I made friends that summer. And it was just life in Southeast D.C., which is so much a part of who I am, and so much a part of what I’m proud of, and the people that I come from.
And, in fact, there’s a movie that I have that’s coming out, called O.G., that we shot in a prison, a working facility out in Indiana, largely with incarcerated men playing the roles of the incarcerated. I’m one of only two full-time actors that plays one of the incarcerated. And I can tell you that some of the physicality of the character that I play, I drew from a guy who I worked alongside in that pool.
In that locker room, back in 1980, 1981, there was a guy named Thomas Pratt. There were three of us. It was Pratt, one other guy, and myself, who worked in the locker room on shifts. And Pratt had been in and out of juvie, and he was about 17, I think. I was younger.
Pratt used to walk around like at any moment he was about to step into the ring. He was just coiled, like it was about to pop off as soon as the bell rang. He just had this swagger and this tension inside his body that I’ll never forget. And he hunched his shoulders and just, like, lurched around the place.
I think the shifts were, like, half an hour. We would switch half hour on, half hour off, because it was kind of musty and damp back in the locker room. We’d come out and we’d kind of chill out by the pool a little bit and then we’d head back in.
And one day my shift was up, and I came out to Pratt. And he was kind of hanging out by the pool, you know, checking out the girls or whatever. And I walked over to him and I said, “Pratt.” I said, “Your shift, man. It’s your time.” And he looked at me and he said, “ Nigga, if you don’t get out of my face ...”
And I proceeded to walk gingerly back toward that locker room, and carry on with my overextended shift. I afforded Pratt the opportunity to come back and take over his shift at his convenience.
Fadulu: Probably for the best.
Wright: That stuff stayed with me, and it informs my work, on some level. On a not-insignificant level. But I wanna talk about two other jobs, though, if I could, quickly.
Wright: My first acting job was actually children’s theater down in D.C. Touring around, early in the morning, doing American history through folktales. It was my first year out of college; I had just graduated from Amherst.
That job, from a performance perspective, taught me so much. Because we’d, literally every morning, be sitting in an auditorium or in some room in some school with a bunch of kids. Like, elementary school kids, at the oldest. And those audiences taught me something that I won’t forget: Children cannot be fooled. If you do not compel them, if they are not entertained, they will leave the room. Perhaps they won’t leave in body, but they will certainly leave in mind and spirit—and maybe in body. And so it taught me a lot about how to respect the audience, and how to command their attention, or not.