NEW YORK – The theater at the Paley Center was full tonight, and with good reason – the cast of “The Wire,” along producers David Simon and Nina Noble, were present for a discussion and Q&A. HitFix's own Alan Sepinwall acted as moderator and the evening proved incredibly interesting.
Anyone who has watched it, knows that “The Wire,” which aired for five seasons on HBO, was a special show, and one that has only grown in stature and myth since it went off the air. Sepinwall probably described it best in his book, “The Revolution was Televised.” He wrote that people will approach him and say, “I am ready to watch 'The Wire.' And they phrase it like that-like it's a religious obligation they are about to undertake, rather than viewing a modestly rated HBO drama.”
One look at tonight's audience, even as viewed via the livestream, illustrated just what he meant – one woman flew from San Diego to New York simply to attend. The show may not have been viewed with the appropriate reverence at the time, but “The Wire” was something special.
On tonight's panel were: David Simon, Nina Noble, Wendell Pierce, Sonja Sohn, Michael Kenneth Williams, Seth Gilliam, Jim True-Frost, John Doman, Lawrence Gilliard Jr, and Jamie Hector. There were also some alums in the audience as well.
Without further ado, here is what we learned:
People still want to talk to Dominic West and Idris Elba about the show
West and Elba weren't present for the panel, but both sent in videos and both said in them not just how much the show meant, but how people still want to talk to them about it. West said that people who were just discovering the show now come up to him while Elba said that he can't go into a room to take about a part without someone bringing up Stringer Bell.
Omar was Michael Kenneth Williams first recurring character
The man who played Omar had acted before, but this was the first time he got to keep coming back to a character. He actually bought a place in Baltimore only to have the story shift direction radically in the second season. He was angry when the show went to the docks and started focusing on Caucasian characters instead of African Americans. Simon explained to him though that they were trying to make a bigger story, and they if stayed in the projects it would be a smaller story. “That went way over my f*cking head,” Williams said. Now though, he gets it.
Sonja Sohn and Wendell Pierce were sure it wasn't going anywhere
Sohn, Pierce, and a few others sat down in a conference room to watch the pilot and afterwards were pretty convinced that nothing was going to come of the show. A couple of episodes in after they were picked up, Pierce explained what the show was all about and how it was going to work to Sohn and everyone else (he claims that it was more hope than anything else, that he was on the phone with his agent, asking him to call “Law & Order”).
Lawrence Gilliard Jr. Actually grew up in Baltimore and felt close to the show
While most people were transplants to Baltimore, the man who played D'Angelo Barksdale was from there and felt like he knew the people and the places involved, that he understood it all. That sentiment caused Simon to apologize for killing him in the second season. Later, Gilliard told us that he was “scared” about getting the “Where's Wallace?” scene right. Idris Elba and Gilliard got to that special moment together, it wasn't written that way on the page.
Seth Gilliam and Domenick Lombardozzi were frustrated shooting so many surveillance scenes
The two actors actually went to David Simon to complain about not being effectively used. They were angry and, Gilliam claimed tonight, threatened to walk off the show. Simon pointed out to them during that meeting that the two guys were feeling just like their characters were feeling. He told them to “use it.” Lombardozzi was “buoyed” by that. Not Gilliam. Gilliam then did a great Lombardozzi impression. Really, watch the livestream, it was impressive.
Martin O'Malley cut film incentives when he became Governor
Former Mayor of Baltimore and now Governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley was apparently not a fan of Aidan Gillen's Thomas Carcetti, a character loosely based on O'Malley, nor of the show. In fact, it was indicated tonight that when the Maryland state budget had to be cut, the film incentives went away, killing TV and movie production in Baltimore, because of O'Malley's dislike of the Carcetti character and the show.
Wendell Pierce would get dressed as Bunk and go to a bar called Choices
Pierce related a story about living in Baltimore and getting dressed up as Bunk to head out for the evening. People thought he was an actual police officer and made threats and laughed and joked with him when he went out. He also met the real Bunk on a couple of occasions – once when they started shooting and then years later when the real Bunk was retiring. They didn't talk in between because Pierce thought Bunk didn't like him. Pierce and the real Bunk are now friends and will be at the New Orleans Saints game on November 21st, if you want to look out for them.
People used to asked Jamie Hector if he wanted to move a package or two
Along the same lines of getting mistaken for character, Jamie Hector (who played Marlo Stanfield) used to have people come up to him and ask if he wanted to move drugs for them. We assume that he, politely, declined.
J.D. Williams appreciates the way Simon killed Bodie
Williams may not have been up on stage, but he still got the chance to talk a little about the way Bodie was taken out. Williams appreciated the way that he was taken aside and talked to about his character's impending doom. “J.D. took it best,” Simon said, about Williams acceptance of his character's demise versus the way other people used to take such news.
Everybody used to show up for everybody else's final scene each season
Because they never knew if they were renewed for another season, all the actors would come out as each one wrapped for the season. They were, as they described it, a family, and it was a unique and different experience on “The Wire” from anything else they have done. Even when folks didn't have scenes together, or weren't on the show at the same time, they still felt like family (and do to this day). Once, when one actor stopped learning their lines and wasn't prepared, the other actors actually had an intervention with the actor (whom they wouldn't even name tonight) to set them straight. Noble thought she was going to have to do something about the actor, but the group policed themselves.
Kima almost died when she was shot
When Sonja Sohn's Kima Greggs was shot in the first season that was, when it was first written, going to be the end of her. Simon was convinced by an executive at HBO not to kill the character, but he waivered on it for a while. Sohn, to this day, believes that she did a terrible job in the scene where she was shot, and that it only works on screen because of the way it was cut together.
Even if they are all together here, there is no more of “The Wire”
When Simon was asked if he still thought about the characters and where they might be now, he didn't state outright that he didn't, but certainly indicated as much. His answer was that the show had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that the end had to be the end. Now it would just be “sustaining the franchise” rather than telling the story that had to be told. That simply wouldn't be worth it.
There was a lot more said over the course of the 90 minutes for which the panel ran, but like the show itself, eventually it had to end. What was made abundantly clear was that the show didn't just mean something to the audience that watched it then or since (or maybe even in the future), but it meant something to those who worked on it both in front of and behind the camera.
If you have not seen it yet, surely by now you're thinking that thought – “I am ready to watch 'The Wire.'”