Years ago I was working on a book about HBO’s police drama and social realistic epic The Wire as created by David Simon and Ed Burns. Through a range of ways, including the help of a friend, I got electronically introduced to a number of people who made the series as creators, writers, directors, and actors.
They were a remarkable group, and while for a range of reasons I had to put the book on hold, I have had the chance to share some of those interviews over the years; if you check the MF Galaxy archive, you can find my conversations with Sonja Sohn who played Kima Greggs, with Wendell Pierce who played Bunk Moreland, with director Ernest Dickerson, and with writer-director Joy Lusco-Kecken. There are still around a dozen more interviews that no one has heard but me.
Yet of all the ones I did, I think the most fascinating for me was with actor Robert Wisdom who played Baltimore City Police Department Major Bunny Colvin in Season 3 and then the same character but as a school consultant in Season 4. Interestingly enough Wisdom had auditioned for the role of Stringer Bell, a role that went to Idris Elba; but Wisdom was so piercing and iconic it’s now impossible to imagine him in any other role in The Wire.
Of course, as a flexible and superb performer, he’s occupied many other roles, including in Barbershop 2, Prison Break, Supernatural, Happy Town, Burn Notice, The Dark Knight, and Freedom Writers. He was also once a producer for All Things Considered which ran on the US network National Public Radio.
For me the most remarkable aspect of speaking with Wisdom was the depth and breadth of his analysis. I’ve interviewed many actors over the years, and while a few rose to Wisdom’s level of intellectualism, none ever discussed so many characters and situations that were not centered around their own work. That curiosity and generosity in sharing the spotlight was, in my experience, unique, refreshing, and instructive about the type of man he was and is.
We spoke by telephone on April 6 and 13, 2008, during the US election race between Barack Obama and John McCain, a race that affected all the interviews I did for that unfinished book on The Wire. We discussed: