The Root Interview: Jeffrey Wright, Mos Def on 'Free Man of Color'
The two actors began their onstage partnership in 2002 with 'Topdog/Underdog,' and now they're back in 'A Free Man of Color.' The dynamic duo spoke to The Root about what it's like to work together again.
TR: What do you like about George Wolfe's direction?
MD: He sees inside of you and finds out what you're capable of. He's very interested in people in a spiritual way. Even when you don't trust yourself, he trusts you, and that helps you develop. There's a kind of alchemy with him. In fact, there's a kind of alchemy among the three of us now, and also among the cast. We laugh lot when we're rehearsing.
JW: George is the best director in the business. No one surpasses him; only Ang Lee comes close. He's demanding in a completely disarming way. He's sort of a frustrated actor. In rehearsal, he plays every role. He knows the material inside out. It's great because we've all built this play together for the first time. And we reinvent it nightly.
TR: You two must like working together.
JW: [Laughing] No, I hate it. But it's better this time than Topdog because then we played brothers. At least now he's my slave!
MD: [Laughing] Who finally wins his freedom. Couldn't have been soon enough.
TR: How does acting in theater compare with acting in film?
JW: There's no comparison. I call film acting stunt work. For 33 seconds you try to take on an expression that will look really cool. That's it. You do that over and over again. A good director can make you look like you are giving the best performance of all time, and a bad director can take the same material and make it look the opposite.
TR: And theater?
JW: You have to create a whole world. Americans tend to have an inferiority complex about their theater and feel beholden to a European aesthetic, which I find bothersome and a little tiresome. Look at this play. It delves into the full complexity of who we are. It's in an American setting by a great American playwright grappling with great American themes.