“In some ways, I find myself in times of crisis and danger responding like my mother,” says Jeffrey Wright. “In a crisis, she is calm, clear and thoughtful, and that is what my character is like.”
The latest addition to the cast of the sequel, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Wright is talking about his character Beetee, an intellect known for his electronics expertise and extraordinary calm demeanor.
“From the very first time you see him, he is looking for the flaw in the system. What’s driving him is his mistrust against the very idea of the games and he is going to figure out a way out of his situation,” Wright continues. “He is calmly crafting a way out from the start, using his best ideas and technological knowledge. There is always a flaw and he is attuned to that.”
The Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe award-winner joins an impressive list of newcomers that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer and Sam Claflin in this sequel which follows on the heels of 2012’s blockbuster cinematic success, “The Hunger Games,” a movie which grossed close to $700 million worldwide.
Based on a novel by Suzanne Collins, the first film starred Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz. A sci-fi adventure, it introduced audiences to the intriguing dystopian culture of Panem, where every year, twelve oppressed districts send a teenage boy and girl to compete in a contest of sheer survival. Trained and turned into media stars, they are then set loose in a controlled wilderness, where they must survive hunger and one another until only one of them is left alive. The survivor will bring home to his district both glory and food, and everyone, rich and poor, watches the events on television.
“When I was called by Francis to be a part of this, I realized this was something very special,” says Wright, who admits he hadn’t previously been caught up in ‘The Hunger Games’ phenomenon when his phone rang with an offer for the role – but that quickly changed. “As soon as I discovered how rich this material was, how complicated and relevant it was, I got really excited,” he recalls. “There had already been this extraordinary work done by many of the folks in the first movie, so I had an opportunity to piggy back on their efforts. The pressure for me is that I don’t step in to this extraordinary piece and detract from it. You don’t want to be the mosquito at the party.”
Jeffrey Wright (left), Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, Meta Golding and Bruno Gunn
This sequel directed by Francis Lawrence takes the film sparked by Collins’ best-selling books into a new chapter. Academy-Award winner Jennifer Lawrence who brought to life the story’s reluctant 16 year-old heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is forced to enter another Hunger Game. It’s a very special Quarter Quell anniversary edition, one that will force past winners of the games back into the arena.
For Wright, who is best known for his compelling character Peoples Hernandez in the remake of the movie “Shaft,” the role offered an opportunity to tap into a younger demographic.
“My kids have been asking me for some time why I never do anything they can watch,” shares the father of two who is married to Carmen Ejogo (“Sparkle”), a Scottish-Nigerian actress who he met on the set of the movie ‘Boycott’. “My movies have been largely for a mature audience as I don’t really get that many scripts coming to me for a younger audience.”
Wright was especially intrigued by the idea of all these former warriors coming back together into the arena.
“What’s interesting about the way that Suzanne Collins has drawn these characters and the way we’re attempting to portray them is that they’re all, to some extent, damaged warriors. It starts to become a real examination of the price that warriors pay for what they do and although I have done movies largely for a mature audiences, this is still similar to many of my movies. It’s still social commentary, and is storytelling in an intelligent way,” continues the actor who played Felix Leiter, the American CIA agent in the James Bond films ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Quantum of Solace.’ “I like to be a part of movies that don’t underestimate the complexity of who all of us are — particularly folks of color. I have never been attracted to doing work that was purely escapist and this movie has all of the escapist elements within it, but it marries that sense of escapism with a sense of piercing relevance. That is a really rare combination.”
‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,’ releases in theaters November 22.
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