Jeffrey Wright: No Stranger to HBO

By Jef Dinsmore on Sep 18, 2013 to Boardwalk Empire

BE_WrightRight now on BOARDWALK EMPIRE we are enjoying the awesome performance of Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Valentin Narcisse and he will only become more awesome as the season continues. He is downright dangerous, but his strong performance should really be no surprise to anyone, especially those who have seen him on HBO before. First here is a nice mini-bio courtesy on the IMDb. –  

Quite possibly the most underrated and underexposed actor of his caliber and generation, Jeffrey Wright’s undeniable talent and ability to successfully bring to life any role he undertakes is on a par with the most praised and revered A-list actors in the business. Born and raised in Washington DC, Wright graduated from the prestigious Amherst College in 1987. Although he studied Political Science while at Amherst, Wright left the school with something that would prove to be more valuable: a love for acting. Shortly after graduating he won an acting scholarship to NYU, but dropped out after only two months to pursue acting full time. With roles in 1990’s Presumed Innocent, and the Broadway production of Angels in America, (in which he won a well deserved Tony award), within a relatively short time Wright was able to show off his exceptional talent and ability on both stage and screen alike. His first major on-screen performance came in 1996 in the Julian Schnabel directed film Basquiat. Wright’s harrowing performance as the late painter Jean Michele Basquiat was critically acclaimed for its haunting accuracy and raw emotion. With a Tony, a Golden Globe, and an AFI award under his belt, the intensity of Wright’s skill has been proven over and over again.

BoycottHis first appearance on HBO was as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the HBO Film: BOYCOTT. The film, from 2001, tells the story of a climactic moment at the start of the Civil Right Movement. The DVD cover states –

 One woman (Rosa Parks) refuses to give up her seat in a “whites only” section of a public bus. The bus stops. The city stops. The world stops on December 01, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama. It is a time when resentment gives birth to rebellion; when a gesture has the power to bring about change. This single act by Rosa Parks inspires an uprising that will make history, and make a leader of Martin Luther King, Jr. BOYCOTT is the explosive telling of this story.

Jeffrey Wright finds and delivers all the charisma and power behind the young Mr. King yet still shows his humble qualities. You can purchase BOYCOTT here if you are interested.  

Next came HBO Films: LACKAWANNA BLUES in 2005. He was just a small role in an ensemble cast, but once again, he stood out.  This clip I am about to show sets up the feel of the entire movie but also captures the raw essence of Jeffrey Wright; he doesn’t even have to say to damn much and he owns your attention. Check out his performance as Mr. Paul.


The HBO Film is based on the award winning play by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

This poignant and colorful drama tells the inspirational story of a courageous woman, Nanny, whose spirit and strength served as the foundation for a struggling community trying to survive during the segregation era. Starring an exceptional ensemble cast led by Jimmy Smits, Rosie Perez, and Macy Gray, this inspiring drama from HBO Films is a celebration of the good things in life, no matter how tough times may be.

By far his best performance anywhere, at least for me, is his three roles he created onstage and again in the HBO film  ANGELS IN AMERICA. He plays the roles of Belize, Mr. Lies and a homeless man. If you have not seen this movie than what are you waiting for! Though its subject matter, the AIDS crisis in the mid-eighties, may not sound like a great topic what is expressed in this movie is truly amazing and so is Wright’s performance. There are a number of clips from the work I could share and it is difficult to single out one of them to showcase the actor being praised here, but I offer the following even though they are all good. Plus, extolling the praises for ANGELS IN AMERICA can wait for another day.

Such powerful words and all the scenes in this movie have just as impactful a delivery as this one scene does. Mr. Wright plays each word out perfectly.  

Now, in conclusion and to just be through,  let me just throw in here that Jeffrey Wright has done some voice work for HBO as well. He has narrated for HBO Family segments of A CHILD’S GUIDE TO POETRY and CLASSICAL BABY. He can employ a soft and gentle voice. Well, I hope, as you enjoy Jeffrey Wright’s role in BOARDWALK EMPIRE, that you find time to explore his filmography of works from HBO and elsewhere. He is truly an incredible actor. If you have seen the works cited here how about dropping a comment to prove I am not his only fan.  



  • Jonas

    I hope his new role in Westwood is even bigger than the one in BE

  • So I read this before Boardwalk S4. This guy is AWESOME. Supporting Actor Nominee for sure.

  • Jeff

    It’s just unfortunate that such a talented actor has yet too receive the acclaim he so deserves, whilst the average is praised in Hollywood

  • This is great Jef, I’d remembered him form Angels in America, but wasn’t aware of the rest. He’s going to be incredible on Boardwalk, he’s already made a huge impression on the viewers with just a small amount of screentime!

  • Pblakeney

    You are not alone in your like and appreciation of Jeffrey Wright’s work. He can also be seen in the new Bond movies.

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