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Jeffrey Wright Admits He Once Slept Through His ‘Angels In America’ Entrance



When you have the SAG Award nominated ensemble of “American Fiction” – John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Tracee Ellis Ross and Jeffrey Wright (also individually nominated in male lead and Oscar nominated for the film) you have to ask them where it all began. In discussing their first jobs for the union, Ross revealed that, like many actors, she started with a commercial – this one for Infiniti cars.

But her co-stars soon revealed surprisingly momentous stories for their first SAG-AFTRA jobs. Wright noted his onscreen debut was opposite Burt Lancaster and Sidney Poitier in the 1991 miniseries “Separate but Equal” about the Brown v. Board of Education court case. “My first single was opposite Sidney Poitier,” Wright revealed. Alexander started in a 1986 film called “My Little Girl” that starred Mary Stuart Masterson, Geraldine Page and – in her film debut – Jennifer Lopez. And Ortiz

Ross joked, “My Infiniti commercial is getting smaller and smaller…”

Then Ortiz discussed going in to see casting director Bonnie Timmerman on an unnamed project. “I had never been in a movie or TV show,” he recalled. “It was just a cold audition.” At the end, Timmerman told Ortiz she was going to try and bring him back to meet with director Brian DePalma. He ended up booking the part in 1993’s “Carlito’s Way,” making his film debut opposite Al Pacino and Sean Penn.

“God, I gotta get a better story,” Ross joked. “By the time you see me in a panel in 10 years, this story’s going to be totally different.”

Though he just earned his first Oscar nomination for “American Fiction,” Wright is an Emmy and Tony Award winner. He won the latter for the 1994 production of the second part of Tony Kushner’s classic play “Angels in America: Perestroika.” (He then won the Emmy Award for the 2004 TV adaptation of both plays.) But the theater veteran recalled one performance at a matinee of the show where he accidentally overslept. Being a two-show day of a three-and-a-half-hour production, Wright was taking a nap between shows.

“The alarm clock went off and I hit snooze,” he revealed. His co-star waited on stage, sitting alone in a hospital room set. “And I came out a minute, a minute and a half late and do the scene.”

After the show, Wright said he was in tears. “Then I overheard someone say, ‘You know, the most touching part of that whole show was when he’s waiting there on stage in the hospital bed all by himself for so long. And then finally, his friend shows up.’”

Noted Wright, “We’re too hard on ourselves sometimes. It’s sometimes in the stuff the imperfect is what is exactly what is asked for. But apparently it worked for someone that afternoon.”


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