On Grease 40th anniversary on June 16th, we had the great opportunity to talk with Wendell Pierce, the P.E. teacher we just saw on Fox in Grease Live (starring Broadway star Aaron Tveit). We talked about Grease and sports but also about his new series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, an action political thriller web television series by Amazon Prime, screened in world premiere here at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival and based on characters from the fictional Ryanverse created by Tom Clancy. The first season follows the titular CIA analyst (John Krasinski) as he is wrenched from the security of his desk job into the field after discovering a string of dubious bank transfers, which are being carried out by a rising Islamic terrorist named Suleiman.
C: What did you know about Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan before being cast for the series?
W: I was a big fan of the books and the movies. So I knew all about it. I knew Jack Ryan and my character (James Greer, Ryan’s boss in T-FAD) relationship with him. I watched James Ryan: Shadow Recruit and the three previous movies with Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine playing the main character. I was very excited. Before shooting we had a consulting, David Chestein, a former CIA; then we went to the CIA and I met a couple of CIA officers. One in particular who reminded me of James Earl Jones (from The Hunt of Red October). I’m still a good friend with him and he enforced me with different issues.
C: Lately a lot of movies are being transformed into a TV series, which is the strength of one or the other?
W: I don’t think there is a competition between the movie and the series. A movie tells the story while we have the opportunity to retell it in a long form. Two hours against 8 hours, all can become deeper especially the humanity of the characters. And for me acting is all about studying human behaviors, so for me it’s more an adding to than a competition between movies and TV series.
C: Which is your favorite quality about your character and which one did you put into your character from being Wendell Pierce?
W: The one in the character that I tried to find as it was ongoing doing process is the sense of focus. He understands the queries of demand and he is observing the world around him all the time. There is something about this officer I noticed the first time I met him, he was not the most loquacious in the room, he was constantly observing everyone; he really showed me his behavior while he was in the center of the action. That’s what I tried to bring to the character. That’s not me so it’s a real acting challenge.
C: Big screen, tv screen, radio, theater… how do you approach all these different worlds?
W: They are all different for me. They are all different ways to build the story but all need a good story to be told, so the writing, the material is their common denominator: that define when something is successful or not, no matter which media you put it in. That’s the thing that defines my choices and I try to do one of them each year. I have recently been on stage in New York, with Jack Ryan on TV and in an independent film, One Last Thing. On stage, I played a professor with an 83-year-old father. they are both widows and they have conflicts in their past to work out. And then Jack Ryan. All of them are very well written. I did a video play years ago for BBC, called Tradition, the only video play I’ve ever done. Great writing dough.
C: How important is the theater for your acting skills on television and big screen?
W: The reason why I try to do a play a year is that is a different muscle to train.
C: How important is the sport in changing the world? You are a supporter of the New Orleans Saints, and locals have nicknamed you “Saints Wendell”…
W: Well, when comes to sport you can’t get a better example than real dram in life. On the pitch, two equal teams, and the better one may not actually win, but it empowers anyone out on the field. They have the possibility of changing everything. As you see, in football, players can go a lifetime on without scoring in the world cup and in the last second there is a penalty kick for your team that if scored will make you remembered forever. In art is the same. Like in sports, it brings us together. You have to find the common team, the common values and one act can actually impact thousand…ten fo thousand lives. Whoever wins the world cup there’ll be a moment that some kid right now watching will be inspired by them whatever is calling in life is.
C: How was your experience in doing something different like Grease Live on Fox?
W: Oh, that was great!! It was a mix of theater, musical, television and it showed how many talented people there are out there. I’ve been so happy just to be part of the show. It was like live TV with live audience just to make sure to make a real live. At the same time, one of the best filmmaking in television made because like in theatre you had to work hard in rehearsal, all the way long to get it right…just for that perfect moment. That was very special and exacting. For the trombone, I learned every part but I was in the background 🙂
Watch here Wendell wishing Happy Birthday to Grease.
Watch few extracts from Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Press Conference: https://www.facebook.com/driveinmagazine/videos/820172491520689/