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Exclusive: Wendell Pierce Discusses His Controversial Role in ‘Four’ (LAFF Premiere Today)

Exclusive: Wendell Pierce Discusses His Controversial Role in 'Four' (LAFF Premiere Today)

Premiering today at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Four is an intense drama that follows two couples meeting up in a suburban town on the Fourth of July. Find my review of the film HERE.

Wendell Pierce, who stars as a married man hooking up with a white teenage boy in the film, spoke with me this week about his about his role, the potential criticism from it, and a few of his upcoming projects.

S&A: How did you get involved in this project, and what made you choose the role?

WP: When I got the call from the producers and the director, I actually knew about the piece already because I’d seen the play. It’s a character-driven piece and I really liked the way it pulled you into the characters to try to figure out what their journey is – sort of peeling away the layers of an onion, not only the people themselves but also the plot. And then the challenge that it presented me as an actor. Drama is always about conflict and the personal conflict within [Joe] is something that I thought would be a challenge for me. I thought I was the last person you would think to play this role, at least this is something that I’ve never been asked to do.

S&A: You play a complex character whose actions are pretty objectionable. What do you make of the larger themes that can be drawn from him, particularly with sexuality and race, and how people might respond to them?

WP: For me, the conclusions people will draw from this film will be influenced by the dearth of diversity in portrayals that we have. I expect people to say, “Why did Wendell participate in the emasculating of a black man?” The real question is, Why do you feel as though that’s emasculating? A man can’t have a conflict? When you try to do art, it’s how it lands on people, and hopefully some people will see it the way that I saw it, which is all of these awful choices come from the place of a man who’s damaged. We always see abhorrent behavior and say why, but then we get mad when somebody tries to answer. Just to answer the question why does not say I’m validating behavior. I’m just saying, if we’re going to be a student of human behavior, be a true student.

And I understand that we should never lose our right to be offended, so I accept it.  But for me it was always a study of human behavior because if we just demonize it, it becomes unreal. “He’s just evil. He’s evil incarnate.” No, actually he’s human, and human beings actually think this way, behave this way, and do these things. And for you not to accept that – you’re in a state of denial, and then you make people susceptible to the choices that people like this make.

S&A: So it’s fair to say that you expect a lot of criticism?

WP: I expect some people have a reaction to the character. And people have the right to do that. The opposite of liking something isn’t hating it. The opposite is actually indifference. That would be worse to me, to say, “How did you feel about this man and the fact that he’s a black man being portrayed this way?” If they said, “I don’t care,” that would upset me more. I want people to be impassioned, whether they like it or they don’t like it. That is impactful.

Someone said, “Are you worried that people are going to be upset with you?” And I said, “People should be a little upset, a little uncomfortable, in this movie.” You shouldn’t be comfortable with all the choices that these people make. Because you have to live an authentic life. That’s the lesson we learn from Four. Be your true self. Because if you’re not, there are consequences to be paid.  

S&A: The film doesn’t seem to pass judgment on its characters, to the point that its viewpoint isn’t always clear. What did you make of its perspective and what we should receive from it?

WP: I think the film has a viewpoint – that your actions are not in a vacuum. They impact other people. It may be in a way that’s less obvious than in mainstream movies, but it comes to an understanding of who those people are. It also leaves it open to interpretation. And that’s what art is, a form in which people can reflect on who we are as human beings and come to some understanding of this journey we are on. So it’s kind of serving the purpose of what art should be, what a film should be, which is a forum in which we reflect on the behavior of mankind – character, choices, situation, and the impact of an event.

S&A: What can you share about your upcoming projects following Four?

WP: I’m about to go shoot a film in Belgium and Luxembourg called Modius, with Jean Dujardin, who just won the Oscar. It’s a French independent film but I’m actually an American in it. And I’m excited about winning [the Tony for] Clybourne Park. I’ve already started discussions with Ron Simons, who is an African-American producer who won for Porgy and Bess, and Tamara Tunie who won a couple years ago for Spring Awakening and we were partnered on Radio Golf. We just started talking about, what if three African American producers – Tony award winners on Broadway – came together and did a piece. So we’re in discussions about trying to find a piece to produce together.

***

Four screens at LA Film Festival today, Friday, June 15 and Monday, June 18. Find tickets HERE.

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Comments

bondgirl

I can only say that I'm surprised that he is playing this part, considering he went on such a twitter rant re: The Help. That movie doesn't even compare in the least to being a closeted pedophile, and someone like him who had such strong opinions regarding how we're portrayed in film comes across as a hypocrite right now. If this film gets half the acclaim The Help did, he's gonna know exactly how Viola felt while he was bashing her movie.

LMG

I'm really disappointed in some of the responses toward Wendell Pierce's honesty and dare I say bravery as a Black Artist (caps intentional). His willingness to do what artists are suppose to do should be supported by those who claim to love and care about creative lives and work. On one hand, we (a collective Black "we") bellyache when only cliched homilies of idealized Black life is shared in our storytelling, regardless of the medium, but then we as a broader community support those thin slices of comedic or soapy Hallmarks with our bucks. On the other, when artists dare to actually follow their artistic training to mine something different, and sometimes dark, to say something interesting or compelling or even provocative (which really means to provoke thought, reaction, conversation, discourse–you know the things art is supposed to do) we downgrade it with charges of elitism, pornography, obscenity, emasculation, misogyny, pathology pushing, Uncle Toming and any other word/phrase that essentially says you're trying to put white folks pathological ish on us or support a stereotypical Western lens on our otherwise pure lives/realities. If there has ever been a crime committed against Black Art and its creators, it's the fact that present-day knowledge of historical institutional oppression and systematic propaganda against black folks, even when fully NOT well known or considered, has done more to constrain the artistic palate of Black people and the range of palatable (read: well received, commercially viable) choices of Black artists than any Hollywood studio, narrow-minded studio exec, or KKK campaign has ever done to quell the possibilities of our art. We trap our artists in a desert of creative possibilities and then accuse them of not feeding us nourishing reflections of our lives and three-dimensional humanity. It's sick and sad how we do us. Is it any wonder so many of our Black artists give up the ghost, their craft, or just stop trying to please a people who so rarely can be pleased. As a teaching writer and journalist, its depressing to witness. I only hope the next generation of artists are better at turning a death ear to it and find some audience willing to receive works as challenging as their education and vision dictates.

julius hollingsworth

Congrats to Wendel for being able to explore whatever he wants when he wants.I will be doing that also one day.Praying for that day to come soon.

Miles Ellison

Well, this is a somewhat unexplored area of black dysfunction porn.

JMac

“Why did Wendell participate in the emasculating of a black man?” The real question is, Why do you feel as though that's emasculating? A man can’t have a conflict? " Total BS answer to which I say review history and look at the current climate. See what "conflicts" are getting more attention and screen time than others esp. when black men/women are the protagonists. Probably wouldn't have been interested unless the film had overplayed, intentionally controversial, and (hopefully) attention-grabbing pathology themes attached to it. Some audiences and festivals just eat that up. If the end result is the privilege of being called a "real actor" I guess it's all worth it.

BluTopaz

I understand what Wendell is saying, but I am seldom comfortable with films that try to humanize monsters (The Woodsman comes to mind). While it's not clear if the teenager in Four is legally underage, I'm guessing Wendell's character is a pedophile. But aside from that congrats to Wendell, he stays busy in great projects.

WOW

ATTENTION Lee Daniels & "Precious's" black blind mice, aka, HATERS! look–> "When you try to do art, it's how it lands on people, and hopefully some people will see it the way that I saw it, which is all of these awful choices come from the place of a man who's damaged. We always see abhorrent behavior and say why, but then we get mad when somebody tries to answer. Just to answer the question why does not say I'm validating behavior. I'm just saying, IF WE ARE GOING TO BE A STUDENT OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR, BE A TRUE STUDENT!". Get off the fence and open your mind. Of course Jerry Sandusky, who faces 52 counts of systematic child sex abuse of at least 10 boys over a span of 15 years, and his victims, might have a different perspective on the film "Four". They might say "Get that shit out of here. White or black predators, they're all the same. They're evil SOBs! fk Wendell's character and this movie".

memphis girl

Really can't wait to see this film. Congratulations Wendell on taking on such a challenging role.

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