Jeffrey Wright, 55, Brooklyn, NY
Award-winning actor and activist
1. When COVID-19 hit, you sprang into action where you live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, to help frontline workers. Tell us about it.
Two restaurant-owner friends and I launched an initiative called Brooklyn for Life, that, with the help of others, raised about $1.5 million to deliver more than 170,000 meals to hospitals and FDNY EMS stations. The meals were provided by 50 mom-and-pop eateries, some of which may have closed had it not been for the support.
2. Given that we’re in the midst of a second wave, what’s the plan?
Right now, we mainly support One Community in Fort Greene, which delivers food to families and seniors in public housing, but we’re keeping an eye on the larger situation in case we need to spring into action again.
3. How has activism informed your art?
It has made me more aware of the privilege we have as actors to tell people’s stories and in some instances, help them tell their own.
4. Other than the HBO miniseries Angels in America, what is the most fulfilling project you’ve ever done?
The staged reading of We Are Not Done Yet, which I later produced as a documentary for HBO, was one of the most powerful nights I’ve ever had in theater. It’s about a group of military veterans who use creative writing to process personal trauma from their time in service. I was brought in to direct the vets in a theatrical presentation of poems they’d written about their experiences to help facilitate healing. I keep in touch with many of those vets today.
5. From a mental health standpoint, what was the biggest takeaway for you?
The universality of trauma and PTSD. You realize that certain outcomes in society are being driven by injuries that individuals and groups have historically faced, that go unaddressed and unresolved. If we look at our country on a whole, we can see that running through it is a deep vein of unresolved trauma that point to some of the [social justice] issues bubbling up today.
6. What makes you feel the most alive?
Surfing has changed my life and really, in some ways, saved it. I got into it about 6 years ago when I was filming Westworld in LA. Similar to my philanthropic work, it has been a way for me to navigate anxiety and uncertainty during the pandemic. It’s just the most cleansing, on a molecular level, thing I’ve ever done.
7. How do you stay fit when you can’t get to the ocean?
Cycling. It allows me to get my adrenaline up without putting too much pressure on old injuries.
8. What’s it been like filming in the middle of a pandemic?
We’ve been in a pretty reasonably enclosed bubble filming Batman over here. I get tested regularly, at least, two to three times a week and everyone on set is fully masked. And we wash our hands ad nauseam. We do what we’ve got to do to keep matriculating the ball down the field.
9. What is your happy place?
Spending time with my kids in nature. That to me, is peace.
10 . What movies can we expect to see you in when we can get back safely into theaters?
Batman, which I’m currently filming in the U.K. It is going to be pretty dope as the kids say. We’re having a really good time. There’s a dynamic script and we’re doing some interesting things. Also, the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, The French Dispatch, and a new Netflix film called Monster. As usual, there is a lot to look forward to.
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