HBO's 'O.G.': Jeffrey Wright on What It Was Like Filming in a Real Prison

Jim Halterman
Preview HBO

Twenty-four years. That's the life-changing amount of time Louis Menkins (Westworld's Jeffrey Wright) has spent behind bars at Indiana's Pendleton Correctional Facility in O.G., a Tribeca Film Festival standout now debuting on HBO.

The drama introduces the onetime prison gang leader as his sentence is ending and reentry to society is imminent. "There's a lot of ambiguity and anxiety and questions that arise out of that time," Wright says. While struggling with his fears, Louis is trying to walk the straight and narrow, despite the violence that dominates his world.

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But that line about the best-laid plans has become a cliché for a reason: Louis's cautious existence is jeopardized when he takes a young new prisoner named Beecher (Theothus Carter) under his wing. "I don't think Louis is an expert on much," says Wright, "but he's an expert on living on the inside of a maximum-security prison. He's trying to offer the best he has."

In trying to steer Beecher away from alliances with the wrong people, Louis puts himself in danger — and risks his own future in the process. Or is that
his goal? "I heard stories of people sabotaging their release so they didn't have to leave and rejoin the unknown on the outside of the wall," Wright explains.

The actor's knowledge comes straight from a year's worth of visits to the Indiana institution where the film would ultimately be shot (with several inmates appearing onscreen). "I spent time engaging and listening to the men and building the trust we would need during filming," he says.

Wright found he was able to empathize more than he'd anticipated while shooting in Louis's small cell: "If you don't have a cellmate, you have within those confines some independence, some freedom of choice and movement," he says. "That was surprising and, at the same time, a bit disturbing."

O.G., Movie Premiere. Saturday, February 23, 10/9c, HBO