Jeffrey Wright on His Early Career and What He Learned from Harrison Ford

Wright enrolled at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts but left after two months. "I learned it the old apprentice way, just working on the stage," he said.

Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright is once again receiving accolades for one of his performances, this time for his role as a frustrated author who pens an unexpectedly successful book that he had intended to be taken as satire. In an interview with Deadline, Wright reflected on his early years an actor and what he learned from one of his first film roles in a movie starring Harrison Ford.

Though Wright began work towards an MFA at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, he didn’t last long in the program and opted to gain experience in live theater. He shares, “I left grad school after two months, but I learned it the old apprentice way, just working on the stage.”

In fact, Wright continued to primarily work in theater while he was building a career in film. He recalls:

“I started in fits and starts because mainly I was doing theater. The first film I ever did, actually, I can’t find any seeming existence of this film. It was some weird historical quasi-documentary about the history of the White House. And I played a freeman who was a carpet painter, and we filmed it in the White House.

“I was just out of school. I was like 21 years old or something like that, because I’d gone back home to Washington, D.C., and I got this little film and it was going to be no speaking role, just this thing. And the next thing I did was a film called Jumpin at the Boneyard, an independent film with Tim Roth and Sam Jackson and the late Alexis Arquette. And Sam, at the time, I remember, had finished Jungle Fever and they were editing it, and there was this buzz around what he had done in that.

Wright’s journey in film continued with a small role in a much bigger film, the legal thriller Presumed Innocent. He continues:

“And then after that, or maybe before around the same time, I did a film called Presumed Innocent. The legendary Alan Pakula directed. Sadly, the late Alan Pakula, with Harrison Ford. “I play a young district attorney. I got the job because on my resume it said that I had a political science degree from Amherst College, which I do. And so I got that gig, and it was two weeks rehearsing and on set. It was a really wonderful introduction to a film set. And working with Harrison and watching him work with Alan Pakula and the level of respect between the two of them and for the process, it was really so informative.

“At one point, Alan Pakula calls out to Harrison. In between takes, he calls out “Harrison” and Harrison answered, “Sir.” And I said, oh, there’s a level of decorum here and there’s a level of respect here that maybe I wasn’t quite aware of, that this wasn’t just fun and games, and this wasn’t bad boys acting out and all of that stuff. But it was something maybe even a bit more honorable about this stuff and it was cool. And again, this was the biggest movie star in the world at that time, and it was informative.

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