On Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Amazon’s political action-thriller series, Wendell Pierce gets to indulge in two of his favorite things: acting and world travel.
“Being involved in such an international production has been a real highlight of my career,” Wendell, 56, confides to Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “We’ve gone to Morocco, Montreal, London, Paris, Moscow, New York, D.C. — I have been enjoying the adventure that Jack Ryan has become.” The series, which costars John Krasinski as the title character, was just about to begin filming its third season when COVID-19 concerns put everything on hold. “Because we are a show with locations all over the world, the pandemic hits right at the heart of what we’re doing,” he says. “But we are being patient and waiting to see what happens next and how we will start up again.”
While the production is delayed, Wendell has been visiting with family in his hometown of New Orleans. “I’m taking this precious time to be with my 95-year-old father,” explains the star. “We’re watching basketball and trying to stay safe.”
You and John seem to have a real rapport on Jack Ryan. Are you enjoying working together?
John is a great person. He’s a fun guy to work with and very intense about creating, understanding and breaking down the scripts. He’s a student of his craft. And we have been having a blast. The banter you see on-screen is what it’s like offscreen. He’s really just a fun person to work with.
In addition to playing James Greer on Jack Ryan, you’ve worked on other high- profile series like The Wire, Treme, Suits and The Odd Couple. What project do you get recognized for the most?
Well, I was standing at Piccadilly Circus — I was doing a play, Death of a Salesman, in London — when Jack Ryan came out. I was watching on the megatron [when an ad for] Jack Ryan came on. Someone noticed me and said, ‘I see you, James Greer!’ That was great. I will always be known for Bunk [on The Wire], but I think as time goes on, James Greer will take his place.
On Jack Ryan and The Wire, you play characters working in law enforcement. How have those experiences influenced your perspective of what is going on in the world today?
When I was studying for Jack Ryan, there was one particular CIA officer; I challenged him right off the bat. I said, ‘How did you decide to be part of the CIA, knowing the negative impact it’s had on our community?’ He said, ‘We all have to fight racism. I chose to fight it from inside the agency.’ That spoke to me. It makes the portrayal of James Greer a lot more rounded, a lot more complex and a lot more real.
The inner workings of law enforcement were also a big theme on The Wire.
The Wire was challenging us as a piece of art, saying there was a moral ambiguity that is at the heart of the cancer in these institutions. If you don’t deal with it, that cancer will metastasize and destroy us. That is all reflected in the protest movement you see today.
Growing up, did you always want to become an actor?
I was thinking about becoming an architect, a lawyer and I had a little radio career in high school and college, but I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I started studying it seriously in my sophomore year of high school. I knew from pretty early on, like at 13 or 14, that I was serious.
You spent your childhood in New Orleans’ Pontchartrain Park. What was your experience there?
This was a part of the city that was growing. Post–World War II, Blacks could not purchase a home just anywhere in the city. Pontchartrain Park was the result of advocacy during the Civil Rights movement. It provided the safety of middle-class America that was being denied to so many Black families for so long. A little Black Mayberry. It was a bucolic, wonderful place to grow up.
Treme attempted to create an accurate picture of New Orleans in the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Did you feel a responsibility to your neighbors to get it right?
That role was created for me — no one had ever done that before. It was a real honor … But I knew there was a great burden on me. [Treme] is the best and most accurate portrayal of New Orleans because I educated the producers, the cast and they all became New Orleanians. I’m very proud of Treme for showing the challenges New Orleans faced in its darkest hour and the importance of culture.
Were you in New Orleans during the storm?
I had actually flown into New Orleans for a vacation on my way to Baltimore. So I was here and evacuated with my parents when the city was destroyed. It took a couple of months to get back in and that’s when I recommitted to the city. We’ve rebuilt our neighborhood. It’s been almost two decades now.
You sound like you love your hometown.
I’m a true son of New Orleans. I love good, live music, good food, good travel. That’s all what I love to do.
There are also a lot of people who might recognize you for Suits, where you played Meghan Markle’s father before she married Prince Harry.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
I did Death of a Salesman in London. I would like to bring that to Broadway when we can return to the theater. I am looking forward to that.
What do you think is the greatest lesson you’ve learned in life so far?
Exercise your right of self-determination, because there are those who do not have your best interests at heart.
— Louise A. Barile, with reporting by Katie Bruno
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