Jazmine Joyner spoke with Emmy Award winning actor Jeffrey Wright about the daunting experiences of filming O.G. and Westworld.
The Tribeca Film Festival is going on this week, and I had a chance to talk to Jeffrey Wright about his latest role in his upcoming film O.G. and the forthcoming second season of HBO’s Westworld. Directed by Madeleine Sackler, O.G. is about a man named Louis (played by Wright) trying to serve the last days of his prison sentence before being released back into the world. What makes O.G. a unique film is that it is not only shot in an active prison but real-life inmates play most of the roles. When asked about the experience of shooting in a busy prison Wright replied, “It was seriously educational. It was challenging in ways that I hadn’t been challenged before on a project.”
O.G. had its fair share of obstacles while filming. From getting permission from Pendleton Correctional Facility to shoot on the premises, to recasting because the inmates in the film lost their filming privileges due to bad behavior. Wright delves more into his experience at the prison, “In some ways regardless of the outcome of the film just the process of working on it was meaningful. […] The men that we worked with were incarcerated, and most of the actors or most of the roles of incarcerated men in the film were played by men on the inside.”
“So the process of making this film involved this unusual, unlikely partnership of people coming together. On the inside of a prison largely focused on men who are the discarded of society, men who have committed serious crimes, men who have done great harm, and men from whom little has ever been expected, and certainly now even less might be expected. And despite all that, we were able to come together and do something constructive, creative, and positive.”
Jeffrey Wright’s work on this project was a daunting task that not many actors would have been able to handle: six weeks for 13 hours a day, he and the crew were in Pendleton working and filming, all the while the prison operated around their shoot. Wright said he never underestimated the privilege he had at the end of the day to be able to leave that correctional facility. O.G. is a tough film that focuses on the reality of prison life and the world of the inmates that live there. It is not a film that glorifies being locked up or paints a sympathizing picture of the inmates housed there. It is a story that takes a hard look at these men who committed real and at times violent crimes and tells a story.
When talking to Wright, you notice how thoughtful he is in his word choice, how he takes time to configure his thoughts and eloquently state his opinions. Many times during our 30-minute chat I reflected on his iconic career, from his work in the 1996 film Basquiat, to his work in the 2003 HBO mini-series Angels in America, to his iconic voice and incredible talent stealing every scene that he is in. The same is right about his role as Bernard/Arnold in Westworld. The popular HBO show about a western theme park, populated by “hosts,” synthetic beings who host parkgoers on adventures, romantic encounters, and exciting hunts. However, soon the engineers of the park begin to see that the hosts are gaining autonomy, which leads to a violent snowballing of events that end in blood. If you have not seen Season One, you are definitely missing out.
Wright’s performance as Bernard is heartbreaking, thrilling, and leaves you at the edge of your seat. I asked Jeffrey about his role in Westworld and what was next for his character after the explosive Season One finale. “Bernard is kind of evolving and devolving at the same time as we go into Season Two. He is at the beginning of an awakening; he’s free in a way that he hasn’t been prior. And he is coming into his own, but at the same time, he’s challenged by some debilitation of his machine. Because remember, at the end of Season One he shot himself in the head, and he is dealing with the effects of that, as one might expect. Even a synthetic brain is not invulnerable to a bullet hole. So he is dealing with those challenges. Chaos has been unleashed, and he finds himself in the mix of all that. Trying to ask himself, in new ways, ‘Who am I? And where am I?’ But at the same time asking himself those questions because he’s facing these health issues, shall we say.”
It sounds like Bernard this season will be in the throes of an existential crisis. When I asked Wright about his process of playing both Bernard and Arnold and whether he took a different approach to both characters, he was tight-lipped on that subject. Leaving me, a self-proclaimed Westworld conspiracy theorist, to wonder what about that question contained spoilers for the upcoming season. Well, I guess we’ll just have to tune in to Westworld Season Two to see what Wright’s character Bernard has in store for us.
Whether it be film or television Jeffrey Wright has been entertaining audiences for decades. His work in the upcoming films O.G. and soon to be on Netflix thriller Hold the Dark are both a testament to his talent and the variety of roles he takes on. 2018 is a year to watch Jeffrey Wright work his magic on the screen. So be sure to check out the Season Two premiere of Westworld this Sunday, April 22, and look out for O.G. and Netflix’s June release of Hold the Dark.
Jazmine Joyner is a Southern California based writer, whose work has appeared in /Film, Women Write About Comics, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and Ms En Scene. You can follow her great cinematic adventure on Twitter @Jazmine_Joyner.