Jeffrey Wright: The Droid Who Played Lacrosse

Actor Jeffrey Wright, who stars as Bernard Lowe in HBO's "Westworld," played lacrosse at Amherst.

This story originally appeared on in June 2017. Jeffrey Wright is featured prominently in the “Fate of a Sport” documentary, a film that goes behind the scenes during the creation of the Premier Lacrosse League and recently debuted on ESPN+.

Actor Jeffrey Wright is very passionate about his newest endeavor, playing the role of Bernard Lowe in the hit HBO show “Westworld.” However, he has just as much enthusiasm about talking lacrosse.

Wright, the former do-it-all player for Amherst from 1984-87, has plenty of stories from before his acting career took off, when lacrosse took the front seat. He shared many of those stories with us.

How did you get into lacrosse?

I went to St. Albans School (D.C.) in sixth grade. The football coach that year was also the lacrosse coach for the sixth-grade team. He pulled me into the game. In eighth grade, our coach was Jake Reed, who had been an All-American goalie at Maryland. I used to screw around in goal before practice and one day, our goalie was sick for a game, and we needed someone. I said, “Yeah, I’ll play.” After that game, Jake said to me, “Dude, you have to play goalie.” From that point on, I played goalie the remainder of the season.

What kept you interested in the sport?

Another aspect that I was drawn to about the game was its origins. As the first sport of America, predating America. That history, although it’s not widely known outside lacrosse circles or even celebrated enough inside of lacrosse circles, it certainly was meaningful to me. After my senior year of high school, I went out to a reservation out in Wisconsin near Hayward. La Courtes Oreilles, Wisconsin. I went to coach native kids in the sport over the summer. This is with a guy from the Smithsonian, who had written a number of books on Ojibwe culture and the drum. It was me and a guy who went to Denison and another guy who went to Middlebury. We went out there and for me it was an opportunity to reconnect, or to connect to something closer to the origins of the game. And also to the peoples and the culture that originated it. It was a real lesson for me in a number of things. We were out there for three weeks because there was a resistance from kids and pressures from the reservation that I was unaware of prior to experiencing it. … It was an eye-opening experience. That relationship of the game to this land, to the original cultures of the place, was compelling to me as well. 

What was your experience with Amherst like?

I started off as a goalie and long story — there was a sophomore goalie my freshmen year who was good. I switched back to attack my freshman year, and then for the rest of my career. It was an odd time for positions, but that was the story before I started acting, at which point I became a flake on the field my junior and senior year. I also was fascinated by the tool and weapon that the stick was, familiarizing myself with it and becoming one with it over time. I loved to string my own sticks.

How did you balance your acting and lacrosse at Amherst?

Senior year, I rolled my ankle against Middlebury. I showed up at rehearsal for a play I was doing at the same time. The choreographer for the play was a woman named Pearl Primus, who was the first American to interpret African dance. She was a legend in the American theatre scene. I showed up at rehearsal limping and she was like, “What are you going to do? Are you going to be an actor or this lacrosse thing player?” So here I am showing up at rehearsal like an invalid, so it was this tension between the two pursuits.

How are you enjoying working on “Westworld?”

It’s been one of the most satisfying projects of my career. That has to do with a couple of things, with the level of storytelling and the quality of the writing and also the collaboration that we’ve all had in putting this show together. It’s a great circle of people who are working at the highest level and that are at the top of our industry in terms of their abilities. I’ve been doing this for a long time, long enough to appreciate a rare and special opportunity with this group of people.


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