholarship. However, he dropped out after two months to chase a professional career. Jeffrey was also an all-star athlete in college.

In August 2000, Jeffrey married London-born actress Carmen Ejogo (born in 1974). Together the couple has a son named Elijah.


Basquiat

Career:

Jeffrey Wright began performing off-Broadway at the Arena Stage productions in Washington, D.C, and the Yale Rep in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1990, he made his motion picture acting debut with a bit part in Alan J. Pakula's Presumed Innocent, starring Harrison Ford. The following year, he joined John Houseman's national touring repertory company, The Acting Company, in productions of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and Athol Fugard's “Blood Knot.” He also appeared in his first TV miniseries, “Separate But Equal” (1991), an ABC documentary, before resurfacing on his second film, Jumpin at the Boneyard (1992), opposite Tim Roth and Samuel L. Jackson. He landed a bigger part in 1993 when he was cast as noted jazz musician Sidney Bechet in a two part TV sequel of ABC's The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

Wright went on with his stage acting and in 1994 gained his big breakthrough as Norman 'Belize' Arriaga in Tony Kusner's landmark drama “Angels in America: Perestroika.” Under the direction of George C. Wolfe, the actor's portrayal of a flamboyant gay nurse impelled to take care of a homophobic Roy Cohn when he lay dying from AIDS won a Tony in the category of Best Featured Actor in a Play. He subsequently portrayed The Fool to F. Murray Abraham's “King Lear” (1996) off Broadway and later that same year rejoined director George C. Wolfe for the Broadway musical “Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk,” playing da Voice. Still in 1996, the talented performer also enjoyed big screen success as young black painter Jean-Michel Basquiat in the movie Basquiat, from which he nabbed an Independent Spirit nomination for Best Debut Performance.

The rest of the decade saw Wright steadily work in television and film. He was featured with James Spader, Kyra Sedgwick, Helen Mirren, Anne Bancroft and Albert Brooks in Sidney Lumet's Critical Care (1997), appeared as Hal Wilson in three episodes of the TV series “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1997), supported Mira Sorvino in the indie comedy Too Tired to Die (1998), portrayed Greg, the off-off Broadway director, in Woody Allen's Celebrity (1998), had a small role as a liberated slave named Daniel Holt in Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil (1999) and starred with Chris Penn in Cement (1999), among other projects.

Entering the new millennium, Wright played the Gravedigger in a modern-day film version of Hamlet (2000), starring Ethan Hawke as the title character, and teamed up with Ellen Barkin, Monica Keena and Michael Ironside in Crime and Punishment (2000), a contemporary fable loosely based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic book of the same name. Both movies premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. He also gained notice for playing the fancy Dominican drug kingpin Peoples Hernandez in the 2000 remake Shaft, which starred Samuel L. Jackson. The role brought the actor a Toronto Film Critics Association for Best Supporting Performance.

Wright continued to earn attention on the small screen when he was cast in the starring role of Martin Luther King in the based-on-book television movie Boycott (HBO, 2001). Costarring with wife Carmen Ejogo, as well as Terrence Howard and CCH Pounder, he won an AFI TV for Actor of the Year, in addition to collecting nominations such as a Black Reel nomination for Network/Cable- Best Actor, a Golden Satellite nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television and an Image nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. The same year, Wright also found himself acting Off-Broadway opposite Don Cheadle in the Public Theater production of “Topdog/Underdog.” When he reprised his role from “Topdog/Underdog” on Broadway the following year, where Don Cheadle was replaced by Mos Def, Wright received a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Play.

After portraying Howard Bingham in the Michael Mann directed biopic Ali (2001), starring Will Smith as the legendary boxer, and Jaworski in the Sylvester Stallone straight-to-video vehicle D-Tox (2002), Wright recreated his award-winning stage role of nurse Belize in the Mike Nichols directed TV miniseries adaptation “Angels in America” (2003). His efforts paid off when he brought home an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Black Reel for Best Supporting Actor. He also netted a SAG, a Golden Satellite and a NAMIC Vision nomination.

Returning to the wide screen, Wright took on the role of Al Melvin in the disappointing remake of the 1962 thriller The Manchurian Candidate (2004) and earned a 2005 Black Reel nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He then costarred with Bill Murray as a crime-novel fan in director-writer Jim Jarmush's Broken Flowers (2005), a role that brought him a San Diego Film Critics Society for Best Supporting Actor and an Independent Spirit nomination. He also had a supporting role as Bennett Holiday in the geopolitical thriller Syriana (2005), produced by George Clooney, and earned a Black Movie and a Black Reel nomination for Best Supporting actor for his work in the film. In 2005, Wright also resurfaced on the stage in Neil LaBute's “This Is How It Goes” at the Public Theater in New York, and maintained his presence on television by playing Mr. Paul in the HBO original movie Lackawanna Blues, based on Ruben Santiago-Hudson award-winning autobiographical one man show. The latter role won Wright a Black Reel for Best Supporting Actor – Television and an Image nomination for Outstanding Actor in a TV Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special.

In 2006, Wright costarred in M. Night Shaymalan's Lady in the Water, with Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti. He also enjoyed major box office exposure with the James Bond hit Casino Royale (2006), starring Daniel Craig as 007. There, he played Felix Leiter, Bond's long time CIA friend. More recently, in 2007, he starred as Nelson in the drama film Blackout.

Wright will rejoin Craig and work with Nicole Kidman in the action film The Invasion, which should be released in August 2007. He also has a starring role in the upcoming drama film One Blood (2008), playing Dan Clark, and is set to co-star with Mos Def in the crime/mystery Little Scarlet (2008), based on the novel by Walter Mosley.


Awards:

  • Black Reel: Best Supporting Actor -Television, Lackawanna Blues, 2006

  • San Diego Film Critics Society: Best Supporting Actor, Broken Flowers, 2005

  • Black Reel: Best Supporting Actor-Television, “Angels in America,” 2004

  • Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie, “Angels in America,” 2004

  • Golden Globe: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, “Angels in America,” 2004

  • AFI TV: Actor of the Year - Male - Movie or Mini-Series, Boycott, 2002

  • Toronto Film Critics Association: Best Supporting Performance, Male, Shaft, 2000

  • Tony: Best Actor (Featured Role – Play), “Angels In America: Perestroika,” 1994

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