Best Jeffrey Wright Performances, From The Batman to Westworld

For nearly three decades, Jeffrey Wright has been one of the most exciting, versatile actors in film and television. Any project automatically becomes more interesting when Wright is involved, whether it’s Netflix’s animated favorite bojack horsemanwhere the actor enjoyed a small part as the smooth-talking hamster screenwriter Cuddlywhiskers, or wes anderson‘s upcoming star-studded Asteroid City. To put it in plainer terms: if we find out that Jeffrey Wright is in something, we’re going to watch it, period, end of story, and no doubt the finished product will be greater as a direct result of his involvement of him .

Wright has done no shortage of dazzling screen work over the years, so we apologize in advance if your personal favorite Jeffrey Wright turned didn’t crack this list of 11 favorite performances given by Mr. Wright. That said, the fact that we had to narrow it down to eleven examples really speaks to what an eclectic and impressive filmography the guy has managed to build over the years. Not mentioned here, for example, but also impressive are Wright’s exquisitely mannered work as the erudite, numbers-running mobster Valentin Narcisse in Boardwalk Empire, his selfless contributions to the Hunger Games franchise, or his deliciously poker-faced work in the deeply underrated ensemble comedy, game night.

That said, here are 11 of his most affecting performances.

Jean-Michel Basquiat in Basquiat (nineteen ninety six)

Wright was still more or less an unknown when he dared to embody neo-expressionist New York City art legend Jean Michel Basquiat in Julian Schnabel’s headline 1996 biopic. Schnabel, a fixture of the American art scene in the 1980s, is a storyteller uniquely qualified to tackle this material. Indeed, Wright magnificently captures the great, troubled artist’s ferocious sensitivity; even this early in his career, the guy’s uncommonly expressive acting style seemed like a creative language unto itself.


Peoples Hernandez in shaft (2000)

Hopefully, and for several reasons, Wright would not be anyone’s first choice to play a Latin-American drug dealer in a shaft remake if it were to be made today; one would hope we’re beyond such retrograde, stereotype-ridden characterizations in 2022. Alas, there is no denying that Wright plays the hell out of this part, lending Shaft’s sniveling baddie a shot of world-weary soul. Wright really does give all of himself to John Singleton’s flashy remake of the 1971 Blaxploitation classic, particularly when squaring off with co-stars Samuel L Jackson and Christian bale.

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Al Melvin in The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Next on our list is another remake of a beloved Hollywood classic. Wright, admittedly, doesn’t enjoy a whole lot in the way of screen time in Jonathan Demme’s gripping And Prescient Take On The 1962 Conspiracy Thriller Classic, The Manchurian Candidate. Still, in his handful of rattling scenes, Wright shakes the viewer to their core, depicting a broken man in the throes of PTSD who knows that unearthing the truth will not only cost him his freedom, but also his sanity.

Winston in Broken Flowers (2005)

Wright acquits himself marvelously to the mellow wavelength of Jim Jarmuschand he gleefully steals almost all his scenes in the indie icon’s laid-back romantic character study, Broken Flowers. As pot-smoking amateur sleuth and stand-up family man Winston, Wright proves to be a stellar foil for co-star Bill Murray; it’s not surprising in the slightest that Wright chose to work with Jarmusch again in 2013’s cooler-than-cool vampire vibe movie, Only Lovers Left Alive.

Colin Powell in w. (2008)

In Oliver Stone’s uneven, fitfully compelling biopic of former US President George W. Bush, Wright manages to achieve the impossible: he somehow lends human dimension to an individual, Colin Powell, who was complicit in war crimes and other political atrocities, without ever managing to humanize the man in a way that feels opportunistic. In a film filled with varying performance styles—some heightened, others decidedly not—the grounded gravitas of Wright’s turn remains a quiet marvel.

Muddy Waters in CadillacRecords (2008)

To his credit, Darnell Martin’s rock n’ roll time capsule CadillacRecords manages to neatly sidestep most of the narrative blunders typically committed by these sorts of movies. A lot of that can be attributed to Wright’s earthy, deeply human performance of him as blues legend Muddy Waters. The movie hardly skirts over Waters’ personal shortcomings, but both Wright (who does exemplary work alongside Adrian Brody and Beyonceboth of whom are also terrific) and his director make sure we always see the heart beneath the bravado.

Bernard Lowe in Westworld (2016-)

HBO’s smash hit Westworld is a show that has been known to occasionally confuse dread with portent, but we’ll say this for Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s wildly ambitious sci-fi series: Wright always worked overtime to ground this very busy show in something undeniably human. Westworld is defined, in part, by its abundance of moving story pieces, but as egghead programmer Bernard Lowe, Wright gives a gorgeously lived-in performance that cuts through the show’s bloodless, well-oiled machinery.

Russell Core in Hold The Dark (2018)

Wright speaks in a feral, rumbling growl in pretty much every scene of the blunt-force survival thriller Hold The Darkwritten by macon blair (the upcoming Toxic Avenger re-imagining) and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruins, Green Room). A tale of bloodshed and righteous retribution set amidst the godforsaken wilderness of rural Alaska, Hold The Dark is a film possessed by a gnarly and malevolent kind of power, and the whole thing simply wouldn’t work if Wright didn’t ground every second he’s on-screen in an urgent emotional truth.

Roebuck Wright in The French Dispatch (2021)

there is a lot going on in “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” the zany, action-packed final chapter of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. And yet, this climactic installation in the film’s omnibus structure is also deeply rueful and sad, a great deal of which can be credited to Wright’s innate understanding and mastery of Anderson’s wry, heightened cinematic reality. After all, it can’t just be a coincidence that Wright earns the single best line in the entire movie (“Maybe, with good luck, we’ll find what eluded us in the places we once called home”).

Felix Leiter in No Time To Die (2021)

The Bond films have always served as showcases for spectacular stunts and set pieces, rather than for individual performances. None, great actors (Javier Bardem is just one example) always know how to make an impression in a 007 adventure, even in a supporting capacity. Wright remains a high point of all the Bond flicks he’s featured in to date, but his naturalistic warmth is especially appreciated in No Time To Diewhere manager Cary Joji Fukunaga allows the actor to lean into the full spectrum of his considerable gifts.

Jim Gordon in batman (2022)

Whether it’s his generally nonplussed demeanor or his casual insistence on calling Robert Pattinson’s caped crusader “man,” there is something refreshingly human about Wright and director Matt Reeves’ take on Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon in batmancurrently streaming on HBOMax. Whereas past iterations of the character have flirted with turgidity, Wright makes this Jim Gordon a guy you’d want to sit and enjoy a beer with. In the process, the actor provides a welcome undercurrent of levity in a superhero opus that isn’t exactly jam-packed with jokes.


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