Jeffrey Wright Q&A: ‘Boardwalk Empire’
In our recent webcam chat, Emmy-winning actor Jeffrey Wright ("Angels in America") admitted to some trepidation about joining "Boardwalk Empire" in its fourth season: "It was somewhat intimidating because these actors were kicking serious butt over in that series."
As he went on to explain, "the writing was extraordinary, the production design was beautifully filmed. So if you step into a situation like that, you don’t want to detract from that. You want to try and bring something to it and contribute. So I was a little concerned about that."
Regarding his character, the philanthropist Dr. Valentin Narcisse, the actor elaborated: "I think he certainly is villainous, but in his mind he’s anything but. I tried to play with that idea a little bit. I guess initially it might be interesting if I can shape a character who the more polite he is behaved, the more gentle he seemed, the more villainous or dangerous he actually was." Series creator Terence Winter and head writer Howard Korder told him, "his chief weapons (should be) his mind and his language. I liked the opportunity to give something of a fresh spin on the villain."
On meshing his character’s theatricality and calmness, Wright revealed, "his performance is very much a way of disarming his opponent. The idea was it would be more of a slow burn and that he’d insinuate himself and infiltrate that was strategic and considered and not volatile to the point where he’d necessarily get taken out."
As for the future of his character, "He did suffer something of a spiritual gutting. He’s a shell of what he was at the beginning, and in many ways he becomes everything that he despises. He looks down on Chalky as a servant pretending to be king, and he becomes a servant to one of the foulest criminals of the whole game."