Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actor Jeffrey Wright was this season’s final guest in the Ringling College Digital Filmmaking Studio Lab series this week, touring the campus, teaching a student master class and sharing anecdotes about his career with RCAD donors and sponsors at an evening get-together.
Ringling’s digital filmmaking program, which started with a dozen or so students, now has more than 100. It’s under the direction of noted screenwriter and director Brad Battersby, who introduced Wright last evening by calling him “an actor’s actor; a chameleon who disappears into every one of his roles.”
Wright called his role as the all-seeing nurse Belize in Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the AIDS epidemic, “the most stunning moment of my career, never to be surpassed. There would be people with AIDS in wheelchairs in the aisles night after night; validating their story was a real gift. After Angels in America, it was all downhill.” Wright reprised the role 10 years later in the HBO mini-series directed by Mike Nichols opposite Al Pacino, who played the duplicitous attorney, dying of AIDS, Roy Cohn. He likened working with Pacino to “working with a great tennis player. They bring it, you bring it back.”
But it was Wright’s role as Valentin Narcisse in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire that drew the most audience interest. When one woman told him that his character was so evil that she had to stop watching the series, he laughed. “I jumped at the chance to play a charlatan. I wanted to make a despicable character,” he told her. Several audience members spontaneously shouted back, “You did!”