Yesterday at Sundance, during roundtable interviews for Cedar Rapids (another solid comedy from Miguel Arteta, review to come), I got the chance to talk to veteran character actor Isiah Whitlock Jr. He plays Ronald Wilks in the film, but is probably most famous for his role as Senator Clay Davis in The Wire. Me being the internet jackass that I am, my first question was about the strange type of fame that comes with being a phenomenon amongst internet jackasses. You can hear the exchange in the clip above (full transcript below), but here’s the short answer to the question “how often do people on the street come up and do your ‘sheeeeit’ line from The Wire?”
“It’s rare that I go a day without someone doing it.”
He seems to be a good sport about the whole thing, saying, “You put it out there, you gotta be prepared to deal with it.”
Which is good, because he seems like he could cut a man in half with his masculine baritone. (He does the line at 2:08 of the interview. Listen as the assembled reporters try to stifle our squeals of delight). The best part of the interview came later, when I asked him what question he’s most sick of hearing during press tours. His answer was polite and diplomatic, but the basic gist of it was, “People mostly ask me stupid sh*t about The Wire.”
Vince Mancini/FilmDrunk: How often do people come up to you on the street to do your “sheeeeit” line from The Wire—
[At this point, a reporter with chunky eyeglass frames, an open-collared shirt, and a Bohemian scarf interrupts to say he yelled “Sheeeeit” at Isiah last year in Chelsea. Cool story, bro.]
…and sub-question, what’s the most inappropriate place anyone’s ever done it?
Isiah Whitlock Jr.: It’s rare that I go a day without someone doing it. And it’s gotten to be kind of a wierd thing, because it I’m walking towards someone, they won’t do it in front of me. They’ll pass me and then I’ll get a block away and then I’ll hear it. Yeah, it’s like, do I have the courage, and now I’m far enough away that he’s not going to turn around and hit me or something.
And what’s the most inappropriate place? Hmmm, well I remember one time I was on a crowded subway, and, uh, I heard it. but I didn’t know where it was coming from. And the subway was just packed with people, and you’re already miserable, and then all of a sudden you start hearing ‘Sheeeeeit…’ Okay, okay, it’s time for me to get off at the next stop.
David Simon kinda pulled me aside at the end of it all and said, “You know you’re going to have to live with this for the rest of your life, right?” And I said, okay, I think I’m prepared. You put it out there, you gotta be prepared to deal with it.
When I did that thing in the Wire, I thought, well doesn’t everybody talk like that? I remember talking to a friend of mine, and I said I don’t get it. I thought everybody did that. And he said, “Yeah, well nobody does it the way you do it.”
Nobody seems to have the right pitch. When I do hear people do it, sometimes I think, “You’re not doing it right.”
For the roundtables, I was sandwiched between scarf guy and a bearded movie blogger who kept asking the Cedar Rapids stars about Kevin Smith’s plans for Red State. That’s pretty much everything you need to know about press roundtables at Sundance.