Cinema’s classiest actor on being wooed by Wes Anderson for The French Dispatch, playing Bond’s CIA buddy Felix and why he’s fighting for thinkers in an age of vulgarity
With his soulful gravitas, rich vocal tones and understated cool, Jeffrey Wright is one of those actors who brings dramatic heft to anything in which he appears. Which, these days, is an awful lot. He broke through on the New York stage, winning a Tony award for 1994’s Angels in America, then on screen with his portrayal of Jean-Michel Basquiat in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 biopic, and he has not stopped since. As well as voicing Marvel’s animated series What If…? he will be seen in the coming months as James Bond’s CIA buddy Felix Leiter in No Time to Die; in a new series of Westworld, and as James Gordon to Robert Pattinson’s Batman. Meanwhile, Wright has joined the Wes Anderson Extended Universe with The French Dispatch, a characteristically intricate hymn to New Yorker-style journalism. As we speak, Wright is in Spain working on Anderson’s next movie. “I feel I’m part of the travelling troupe now,” he says over Zoom, at the end of a day’s shooting
So how did you join Anderson’s troupe? I’m imagining an embossed invitation slipped under your hotel room door …
I got a call in the normal way from my agent. I hadn’t met Wes before, but he had seen most of the plays that I’ve done in New York city and I had no idea. He invited me to [renowned Parisian cafe] Le Select, and we had a nice lunch and maybe a bit of wine, and he described to me the film and this character, Roebuck Wright, which he had written with me in mind. He described the character as this kind of Frankensteinian mixture of nonfictional figures. He mentioned James Baldwin. He mentioned AJ Liebling, who was a food critic for the New Yorker. He mentioned a little bit of Tennessee Williams. It was fitting that we were at Le Select because that was one of Baldwin’s haunts.