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

by Jasmin Tiggett
June 15, 2012 11:32 AM
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Wendell Pierce in Four

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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More: Exclusive, Interview, Wendell Pierce

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  • bondgirl | June 19, 2012 9:59 PMReply

    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.

  • Hmm | June 20, 2012 6:08 PM

    Oh no he didn't flip the script did he? Tsk, tsk, tsk Wendell Pierce. It's a shame Hollywood refuses to take black folks seriously unless they play their sick, twisted little game.

  • LMG | June 19, 2012 9:47 PMReply

    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 | June 18, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    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 | June 17, 2012 1:22 AMReply

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

  • Marsh | June 18, 2012 10:20 AM

    How is this black dysfunction porn? He's just one character in a film with people of different races. His role could be filled by someone white. Do you want just films that only show happy, successful black people?

  • JMac | June 15, 2012 9:42 PMReply

    “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 | June 15, 2012 1:54 PMReply

    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 | June 15, 2012 12:05 PMReply

    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".

  • Hmm | June 20, 2012 6:02 PM

    It's interesting how the script is real life, there is a very public case of a white man raping black boys for more than a decade, but onscreen, we have a black man molesting/having sexual relations with a white boy. It's just funny to me how Hollywood does this flipped-script move and then people cry something to the effect of: well do you want Blacks/POC to just be "good" all the time? We don't live in a vaccuum, and as we are living in a society that is not fair and balanced in how people of color are regarded, with respect to whites, the way we are presented in the media has more weight. It's either hurting or it's helping. That's the reality of the situation, whether "artists" want to accept it or not.

  • WOW | June 15, 2012 7:33 PM

    YOUR POINT? And what would that be? Is there logic behind one who "hates"? Are you still implying that a person cannot vent their hatred upon another person, and therefore be classified as a "hater"? If you're still confused, you should have referenced a dictionary as I suggested. Hatred (or hate) is a deep and emotional extreme dislike, directed against a certain object or class of objects. The objects of such hatred can vary widely, from inanimate objects to animals, oneself or other people, entire groups of people, people in general, existence, or the whole world. Though not necessarily, hatred is often associated with feelings of anger and disposition towards hostility against the objects of hatred. Hatred can drive oneself to extreme actions. Actions upon people or oneself after a lingering thought are not uncommon. Hatred can result in extreme behavior including violence, murder, and war. And Blutopaz, what was your point? I believe you were simply proposing an argument when none existed.

  • BluTopaz | June 15, 2012 7:15 PM

    Care to provide any more examples that keep proving my point?

  • WOW | June 15, 2012 3:57 PM

    Now brown cow, I believe you're just being silly. They lacks the "social skills" to explain their viewpoint? Really... social skills? I'd suggest you reach for the dictionary.

  • BluTopaz | June 15, 2012 2:51 PM

    "Yes, the word "hate" has it's place"

    You're right--it's the one resource used by people who have not learned to present their opinion in a logical manner. It's the same as kids shouting "you're just jealous!!!!" because children often don't have the social skills to explain why their viewpoint is valid.

  • WOW | June 15, 2012 2:15 PM

    @Blutopaz, The word "hater" has it's place. It does not mean people who have a different viewpoint. It should be reserved for those whose viewpoint is steeped in the rhetoric of "hate" (not constructive discourse) about an individual, place, religion, race, etc. Although the hater hides behind "it's just my opinion", their voice is not transparent. Most people can hear and see the voice of a true hater. Yes, the word "hate" has it's place.

  • BluTopaz | June 15, 2012 1:46 PM

    You want people to open their minds, and you refer to them as "haters" because they have a different viewpoint. Black people really need to retire that word.

  • memphis girl | June 15, 2012 11:48 AMReply

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

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