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Jeffrey Wright: Professional Politician?

The Ides of March star discusses acting while black and his affinity for political roles.

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From playing the painter Basquiat to Martin Luther King Jr. in Boycott to a lawyer in Syriana, plus roles as Secretary of State Colin Powell in W. and Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records -- not to mention the demanding title role in John Guare's play A Free Man of Color at Lincoln Center Theater -- Jeffrey Wright is enjoying one of the most successful careers in film and theater of any other actor today, black or white.

In the just released powerful political thriller The Ides of March, he aces the role of a senator from North Carolina who holds the outcome of a political race in his hands. At Christmastime, we'll see him change up in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to play a Sept. 11 survivor who befriends a boy whose father died in the World Trade Center attacks. It also stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.

The Root: Why do you take so many political roles?

Jeffrey Wright: Some musicians play blues, others classical jazz or bluegrass. I like to play political roles because I can merge my political interests with my creative interests. I was spoiled by being in Angels in America -- with thinking you could be an actor and also be relevant. Also, I grew up in Washington, D.C., and studied political science in college.

TR: How do you think President Obama is doing?

JW: With his election, he brought more people into our political process and allowed more people to identify themselves as Americans as never before. He's a clear and deep thinker, and a pragmatist. He can lead in crises. But the backlash from left and right has been very disappointing. I still have faith in him.  

TR: Is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close political?

JW: In part, because it deals with emotions and ideas about the events of 9/11. But it affected my head and heart because it explores the relationship of a father and son; it's an examination of the consequences of lost parental love.

JW: I work so they can enjoy the luxury of freedom -- personal, psychological, physical and political -- which is not something that can be taken for granted by kids of color.

TR: How has being black influenced your career?