Jeffrey Wright
Actor, Entrepreneur
01:45

Core Skill: How Entrepreneurship Is Like Acting

Core Skill: How Entrepreneurship Is Like Acting

Entrepreneurship, like theater, requires a suspension of disbelief, says Hollywood star Jeffrey Wright. Here he explains how his training on the stage prepared him to found a mineral company and non-profit in Sierra Leone.

Jeffrey Wright

 

Jeffrey Wright is an actor best known for his roles in Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America” and Julian Schanbel’s film “Basquiat.” Born in Washington D.C., Wright attended Amherst College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in political science. Afterwards he changed course, moving to New York to pursue acting rather than law school. His first big break came in 1994 with his Tony-winning portrayal of the gay nurse Norman “Belize” Arriaga in the Pulizer Prize-winning “Angels in America.” In 1996 he had another breakout performance on the big screen, portraying the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat in Julian Schnabel’s biopic.

Wright has gone on to perform in such movies as Woody Allen’s “Celebrity,” Ang Lee’s “Ride With the Devil,” Stephen Gaghan’s “Syriana,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers,” Oliver Stone’s biopic “W.,” “Boycott” in which he gave an award-winning performance as Martin Luther King, Jr., and both James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig.

In 2007, Wright co-founded the non-profit organization Taia Peace Foundation, whose mission is “to assist rural African communities in overcoming the so-called ‘resource curse.’”

 

Transcript

Jeffrey Wright: Business is storytelling.  Theater plays a very significant role for me because the idea in theater is that we’re going to refashion reality, okay?  Everybody is going to buy into this idea, suspend disbelief.  Here we are in New Orleans at the beginning of the 19th century.  Everybody got it, everybody believe?  Okay, this is our story.  These are the ideas that we want to press forward.  These are the emotions that you’re going to feel, and everybody buys into it.  So the sneaky idea I think about that theater delivers is that okay we can reshape this reality and perhaps when you go outside the theater it’s possible for you to reshape that reality too.  

This is very much central to what we’re trying to do within the context of Sierra Leone, say that look forget everything you’ve heard about neglect of local communities, forget all of that.  We’re going to do this thing in a new way.  We’re going to press forward in a new way.  It’s going to happen, but it’s not going to happen unilaterally.  It’s going to happen through a partnership and that’s really what we focus on with the communities where they have to come to the table and meet us there as equals.  What we’re trying to do is write stories, create a vision, a developmental vision, act on it as an organization.  We really are the company--the theater company--and the characters within this story are real life.

So you have to instill a sense of faith, really, in those things unknown, that the vision will be realized.  Suspension of disbelief is critical to pressing forward and realizing a new reality whether it be in the theater or whether it be in business. 

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

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