Isiah Whitlock, Jr. is one of those actors who seems to pop up everywhere. Hell, I was watching Goodfellas recently and noticed him make a brief appearance as a doctor that I don’t think I’d made note of previously. And as we noted recently, he was also a fireman in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
But of course, he’s most famous for portraying Clay Davis on The Wire, and he’s even more famous for the wonderful catchphrase, “Sheeeeeeeeeit,” which he recently embraced even further by introducing The Whitlock Academy, a “school” where people can go and learn to say sheeeeeeeeeit from the master himself.
And now he’s taking sheeeeeeeeeit to another level with a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a new “product.” Whitlock teases the new product in a web video with fellow The Wire alum Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield), and it will be revealed exclusively here on Uproxx this coming Thursday. We spoke to Whitlock, Jr. about the origins of “sheeeeeit” and the coming Kickstarter it’s inspired, his role on Veep, and portraying “motherf*ckers” on TV and in films. He even made one of my dreams come true at the end.
We’re big fans of the whole “sheeeeeeeeeit” thing at Uproxx.
You do that very well.
Why thank you. That compliment is an honor coming from you, sir.
You’ve obviously been practicing.
What’s the origin of sheeeeeeeeeit? Where did it come from? As I recall, I think I first saw you do it in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour.
Right, I had gotten together with Spike and I had done it a couple of times and we laughed about it a bit and then we decided to do it in the movie.
Was it something you just started doing on your own or was there an inspiration for it, a friend or family member or whatnot?
I had an uncle who used to say it all the time. You ask him anything and he would say it like 5 or 6 times a day and I just put it away in the back of my mind when I was kid. I thought it was hilarious. I remember him opening a bottle of whiskey and going, “Sheeeeeeeeeit.” He wasn’t a heavy drinker but the whiskey was good and he was expressing happiness over it. You would ask him how his dinner was and he’d go, “Sheeeeeeeeeit those pork chops were really good.” So I started doing it as a total afterthought. I wish I could say that I was brilliant and knew all along that people would respond to it. But we did it in 25th Hour and I did it in another film for Spike called, She Hate Me, and then when I started doing The Wire I started doing it a little bit and then the writers would write it into the script. But I always wanted to be very selective about when I did it because I wanted to be able to serve the writing, which I thought was so brilliant, and if you go back and look at some of those episodes they’re strategically placed, to sort of capture how the character felt at certain times. It seems appropriate for the character at those moments and not just something I’m throwing around, and that’s probably part of the appeal to it.
Yeah. For sure.
Like when they’re serving an indictment and I say, “I’m not going to take the rap for all the other crooks in office in Baltimore, sheeeeeeeeeit.”
It’s perfect. It really is.
I’m very delighted that people respond to it the way they do. I think that’s another part of the appeal; that’s how people feel at times, you know? You’re overwhelmed by something and that word just comes out. I’m glad I’ve been able to give people something to play with.
Yeah, it’s become something of a catchword or phrase among me and friends for a while. In fact, I saw you walking down the street in New York a few years ago and it took everything in me to not drop a sheeeeeeeeeit on you as you walked by. Is that something that happens often, random people going up to you and saying it? Is that part of your life now?
Dude, you have no idea! A guy just stopped me a few minutes ago to say it. Sometimes it happens twice a day, sometimes it’s ten times a day. It was a little weird at first and took a little getting used to. But after a while I figured, what the hell, if I have to live with it I might as well embrace it, you know? The Wire ended in 2008 and people are still saying it so it’s something that’s probably never going to go away. I think it’ll probably be on my tombstone… I can’t walk down the street or be in large crowds or take the subway without people doing it. That said, there’s worse things in life to be known for, and it’s great that it’s usually coming from a good place and it makes people happy.
Well, I think it’s neat that you’re embracing it and sort of taken it to another level with the whole Whitlock Academy thing.
Yeah, we thought it would be fun to have like a four-year academy where people go to learn to say sheeeeeeeeeit. And then it spun off into some other things. We’re having fun with it and we’ve got a few other well-known characters coming. The humor’s a little on the dry side but I think they’re all kind of funny. All leading up to this Kickstarter program that we’re doing. I think people will be very happy with it.
Veep, one of my favorite shows, is coming back soon and you play the Secretary of Defense, George Maddox, on it. Do you have a favorite insult from the show, maybe something your character has said or had said about him?
I can’t say that I have a favorite one, but there is one coming up in the new season that is very funny and seems quite appropriate. I’ll just leave it at that.
Okay, I guess we’ll just have to wait for it then.
I’m still not sure what to make of Maddox. But that’s typical with a lot of the stuff that I do. I felt that way about the Clay Davis character as well. I get started on it and it just eventually finds a place to land. If you play a character long enough he’s going to eventually find his spot and you’re going to get comfortable in that spot and you’re going to start operating from within out of that. But I do like both characters.
Interesting that you say that, because I see similarities in Maddox and Clay Davis. They’re both conniving motherf*ckers. Really, really conniving motherf*ckers.
Yeah, I’m beginning to think I’ve become the motherf*cker guy.
Well you’ll probably never go without work then because there are lots of motherf*cker characters that need someone to portray them.
I’m pulling from people that I know. There’s a lot of motherf*ckers out there. People like to not admit it, and people like to not play it, but you live as long as I have and deal with as many people as I’ve dealt with and you meet a lot of motherf*ckers. I don’t forget the motherf*ckers, and I think that comes out in some of these characters. And then I think everybody’s got a little motherf*cker in them.
Of course. I agree. I agree completely.
I’m not even saying that’s a bad thing. I mean, everybody’s done done some motherf*cking thing.
One last thing: For years, it’s been a dream of mine to have you record the outgoing voice message for my voicemail on my phone.
I’d be happy to do that for you.
(Having Whitlock, Jr. record an outgoing voice message is one of the rewards that will be offered with his upcoming Kickstarter campaign, which again will be revealed fully here on Uproxx this coming Thursday.)
This interview was edited and condensed.