Sacramento Native Tommy Wright Gets His Shot in Fruitvale Station

IMG_0296NATIONWIDE – Having just moved to Los Angeles to pursue a professional acting career, Sacramento native Thomas Wright was long on ambition, but short on cash. When he got a call from a casting director to audition hundreds of miles away in San Francisco in less than 24 hours, his lack of funds made him hesitate.

“I asked her if it was worth it,” Wright recalls.

“She said Octavia Spencer was in it and that Forest Whitaker was producing it. I said ‘I’m there.’”

Wright bought a bus ticket and was in San Francisco the next day.

He didn’t know it at the time, because, as he says, the real script was under “lock and key,” but the film he’d auditioned for was “Fruitvale Station.” The film, which opened in select cities on July 12, is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, an unarmed African American who was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer on a train platform in the Fruitvale area of Oakland.

Wright plays Tim, one of Grant’s friends, who was also pulled off the train that fateful New Year’s morning in 2009. Wright was working as a dispatcher for the Sacramento Police Department at that time and remembers the shooting being the talk of the department, not knowing that a few short years later, he’d be sitting in the same spot, recreating the incident.

“(In filming), there was a lot of down time, where you ‘hurry up and wait,’ when you weren’t in character and you’d think ‘wow, this is actually the place where this went down,’” Wright shared.

“You’re sitting there and you could see the actual spot, the actual indentation, where the bullet went into the concrete. That was really surreal,” he continued.

Wright says the hospital scenes were also intense. Grant died at Oakland’s Highland Hospital several hours after being shot.

Wright, 27, says writer-director Ryan Coogler deserves the praise he’s getting for the film, and in particular, his commitment to diversity and creating an atmosphere of authenticity.

“It made it that much easier to see yourself in that situation,” Wright said.

He admires Coogler’s approach.

“It wasn’t about making a movie, but telling a story.”

Wright saw the film in Los Angeles with friends. He’ll travel home to Sacramento this week to see it with his family. The film opens locally on July 26.

Wright is currently auditioning for a coveted spot in an ABC Showcase, that puts minority actors in front of casting directors, talent agents, managers and other key industry professionals. Thousands try out for the showcase, Wright says, but only a few are selected and receive a one-year mentorship with ABC casting executives.

Wright says the showcase is a way for young actors of color with a few credits under their belt to go further in the business — but many don’t know it exists.

Wright says he’s been cautioned against helping others, but that’s not his style.

“Because I’m 27, 5’ 9” and light skinned and you’re 27, 5’9’’ and light skinned I’m supposed to view you as my competition? That’s what closes off this industry to others who have talent,” Wright said.

“I’m not trying to be greedy and keep all the parts for myself.”

Wright’s resume includes film, television and stage roles. He said he’s most recognized for an episode of the crime re-enactment show “I Almost Got Away With It.” He’s also appeared in “Red Tails” and the straight-to-DVD movie “The Karma Killer.” Locally Wright starred in a number of productions by playwright William A. Parker, dating back to age 14, when he was part of the Jack & Jill organization.

Wright knows that Hollywood has its “color” issues and that roles for a young, Black actor can be hard to come by, but says he’s in it for the long haul.

“You just have to grind until it changes.”
By: Genoa Barrow
Senior Staff Writer