Known for its gritty portrayal of life in Baltimore on both sides of the law, HBO’s The Wire (available to stream anytime on HBO Now) was great at telling complex, compelling stories. Given that the show had such a massive cast, plotlines that were planned out in intricate detail, and the creative vigor of showrunner David Simon, there were plenty of interesting things going on behind the scenes, as well. Here’s a look at some of the fascinating facts behind one of TV’s most highly-acclaimed shows.
Sometimes It Was A Little Too Real
One of the most celebrated aspects of The Wire was how it strived for realism. In some cases, this realism was a little too close for comfort, and the Baltimore Police Department actually requested that Simon and company adjust the show’s story so as to not reflect certain vulnerabilities they had, particularly in regards to their ability to monitor cell-phone technology, as well as Nextel devices. Simon and co-creator Ed Burns were happy to comply. As the The Baltimore Sun reported, Burns told the The Wire writers that “to highlight this vulnerability in our drama would have irresponsibly driven the communications of every criminal conspiracy into an impenetrable hole.”
Almost Everyone Auditioned For A Different Role
With such a roster of talented actors playing so many compelling characters, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in their respective roles. However, it turns out that many of the actors who tried out for a specific part on The Wire ended up cast in roles they weren’t expecting.
To list off just a few, Lance Reddick, who plays Lieutenant Daniels, originally auditioned for the roles of both Bunk Moreland and Bubbles. Real-life policeman Jay Landsman lobbied to play the character that was based on him, right down to his name, but ended up cast as the beat cop Dennis Mello. Gbenga Akinnagbe, who plays Chris Parlow, read for the part of Parlow’s boss, Marlo Stanfield. Speaking of Marlo, Jamie Hector went in hoping to land the role of reformed gangster “Cutty” Wise. Robert Wisdom auditioned to play the ambitious drug dealer Stringer Bell before ending up as Hamsterdam mastermind Sergeant “Bunny” Colvin, while Isiah Whitlock Jr. tried out for Detective Lester Freamon before landing the role of corrupt State Senator Clay Davis (and later ad-libbed his famous catchphrase). Michael Kenneth Williams, however, got the part of Omar Little after only a single audition.
Dominic West’s Unconventional Audition
Another actor who got the part he auditioned for was Dominic West, who plays the authority shirking Detective James McNulty. The first draft of West’s audition tape had his wife reading other characters’ lines in her natural British accent, which kept throwing off the actor. He ended up channeling his inner De Niro and recorded a revised version where he’d read McNulty’s lines, then leave pauses where the other characters would talk. This may have been an unconventional approach, but West was offered the part, only agreeing to the five-year contract after his agent assured him the show wouldn’t last that long.
Andre Royo’s Realistic Portrayal
Before going out for the part of Bubbles, Andre Royo was concerned that playing a homeless, drug-addicted police informant would be too stereotypical a character to play, and had to be talked into it by his agent. He got the part, and became one of the show’s most important characters. During The Wire‘s second season, Royo was approached by Mark Wahlberg, then serving as an executive producer on Entourage, at an HBO cast party. Knowing that The Wire was prone to hiring real people from the streets of Baltimore, he attempted to give Royo a pep talk about using this opportunity to get his life in order instead of going back to the streets. Royo then explained to Wahlberg that he’d been a professional actor for years, but said that moment made him realize that The Wire was really telling a unique story that resonated with people.
Sonja Sohn’s Unpleasant Police History
Sonja Sohn, who plays Kima Greggs, was hesitant about being cast as a homicide detective based on her negative experiences with cops previously in her life. In the early days of the show, just being on set caused her so much anxiety that she would often forget her lines. Before long, she grew more comfortable with the role, and when she found out her character was going to be killed off near the end of the first season, she successfully fought for her character’s life, as did HBO executive Carolyn Strauss. Since then, Sohn has become the leader of ReWired for Change, a community initiative group based out of the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
Brother Mouzone’s Unusual Demeanor
One of The Wire‘s more unconventional characters, Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts), was a well-read, bowtie-sporting enforcer. Simon has said before that “Brother Mouzone, like all of our characters, is a “composite of attributes from a variety of people.” It’s also been an online talking point for years that Mouzone’s appearance resembles a composite sketch of the shooter spotted during the killing of rapper Notorious B.I.G. back in 1997.
The Abandoned Sixth Season
Nowadays, it’s praised as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, but The Wire had a hard time keeping an audience during its initial run, and Simon had to lobby to get the show a fourth, and later a fifth, season. The idea of a sixth season was discussed, which would focus on Baltimore’s rapidly increasing Latino population, but this idea was eventually abandoned. Later, Simon told Slate that no one knew enough about the subject to “do it with the degree of verisimilitude we demand of ourselves.”
Simon also pitched the idea of a spinoff show, tentatively titled The Hall, which would focus on the city’s political theater, featuring The Wire mainstay Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen). While that never got off the ground, Simon was able to explore similar themes with his recent HBO miniseries, Show Me a Hero.
The Cops Almost Never Use Their Guns
While the cops on The Wire aren’t afraid to use extreme methods to get what they want (see: “The Western District way”), none of the cops ever fire a gun during the course of the show. That is, aside from Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost), who uses his gun three times over the course of the show, with each time proving to be a mistake. The first time, he shoots a hole in the wall of their workspace. The second time, he returns fire during a sequence at the towers, then later ends up pistol whipping a young drug dealer, blinding him in one eye. The third time, Pryzbylewski accidentally kills an undercover cop, which ends his career, and lands him in the Baltimore Public School System by the beginning of the fourth season.
Randy Is Cheese’s Son
Another aspect of the show that’s never mentioned on screen was the fact that the character of Randy (Maestro Harrell), one of four eighth graders the show spends much of the fourth season following, is actually the son of “Cheese” Wagstaff (Method Man), the drug dealer from east Baltimore. Simon says he intended to reveal this fact during the show’s fifth season, but the idea was scrapped when the number of episodes was reduced from 13 down to 10.
There’s Almost No Musical Soundtrack
Music was almost nonexistent throughout The Wire‘s five seasons, another aspect of the show’s strive for realism. There’s the opening theme song, Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole,” which is performed by a different artist each season, (including Waits himself in season two), and “The Fall” by Blake Leyh, which plays over the show’s closing credits. Other than those sequences, and the annual end-of-season montages, the only time music shows up in The Wire is if it’s playing in the background, like out of someone’s stereo, rather than as part of an in-show musical soundtrack. To fill in this audio gap, The Wire would rely on atmospheric sounds, brought to life by sound editor Jennifer Ralston, to help give certain emotional cues to the audience.
Not One Character Appears In Every Episode
As a show with so many far-reaching stories and a massive cast, it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that not one single actor appears in all 60 episodes. While eight of the show’s lead actors are given billing in every installment, Lieutenant Daniels has the most appearances of anyone on the show, showing up in 58 episodes total.
This is an updated version of a post that originally ran on May 31, 2016