With his rippling voice and air of no-holds barred intelligence, Jeffrey Wright (“Source Code,” “The Manchurian Candidate”) plays Senator Thompson in George Clooney’s political thriller “The Ides of March.” Thompson has a few scenes — and only a few lines of dialogue — and it’s a tribute to Wright that he’s able to fill a seemingly small part with such verve and vigor. We spoke with Wright in Toronto about politics, working with Hollywood’s best-looking director and his take on 2012.
Aside from the fact that your director is better looking that usual, what’s it like working with Mr. Clooney? Obviously he’s got insight in acting, but are his technical chops there as a director?
Wright: Not yet, but I’m hoping.
No, but seriously.
Wright: I was serious. No, George — it was a fantastic experience. I never worked with him as a director. We were in ‘Syriana’ in separate tracks. He brings such a clarity and a calm to a movie set. That’s all you can hope for your director and a clear command of the vision. We as individual actors know our little component, but the director really has a clear command of the overall. They don’t always have that. George cowrote the piece, was acting and directing at the same time, and doing it with such ease that it was really mindblowing. He’s a wonderful director to work with.
I think it’s a line from Hillary Clinton that politicians campaign in poetry, but they govern in prose, and there’s a difference between speeches and actions. Your character, you have that incredibly blunt speech, and then you get to do this high-flying bit of language about the public nomination. Is it fun to play that contrast between the public and the private?
Wright: Absolutely. That was very much what I was trying to contrast. I think he’s the commentary on these guys: How genuine are you? Do you talk the talk and walk the walk? What I think happens too often — not always — is that these guys are willing to sacrifice the common interest, or the interest of the larger constituency, in terms of the interest of their own egos. My way of commenting on that was playing this contrast of the public and private persona.
It’s the fall of 2011 and all we’re getting is a lot of throat-clearing on the 2012 elections. Regardless of party, what could any politician say to win your vote and support in 2012?
Wright: I just want somebody who’s genuine. I think our current president is that. I think he’s well-intentioned; I think he’s thoughtful. I think there’s serious challenges the country’s facing. Obviously, we have to battle some of these economic issues, get some job growth out there. Bill Clinton said it best, if that’s right: It’s the economy, stupid. I usually look for someone who’s genuine, who’s not trying to pull the wool over my eyes and pander to the lowest common denominator, who’s trying to lead us to a better place.