NEW YORK — “Boardwalk Empire” star Jeffrey Wright on Wednesday admitted he is finally at peace with his reputation as “the rich man’s Clifton Collins, Jr.”
The versatile Wright, regarded by many of his peers as the finest actor of his generation, admitted at the star-studded final season premiere of the HBO prohibition-era crime drama that acceptance of his status as a man of means’ Clifton Collins, Jr. did not come easy, and even led the 49-year-old Washington, D.C., native down a path of destruction that included drug and alcohol addiction, demons he was only able to overcome after finally embracing his status as the performer moneyed men look to when seeking a slightly more renowned and polished version of Collins, Jr., the veteran character actor perhaps best known for his role as “Perry Smith” in the 2005 Truman Capote biopic “Capote.”
“I’ve known Clifton for many years, and while the connection between he and I is still a mystery to me in many ways, I can see why a fellow with a little more cheddar in his change purse might want to go the extra mile and get himself some Jeffrey Wright instead of CCJ,” said Wright, whose performance as the sinister “Dr. Valentin Narcisse” on “Boardwalk Empire” has drawn critical praise, acclaim that industry insiders suspect would be less enthusiastic had the show’s casting director opted for the more affordable, yet slightly less sophisticated Collins, Jr. instead of the somewhat more refined Wright. “Such is the luxury one can afford when he has some extra bank notes in his billfold, I suppose.”
Upon Wright’s early-2014 acceptance of being considered the affluent gentleman’s equivalent to Clifton Collins, Jr., “Boardwalk” creator Terence Winter noticed an immediate change in the “Hunger Games” actor’s overall demeanor. That abrupt about-face admittedly surprised Winter, who was well aware of Wright’s apparent discomfort at being so widely regarded as the silk-stocking set’s ne plus ultra of middle-aged actors of enigmatic genealogy.
“It’s night and day compared to where he was at this point last year,” said Winter, who admitted he likely would have opted for Collins, Jr. in the role of Narcisse had he only been afforded the budget of basic cable and not the largesse of HBO when casting the critically acclaimed drama. “His ‘come to Jesus’ moment with regard to finally acknowledging he’s the deep pocketed man’s Clifton Collins, Jr. has made him an even better performer who may one day even be forced to surrender his status as the Clifton Collins, Jr. for the crème de la créme.”
If such a day is indeed on the horizon, Wright notes he hopes it arrives later than sooner, as he’s finally comfortable in the skin that so many of the nation’s elite feel is the gold medal to Collins, Jr.’s silver star.
“I hope I get at least a little while longer to enjoy being the man the jet set looks to when it wants a slightly more genteel version of Clifton,” Wright admitted before acknowledging he could not recall a Collins, Jr. performance since the latter unforgettably portrayed a flamboyantly homosexual assassin in the Oscar®-winning 2000 film “Traffic.” “I’m just now getting used to being that guy, and frankly it fits like a glove so far.”
It’s a comfort level Wright admits he didn’t come to of his own volition, but only accepted after a lengthy conversation with fellow actor Taye Diggs, who turned Wright’s tide only after his repeated insistence that life as a middle income man’s Morris Chestnut was not so bad.