Jeffrey Wright talks Beetee, working with Amanda Plummer and more in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, in theaters November 22
One of the many, many things I enjoyed about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (CLICK HERE to read my full review) is not only how much they show us much more of Panem, but also the influx of new characters. One of the several new faces this time around is Beetee, played to perfection by Jeffrey Wright. A former winner from District 3, Beetee won his unspecified Hunger Games by constructing an electrical trap that killed all of his competitors, skills that prove to come in handy during the Third Quarter Quell, where past winners are summoned back into the battle arena to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the games.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Jeffrey Wright one-on-one to discuss his experiences on the set and much more, as we get closer and closer to the November 22 release date of director Francis Lawrence's sequel. Here's what he had to say.
I read that you weren't terribly familiar with the franchise before you were offered Beetee. Besides your character, was there something in the books or the first movie that particularly struck you about this world?
Jeffrey Wright: I was struck by all of it. You know, I'm a parent, and I hear Hunger Games, kids killing kids. That's entertainment. Huh? (Laughs). My protective antennae went up, but then I saw the movie and I read the script for Catching Fire and then I read all three books, when I realized there was a deeper level of allegory and social commentary being presented that was well considered and targeted towards a younger audience, in a way that's rare. Particularly with this movie, parents will be thrilled for their kids to go on this journey, and ask these questions about the challenges that this society is facing and that the characters within this society are facing, because they're obviously relevant.
I loved the introduction to Beetee and Wiress (Amanda Plummer). You see all these kids focusing honing their killing skills, and they're focusing on how to survive. It was a stark contrast and I loved seeing that.
Jeffrey Wright: Beetee and Wiress are from District 3, which is the technology district, so what was kind of fun about that scene is that they're trying to figure out how to make fire from a flint stone and friction, the old fashioned way, which Beetee kind of delights in because it's the old technology. The interesting realization for me about Beetee's relationship to Panem at large is he and his colleagues and his district are responsible for designing and manufacturing all of the technologies that are used by the Capitol, to power the system and to exploit the outer districts. He's got insight into the machine, from a technical standpoint, that no one else has. We have that wonderful moment where he's kind of educating Katniss about where the flaws might lie.
In Beetee's interview with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), he questions the legality of bringing these former victors back. Do you think that kind of distrust is new for Beetee, or was that something always instilled in him?
Jeffrey Wright: Yeah, I think for him, there are two layers to his resistance. One is personal, in that he doesn't want to go back into the games and suffer that again, particularly when the understanding is that you won't have to experience that again. Secondarily, but not a lesser consideration, I think he's not a fan of the status quo, and he recognizes that the society is an unjust one, and he wants to play a role in addressing that. Just instinctively for me, I think a lot of that is triggered by this sense of personal outrage, that he's being asked to fight to the death, and kill and perhaps die again. I think it's very personal.
I loved the scenes with Beetee and Wiress. It was such a fun and interesting dynamic to see them work off each other, and I've been such a fan of Amanda (Plummer)'s for so long. Did you have a lot of time to spend with her before shooting?
Jeffrey Wright: Yeah, we rehearsed together prior and we spent a lot of time together off camera. She's such a special actor and woman. She's just like a poem, you know? She's like a walking poem. She's just made of dreams. She's wonderful to work off of, and so entirely generous as an actor and open. It was great fun working with her.
Jeffrey Wright: Yeah, I play Doctor Watson, a vampire blood dealer. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous full-bodied Jim Jarmusch movie. I think it's, not in terms of the characters, but in terms of the aesthetic of the movie and the creative homages within the movie, a perfectly autobiographical story of the inner workings of Jim Jarmusch's mind and heart. It's just such a celebration. I just saw it, and was just washed over with its beauty and warmth, but also really digging this celebration of all these artistic influences on him. When I watch any of his movies, I'm trying to figure out how to convince him to provide the soundtrack to my life, because nobody does music like Jarmusch in his movies. It's so good, and Tilda (Swinton) and Tom (Hiddleston) are just rock star vampires that we haven't seen before. It's so cool.
That's my time. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure meeting you.
Jeffrey Wright: All right, man. Nice to meet you.