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Wentworth Earl Miller III

Wentworth Earl Miller III



Friday, November 4, 2011

Wentworth Miller - An outstanding performance!

Went’s agent handed him the script of The Human Stain and assured him that he was perfect for the role of Coleman Silk.  He was rather concerned about being typecast he said “I want to continue getting sent out for roles of any ethnicity.”  But his initial reservations didn’t put him off and he went to the audition.

Thank goodness Went, went (excuse the pun) for the audition and grabbed this opportunity.  You might think I’m biased (and you'd be right...she laughs) but I personally thought his performance in The Human Stain was outstanding, touching and soul wrenching.

Went met with the casting director Deb Aquilla and he told her that he thought the script had “a powerful story and one that wasn’t told very often.  I told her that I liked the script a lot because it resonated with me as a minority and I thought I knew a lot of the subtext of what was going on with this character. She was surprised”. Deb Aquila remembers seeing Went and recalls that she felt uncomfortable about asking him about his racial background. While she was thinking of a way to ask him he just smiled and “told her that my father is black and my mother is white and that I understood a lot of what's going on in this story because of my own memories and experiences.” He then told her about what happened to him at Princeton university with the cartoon sketch episode and how he can relate to the character who becomes an outcast amongst former friends and colleagues due to political correctness.

Went recalls, “We had a great talk, almost too good, because by the time we got to the actual read, I felt like the build-up was so big that I really needed to deliver--almost more than what maybe might have otherwise been expected from me from a first reading. Luckily, it was one of those situations where I had my best with me that day: I was in tears, she was in tears, we did all the tough scenes in the movie, and she brought me back in a month for a screen test with Robert Benton.”


Robert Benton also recalls the audition and comments that Went has the rare ability to master stillness and if he were to do a workshop with actors he would use Went as an example. In all the years (decades) of directing he can only recall two special moments he has experienced during audition. The first was with Justin Henry the young boy who plays Billy in the film Kramer Vs Kramer which he directed and Went. They were both perfect for their parts.
"It sounds weird, but they asked for proof that I was what I said I was, because an actor will say just about anything to get a role. So I literally had to go to Kinko's with the family photo album and copy the photos of the ancestors, from the great-grandparents on down. And I'm standing there at the Xerox machine looking at all these faces, and thinking about what my family has been through. And I thought, God—has all this been for me to book this role? And the answer was no, but also yes, in a strange way. It felt like just the right time and the right role and the right place." When he returned "they said, 'you're our guy. And I immediately hugged everyone in the room. And I walked out of the office onto the Paramount lot, which is where I had spent time temping over the last five years, and I thought to myself: this is such a rare moment, and I was filled with a sense of gratitude. And I called my mom."

Went carrying boxes of the copies of photos of his ancestry.

“I feel incredibly honored that I am able to bring a story to the table that my family is very eager to see -- not just because I am in a movie, but because it touches on issues that touch all of our lives”.

In auditioning and preparing for the role he once again had to think about his past and who he was, i.n.o his identity. The Human Stain “is a film that left me questioning how I perceive others and myself and further, questioning the basis for my life and beliefs”.

What an unnecessary and painful process for such a gracious and wonderful person to have to go through.

The character of Coleman silk appealed to him because he thought that "He (Coleman) is bright and very ambitious," "But he has been completely defined by his environment as a black man in 1940s America. It’s a prison and he decides to break out, which is a very bold, arrogant and ultimately destructive thing to do, because he lands in another prison of his own making. In passing as white, he embarks on a life which does not allow for intimacy, because he can never be completely honest with his wife. It’s also a life of fear, because every time he walks into a room, there’s the danger of someone recognising him for who and what he is."

Went felt that in preparing for the role it was important that "as an actor it's not my job to condemn or condone my character. That wouldn't allow for his complexities. Coleman feels boxed in by definitions, which are suffocating him, and he needs to break free. That's something anyone can relate to. It moves the movie beyond race."

The character of young Coleman Silk  who during his college days before he decides to deny his race as a light skinned black man and pass for Jewish, also boxed as a hobbie so Went had to train as a boxer. “It was a rigorous workout regimen. I worked with the same trainer that worked with Denzel Washington in THE HURRICANE. It was 3 months of training, 5 days a week, 4 to 5 hours a day. This was followed by a month of choreography. So, 4 months of preparation and about 12 hours of shooting turned into about 30 seconds of screen time.”

Once again his previous experience of physical training and acting roles would come in handy in preparation for this role. But nothing could prepare him for stepping into the shoes of the heavy weight A list actor Anthony Hopkins who plays the older Coleman Silk. “Very big shoes. It's an honor, but I was also like 'How am I going to approach this?' The man is a legend and I've always been a huge fan of his work. And I felt as the new kid on the block it was my place to tailor my performance to Sir Tony exclusively, rather than the other way around and to that end I went out and rented every Anthony Hopkins video I could find so I could steal little pieces of his performances and layer them into mine”.

When Wentworth completed the filming of The Human Stain memories of what happened at Princeton with the Cornel West cartoon incident came flooding back. He wrote a letter to Cornel West apologizing for what happened and informed him about his role in The Human Stain. He received no reply. Back to business, the producers decided that he should front the promotional tour for the film. This tour would involve him attending premieres of the film with his co stars in different U.S States / locations such as Chicago, Denver, New York and European cities such as London and Venice. By a rare stroke of luck, his co star Anna Deveare Smith who plays his mother in The Human Stain is friends with Cornel West who turned up to the New York premiere. “The first thing he did was give me this big bear hug, which really meant the world to me.”

 The experience of watching himself on the big screen gave him mixed feelings and triggered once again personal, painful memories. “when I saw it for the first time at the Venice Film Festival, what I felt afterwards was very embarrassed--not at all in a bad way, but in that way where you've just put something very personal up there, very private just out there--something that had just happened between me and Jacinda Barrett or something that was still very painful for me from my own life. And suddenly, all these people were just coming up to me and talking to me about it, having this dialogue with me and I'd never spoken with them about it and, for me, these things are still very personal, still very private issues that I wrestle with and come to terms with every day. I have no idea who they are, but they have ideas about me ... and I have no idea what rules of etiquette they're working with and it's frightening.”

 Despite all of these thoughts and emotions going on inside he had to continue with the promotion of the film. He did several photo shoots and interviews alone and press conferences with his co stars. The critics were confused and curious about why a young white man was being cast in the role of a character who is supposed to be a light skinned black man. Over and over again, Went had to define his racial background to avoid being mistaken as a white man. Ironically Toni Morrison - who was involved in campaigning against Went at Princeton for his cartoon sketch - would be the same person he would continue to quote. “There’s a great quote in Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved: ‘Definitions belong to the definers, and not the defined.’ I’m constantly having to define myself for other people, lest I be defined by them”.

He was also asked about his views on racism in America and his views on racial definitions. "As far as being black versus African-American, I have a problem with hyphenates, I don't want to be African-American or Chinese-American or Irish-American. My family's been in this country for generations. There is no reason in the world why I can't lay claim to just American." His nationality was also brought up in which he revealed that he had dual nationality and holds both British and American passports. Overall as far as he is concerned he is “American first, last and always.”  He was also asked about his experience of racism and his views on passing - "Obviously, passing is not something that has ever crossed my mind—it has never shown up on my radar, because I am lucky enough to be born in a generation where it's OK to be absolutely proud of who I am. But being mixed race brings a different set of challenges. Not that it's more challenging than being this, that, or the other, just different. For example, I've never really experienced the 'business end' of the race stick, as I like to call it—I've never been asked to pay for a meal before I eat it, or been pulled over for driving in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time of night. In that sense, I've been very fortunate.”

 An upsetting incident with a journalist also brought home the reality of racism and how powerful vocabulary can be. "I just had a conversation with a reporter in New York and he told me, 'So you're a mutt,' and I told him, 'You know, I find the term "mutt" deeply offensive.' So he started back-pedaling and said, 'I'm a mutt, too. I'm part German and part Irish.' "'That means you're white,' I told him. 'But thank you for playing!'

Yes, there’s that wonderful clever and sarcastic humor that I adore of his.

 Approached by mixed race viewers, Went says “a lot of them (were) glad that they're seeing a representative of themselves reflected on screen”.

In terms of acting he was questioned about who he perceives to be his greatest competition to which he answered Josh Hartnett. And his views on his future career? “I say that with the sobering understanding that if I were to wait only for roles that clarify my racial makeup, I'd be waiting for a very, very long time. I want to aspire to something like what Denzel Washington does which is try to find scripts written for white actors--or Jodie Foster who reads scripts for male actors. I tell my representatives that you can send me out on any ethnicity roles, or roles that were written for Caucasians if race is not an issue in the movie, I think the race of the actors starts to matter if race matters in the movie. If you want to do an all-Eskimo production of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ I mean God bless you, I can’t wait to see it. But if it’s an all-Eskimo production of ‘Gone with the Wind,’ that’s obviously a little more problematic.”

Once again like so many co-incidents in his life like landing his first major role (Dinotopia) at the same network where he interned and meeting Cornel West after all those years and resolving their differences, he bumped into development executives who he used to work for. "I have people coming up to me now at film festivals and screenings who are like, 'Weren't you the one used to stand by the Xerox machine?' now that I'm at the point where big shot so-and-so is laughing at all my jokes and schmoozing, I think 'You know I got coffee for people like you for six years,' so I know what's what as much as I can, because I've seen the other side." Wenworth’s advice to studio executives is that they should be nice to their lowly underlings because they don’t know when they will get one up on them with a studio deal.

Good for you Went that’s telling them. 

With the promotion and reviews the buzz was electric and nearly all the critics praised his ‘breakthrough performance’ and were sure that he should be nominated for a supporting actor Oscar award for his role in the film. Went was excited and the film was out just in time to be considered for an Oscar award nomination. The production waited with baited breath.

Two of my favourite Actors together ... what a dream come true!

Can you believe it “Nothing!”

There was not a single nomination. It would appear that what the critics perceived as the miscasting of Anthony Hopkins as a light skinned black man and the beautiful ‘skinny’ Nicole Kidman as the rough janitor was too implausible to digest. The academy seemed to think so too. Once again like with Dinotopia, Went missed out on what should have been a big break.

Not to worry Went the best is yet to come.  “All good things come to those who wait.”

Thank you all for following my blogs for Went.  We’ll follow our Went with his career path in the next blog.  Speak to you soon.

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