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The Wright choice for Powell in 'W'
Actor plays lone, good American public servants
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic

Wright plays Colin Powell in Oliver Stone's "W.," here telling Congress about the dangers of biological warfare.

 

In the upcoming "Quantum of Solace," Jeffrey Wright joins an elite group of actors who've played Felix Leiter, James Bond's CIA counterpart.

 

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Published: 10/21/2008 12:04 AM

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If he doesn't watch it, actor Jeffrey Wright could become typecast as Hollywood's resident good guy.

In two movies, Oliver Stone's current political biopic "W." and Marc Forster's upcoming 007 thriller "Quantum of Solace," the 42-year-old Washington, D.C., native plays a lone, selfless American public servant.

In "Quantum," Wright stars as CIA agent Felix Leiter, James Bond's trusted ally.

In "W.," he plays General Colin Powell, who comes off as an honorable soldier hung out to dry by the Bush administration.

"I think there are similarities between Powell and Leiter," Wright said, speaking in a room at Chicago's new Trump International Hotel and Towers. "Both characters have used their training, intelligence and instincts to move in certain directions, and their best instincts are being challenged by the institutions above them.

"The outcome for Powell, we already unfortunately know. As for Leiter, you'll have to pay for a ticket to find out."

Wright never met Powell, but read everything about him he could. Plus, the actor knew some military officers who supplied him with insights into the mind and feelings of a man like the general.

"There's very much a tragic arc to his story," Wright said. "Yes, he was complicit in it (selling the Iraq war to America without confirmed evidence to justify it). It was reckless and irresponsible beyond belief."

How did Wright approach playing Powell?

"There was a tendency not to be too intimidating to Bush, not to overwhelm him. There was a sense that his confidence would crumble. And that's a delicate balance."

Several years ago, Wright's agent sent him a script to the 007 movie "Casino Royale" and told him he was up for the part of some CIA guy.

"Some CIA guy? This is Felix Leiter, man!" Wright was ecstatic. "Jack Lord sprung to mind when I saw Felix Leiter."

In 1962, Jack Lord, star of the long-running crime series "Hawaii Five-O," became the first movie actor to play Leiter in "Dr. No."

Since then, David Hedison, Bernie Casey and a host of lesser-known actors have played 007's pal. Although Hedison played the character twice, no single actor has become identified with the role.

"I don't know what I bring to the role that others haven't already," Wright said in a moment of introspection. "I just tried to slot myself into the Bond cosmology, and, at the same time, with the kind of grounded reality we were shooting for."

Wright wears a Barack Obama button on his lapel. He supports the Illinois senator for president.

"Here's a guy who had all the doors open for him, any Wall Street firm he wanted," Wright said. "Instead, he decided to use what he had in service of folks who feel disenfranchised. I think he represents a broadness of vision that's been lacking in the last eight years."