May 29, 2023
HBO debuts a new drama about Reality Winner, the NSA contractor convicted of leaking classified documents to the media, tonight on its flagship channel and streaming service — and it features a familiar Philly face.
Marchánt Davis plays R. Wallace Taylor, one of two FBI agents investigating Winner (played by "Euphoria" and "White Lotus" star Sydney Sweeney), in "Reality." Davis was born in Nicetown and attended the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts before moving to New York to pursue acting.
"Reality" is Davis's fourth film, following roles in "A Journal for Jordan," "Tuscaloosa" and "The Day Shall Come," in which he played an anarchist partially inspired by John Africa, the MOVE founder killed in the 1985 bombing of his group's West Philly headquarters. Davis is currently starring in "Good Night, Oscar" on Broadway, after wrapping another Broadway run in "Ain't No Mo'" last December. He holds degrees from Berklee's Boston Conservatory and NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.
"Reality" recreates the 2017 interrogation of Winner, drawing on actual FBI transcripts of the hour-long interview inside her Georgia home. Director Tina Satter originally staged it as play called "Is This a Room," which received a rave review in the New York Times for its "heart-racing excitement" and "astonishingly emotional" material.
Although the real Agent Taylor was, to quote Davis paraphrasing Winner, "a 40-something white guy with a beer belly," in both the play and film adaptation he is a younger Black man paired with a middle-aged white partner.
"I think by putting a Black body into that space, you sort of open up a different perspective on the scene; he has a need and desire to do his job well, without failure, without fault," Davis told The Guardian. "He probably hasn’t spent 15 years with the bureau; his want and desire to press Reality might come across a little differently. He can play the bad cop because he’s just trying to excel, he wants to crack the code before this other guy."
Winner was convicted in 2018 for sharing classified documents with The Intercept. The leaked intel described Russian attempts to hack U.S. voting systems during the 2016 presidential election. She was initially sentenced to five years in prison, reportedly the longest sentence ever handed down for leaking government information to the media, but was released early in June 2021.
According to NBC News, she is currently on probation until November 2024 and cannot travel outside southern Texas, where she is living with her mother.
"Reality" premieres Monday night at 10 p.m. on HBO, and will also be available on its streaming service Max.