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Jeffrey Wright on his first Oscar nomination for «American Fiction»

Jeffrey Wright, a longtime sidekick and something of an actor, earned his first Oscar nomination Tuesday for his lead performance in «American Fiction.» The film also received nominations for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay for writer-director Cord Jefferson, Supporting Actor for Sterling K. Brown, and Original Score for Laura Karpman.

Based on the 2001 novel «Erasure» by Percival Everett, it won the People’s Choice Award when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, often an indicator of future Oscar success. Wright has also been nominated for a Gotham Award, a Golden Globe, a Spirit Award, and a SAG Award.

In the brisk satire, Wright plays Thelonious «The Monk» Ellison, a professor and writer who is told his work is not «black enough.» While figuring out how to care for his mother (Leslie Uggams), who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, his beloved sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) unexpectedly dies of a heart attack. Monk and his brother Cliff (Brown) try to pick up the pieces of their family’s life. Out of frustration, Monk writes a book under the pseudonym «Stagg R. Leigh», which he intends as a parody of the literary world’s portrayal of black life. Instead, it’s taken at face value and becomes a runaway hit. Monk must decide whether to reveal his true self or keep his masquerade.

Wright previously won a Tony for his performance in «Angels in America» ​​and an Emmy for the same role in the HBO series adaptation. Since his early starring role as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the 1996 film «Basquiat,» he has gone on to star in the «Hunger Games» franchise, three recent James Bond films, the TV series «Westworld» and films such as «The Batman» and «The French Dispatch’ and Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City’.

Wright got on the phone with The Times on Tuesday morning to talk about his Oscar nomination. He was at home in Brooklyn when the announcements were made, and as he said, “I was up, but not to watch. I decided to leave the TV and computer off, just in case there might be some unexpected sudden screen damage depending on the news. I was just wandering around my house keeping an eye on my phone.’

This is your first nomination. what does that mean to you

It is the recognition of my peers and the academy that the work is good. I’m especially pleased that the film was recognized and Cord’s work and Sterling’s and Laura’s – and really everyone who contributed to this film. The thing I absolutely adored about making the movies is that they work together.

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I love working with generous, smart and passionate partners. We had that in this movie. When we did that, we felt like we might be on to something special. So this recognition suggests that we may have been right. And then we are also a small movie. We shot it in 25 days, 26 because we had an extra day after several cuts of the film. So it brings more attention to our film and ideally the audience will respond and come to buy into the story and be moved by it the way we were moved when we made it. It’s all good.

Especially since you play supporting roles so often, is it more meaningful to you that this nomination came for a leading role?

Either way. If they’re giving them away, I’ll take it. An Oscar is an Oscar, a nomination is a nomination.

A man stands in front of a house on the beach.

Jeffrey Wright in «American Fiction».

(Courtesy of TIFF)

You said the film was strange even when you were making it. What exactly was this project about?

Adapted from Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, Cord Jefferson wrote a screenplay that was smart, timely, fluid, ironic in the best way, and funny. And that attracted a group of actors and crew who were passionate about helping Cord tell this story. As we worked on the film, there was a growing feeling among all of us that we should do the work we do with more care. You could sense from the crew that there was a few degrees more pride in what they were doing, and that it grew over the course of production.

It happens sometimes and not always, but when it happens and you feel it, it tells you that you are doing it right. And that happened while filming in Boston with this one. It was one of the most enjoyable times I worked on the film, so much so that I kind of fell in love with Boston, which is a bit of a personal miracle for me.

Wwhy do you think audiences reacted as strongly as they did?

I think audiences have an appetite for story-driven films. We didn’t get as many in theaters as we used to get. In some ways, this film harkens back to one of the golden ages of American cinema, the films of the 1970s that were about character and story and were made in a way that explored current trends and interests in society—and in a way that was exuberant. . Our film is funny, but at the same time it has a deep emotional thread. And I think all of that lends it accessibility, and it lends more palatability to the content of the film, the conversations about race and identity and representation. So there’s just an amazing stew that we were able to cook, it was a recipe that seems to work.

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Like you said, there they are togethermomentis in the movie about the media depiction of black life while, at the same time, we accept a family’with a parallel story. In a way, the film is in conversation with itself. How you approach multiple levels as an artist of any of those scenes?

It was completely organic for me. There was no disparity between one side, if you will, of the film and the other. Each of them intermingled and had a sort of symbiotic relationship. The absurdity of Monk’s double life is bound up with the common humanity of his family life, as it is to some extent born out of the necessity of responsibility towards the family. So it’s not two stories that exist on parallel tracks. They are closely related. And there’s a fluidity that was really clear on the page, and I just played that.

You talked about how you felt a personal connection to parts of Monk’s story because of the things you went through with your own family. Do you bring these personal things into your performance?

First, it attached me to the character and the narrative on an intimate, emotional level. But I don’t think I realized how much it worked, maybe even subconsciously. It was a powerful self-reflective experience. Less so while working on the film, more so now that the film has come out and I’ve understood through the audience’s reaction to it what it means to them and also more what it means to me. When we work on films, we have a special detachment from the audience, and it’s only when they accept that the story is really brought home. And so I think, yes, there was an understanding of Monk’s condition that came from my own experiences. But what I was able to put into the narrative was more balanced than I realized at the time.

Because it is a film about a man and his relationship to love – love for others, love for oneself, love for family. It’s also a meditation on grief and loss and frustration and the potential to emerge from it all. So there is a deep emotional and psychological well within this story. And I appreciate that more every day when I consider that I know this character.

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Monk he is frustrated questions whether his work «Black enough.” It’s also something too did it resonate with you?

Throughout my life I have been confronted with different views of who I am, how I fit into the cultural parameters in which we live, sure. I understand those external pressures and those external perceptions or misperceptions. I try to be who I am regardless of my authentic self, which is Monk’s challenge. I can’t live my life according to other people’s ideas of who I am. None of us can. And as an actor and creative person, one of the primary responsibilities is to discover and express your authentic voice. And that’s what I tried to do. I don’t always choose my work for purely creative reasons. Sometimes there are pragmatic needs that relate to responsibility to the family. But over time I found comfort in my skin and inside my voice.

I hear you say that you think the movie is funny but you don’t think it’s a comedy. What is the difference to you?

I think it is tragedy disguised as comedy, tragedy masquerading as comedy in that satire is a response to tragic idiocy and absurdity that is better responded to with humor than pure anger. And within the film there is an undercurrent of sadness and crisis born of tragic circumstances. So we laugh so we don’t cry, right out of the gate

When I saw Cord Jefferson in giving interviews and promoting the film, did you base your performance of Monk on Cord himself at all?

No. What does Sammy Davis Jr. say? Sometimes it just has to be me. I read the script. I read the novel, parts of it at the beginning and later in the course. But the primary source material was in some ways the book of my own life. And that’s both luck and bad luck.

You are such a prolific actor, it seems you are always working. Last year, with the actors’ strike, it became a time for reflection?

That was time well spent, I must say. I needed some rest. And so it was time for self-reflection, a little decompression and rejuvenation.

Did you come to any new conclusions? what did you study?

Work continues.

#Jeffrey #Wright #Oscar #nomination #American #Fiction

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