Actor Jeffrey Wright ("The Hunger Games" and HBO's "Westworld") plays the voice of reason, the problem-solving skeptic and the high-strung catastrophist in "Should I Be Scared," the second film in The Atlantic's "Question Your Answers" campaign. And the series, introduced last year with a thought-provoking short starring Michael K. Williams, now boasts a new partner: HBO.
The deal will extend the campaign's reach from the existing QuestionYourAnswers.com site and Atlantic properties to HBO's digital and TV channels, while securing starring roles for HBO talent in a series of new videos.
Like Michael K. Williams in the original installment, called "Typecast," Wright plays multiple characters. They travel on a plane undergoing extreme (potentially fatal) weather conditions, and their flying fears and philosophizing become a window into more universal anxieties about the fate of humanity in an increasingly polarized world.
"We had been looking for a way to enter the cultural conversation and promote civil discourse, and we had thought back to The Atlantic's campaign," says HBO Executive Vice President of Consumer Marketing Chris Spadacinni. "The first thing we noticed was the incredible performance of Michael K. Williams. We were also struck by how relevant the message was to HBO's core brand identity."
"We feel like we share a real sensibility with HBO and there was a natural alignment already, given that Michael K. Williams had already played incredible roles for HBO," says Sam Rosen, head of growth at The Atlantic. Williams' portrayal of complex characters such as Omar Little on "The Wire" and Chalky White on "Boardwalk Empire" had helped to inspire Wieden and The Atlantic to cast him in the original "Question Your Answers" film.
Wright was a creative collaborator on the new film and worked closely with the agency on developing his characters.
On set, there was some experimentation involved in distinguishing the various "Jeffries," says Wieden & Kennedy Creative Director Jaclyn Crowley. "Last year, we differentiated Michael's characters through their wardrobe and a few props. ... This year, it was actually Jeffrey's idea to differentiate the 'Jeffries' further using wigs," she says. "We brought a bunch to set, including one with long, salt and pepper dreadlocks. In the end, we decided to only keep one for 'Flight Attendant Jeffrey,' to give him a bit of flair and a little moment of levity in the film."
HBO's Spadaccini declined to disclose which other HBO actors are are being considered for parts. "Our hope is to do three films, and a lot of it will depend on the reception of this current piece," he says.
As for how the campaign is doing so far, the Atlantic's Rose says, "For anyone who might see The Atlantic as exclusively political, or as a more traditional brand, ["Typecast"] hopefully broke up any of those perceptions. It reached a really wide and diverse audience and we definitely found new readers we wouldn't have through our everyday journalism."