Today, Slate excerpted a section of Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution, a Brett Martin book on the spate of recent great TV shows that feature twisted protagonists—i.e. The Wire, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos. If this 3,000-word chapter is any indication, the book might be a must-read for fans of at least one of those three programs (so 95% of you). Here, Martin delves into the off-camera activities and mental preparations undergone by The Wire's actors, who looked to inhabit themselves, daily, into the lives of drug dealers, cops, and junkies. His findings aren't just gossip. Its clear that the commitment to realism undertaken by the show's scripts extended to the guys forever known as Bubbles, McNulty and Bodie: They began to feel like they were becoming their characters, and Andre Royo, who played Bubbles, even fell into a depression.
Royo, though, wasn't the only person to unknowingly begin mimicking his character. It, amazingly, happened to much of the crew.
In the isolated hothouse of Baltimore, immersed in the world of the streets, the cast of The Wire showed a bizarre tendency to mirror its onscreen characters in ways that took a toll on its members’ outside lives: Lance Reddick, who played the ramrod-straight Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, tormented by McNulty’s lack of discipline, had a similarly testy relationship with West, who would fool around and try to make Reddick crack up during his camera takes. Gilliam and Lombardozzi, much like Herc and Carver, would spend the bulk of Seasons 2 and 3 exiled to the periphery of the action, stewing on stakeout in second-unit production and eventually lobbying to be released from their contracts.
The guys who played Herc and Carver had a right to be invested in the shot. They were once almost shot in a Baltimore PD ride-along.
Even for those who regarded themselves as reasonably savvy about urban realities, it was a shocking experience.
“I’d grown up in housing projects, but it wasn’t blocks of boarded-up houses and naked babies in the arms of 25-pound heroin addicts,” said Seth Gilliam, who played Sgt. Carver. He and Lombardozzi (Herc) were assigned to a ride-along with a notoriously gung-ho narcotics officer who went by the nickname Super Boy. On one ride they found themselves crouching in the back seat during a firefight. “I’m thinking, ‘My head isn’t covered! My head isn’t covered! Am I going to feel the bullet when it hits me?’” he remembered.
Two social groups emerged among the actors. The first skewed older and intellectual...
At least two social groups developed. The first centered on the townhouse that Clarke Peters, who played Lester Freamon, had bought after Season 1. In Baltimore, Peters’ house became a kind of groovy bohemian salon for an older set of cast and crew members that included Doman, Jim True-Frost (who played Roland Pryzbylewski), and others. Several ended up renting rooms in the house. Peters, a strict vegetarian, would cook elaborate group meals. There was a piano and impromptu jam sessions fueled by red wine and pot smoke
... And the second definitely didn't, centering instead around the almighty bro-dom of Dominic West, Wendell Pierce and others.
Meanwhile, a rowdier scene existed among the younger cast members—untethered, far from home, and often in need of blowing off steam. This social group was centered on the Block, the stretch of downtown East Baltimore Street populated by a cluster of side-by-side strip clubs (and, in semi-peaceful détente across the street, BPD’s downtown headquarters). The cast of The Wire became legendary visitors to the Block, with a core group including West (McNulty), Gilliam (Carver), Lombardozzi (Herk), Pierce (Bunk), Andre Royo (Bubbles), J.D. Williams (Bodie), and Sonja Sohn (Kima)—holding her own among the boys in one of many on- and off-screen parallels.
“We finished shooting at like 1 o’clock and, you know, normal places close at 2, so we’d go down to the Block, just to feel the energy,” said Royo. “The owners of the clubs would come out; the girls would come out. It was like we were heroes. The local heroes.” At a cast and crew softball game, Royo hired a limousine and a team of strippers to act as cheerleaders.
As the The Wire continues to top "Best Show Ever" lists and more and more people discover it through DVDs and the Internet, I think we'll see the legacy go the opposite route of a show like, say, ER, which was revolutionary for its time, but is barely mentioned now. Instead, its background stories (like above) will be discussed the way F. Scott Fitzgerald's alcoholism is when Gatsby is read in lit class. The Wire's legacy, I think, will be that long-lasting. Just my two cents.