After "The Wire"

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 27 2011 1:11 PM

After "The Wire"

The Wire, David Simon's gritty study of the underbelly of Baltimore,was one of the richest, highest-profile platforms for actors of color thattelevision had ever seen. However, when the show closed up shop on HBO in 2008, some criticsworried— alongwith Simon— that The Wire 's actors of color would find thedramatic job market bleak , thanks to the show's lack of institutionalrecognition (it never won an Emmy, despite its critical acclaim) and thegeneral dearth of opportunities for black actors in Hollywood.

So have the dire predictions been borne out? Three years outfrom the show's finale, let's take a look at how the graduates of The Wire are faring professionally:  
 

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Lance Reddick (CedricDaniels)

Reddick has continued to make a career of playing strong, imposingcops. Having left the gritty streets of Baltimore, he now patrols parallel dimensionsas a Homeland Security agent on J.J. Abrams's sci-fi fantasia Fringe . The role is a prominent one, butthe show isn't; if Fringe 's ratingsdon't improve in its new Fridaynight "death slot," the show may not be renewed for a fourth season.   

Michael K. Williams(Omar Little)

Williams' criminal status has grown more impressive withtime: Having played a feared stick-up man on The Wire , Williams now runs Atlantic City's black community as its"de facto mayor," Chalky White, on HBO's prohibition-era epic Boardwalk Empire. The series was justhonored as best TV drama at the Golden Globes, so Williams seems well-placedfor more prestige gigs in the future.

Idris Elba (Russell "Stringer"Bell)

Probablythe most successful of The Wire 'salumni, Elba has kept busy with a number of film and television gigs over thepast three years. He had recurring roles on both The Office and The Big C ,and played the title role in the BBC America mini-series Luther , for which he received a 2010 Golden Globe nod and criticalpraise . Stuart Heritage of TheGuardian calledit Elba's "best work since The Wire ,perhaps (whisper it) even his best work so far including The Wire ." Of course, that doesn't mean he's forgiven for Prom Night .

Isiah Whitlock, Jr.(State Sen. R. Clayton "Clay" Davis )

Whitlock has enjoyed the most diverse—if not the mosthigh-profile—swath of castings since leaving The Wire . In addition to appearing in a number of major commercialcampaigns (Verizon, Southwest, Universal Studios), he played an ex-CIA agent inthe criticallyapplauded but ultimately canceled Rubicon ,on AMC. His film credits include the Joel Schumacher thriller Twelve and the forthcoming comedy Cedar Rapids.

Chad L. Coleman (Dennis"Cutty" Wise)

Times are tough for Coleman: After playing bit parts inshows including Terminator: The SarahConnor Chronicles and The Good Wife ,Coleman can currently be seen on the big screen as the criminal sidekick Chili in The Green Hornet , a film noted forits "crushing mediocrity."

Gbenga Akinnagbe (Chris Partlow)

Akinnagbehas been working steadily, but hasn't made much of an impression since The Wire .After a modest smattering of bit parts, a four-episode run on The Good Wife as a pastor and a notablerole as a hostage in The Taking of Pelham123 , Akinnagbe is due to appear next in the psychological thriller The Somnambulist and thesci-fi film Red and Blue Marbles , bothof which have been in post-production for an ominously long time.

Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield)

Hector's career seemed to beon the upswing after The Wire with aregular role as a super-strong, fear-eating criminal on the popular NBC show Heroes , but following that show's wrap in2008, the actor hasn't seen much action. One notable exception is his portrayalof "DoRight" Miller in Night Catches Us ,a sober look at the Black Power movement in 1970s Philadelphia that's getting greatreviews , if not much attention from audiences.

Tristan Wilds (Michael Lee)

Wilds,who played a middle-school student on TheWire , now stars as heartthrob Dixon Wilson in the re-imagined 90210 , a show that has received fairlygood reviews for a teen soap opera. Wilds was nominated for Teen ChoiceAwards in both 2009 and 2010; if his young fan base stays loyal, he may have ashot at a healthy adult career. His film credits include the mildly successful The Secret Life of Bees and a long-awaited Anthony Hemingway/George Lucas collaboration concerning the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails .

Michael B. Jordan (Wallace)

Followingan early departure from The Wire in2002, Jordanhas made a successful career in television, including stints on All My Children , The Assistants and Parenthood .He currently plays Vince Howard in the much-beloved Friday Night Lights , and he will appear alongside Wire castmate Tristan Wilds in the Red Tails project.

Sonja Sohn (Det.Shakima "Kima" Greggs)

Though she briefly left policework to play a woman trying to give her baby up for adoption on Brothers and Sisters , Sohn will return toher Wire roots in the forthcoming ABCmedical drama, Body of Proof , inwhich she'll play a detective.

Andre Royo (Reginald "Bubbles" Cousins)

Over the past fewyears, Royo has appeared in a number of small TV roles, such as his recent appearanceas a hijacked cab driver on Fringe . However,Royo's future seems to be in film: He'll be joining fellow Wire castmates Wilds and Jordan in the forthcoming Red Tails project and will be starring in the post-apocalyptic piece Remnants .

Wendell Pierce (Det.William "Bunk" Moreland)

Pierce's notable jobs since The Wire include a stint on the CBS's show about crime-solving mathwhizzes, Numb3ers , as well as hisstarring role as the trombonist Antoine Batiste on Treme , David Simon's exploration of working-class life inpost-Katrina New Orleans. The show has been a criticaldarling and enough of a commercial success for HBO to renew it for a secondseason.

Felicia Pearson(Felicia "Snoop" Pearson)

Stephen King once called Felicia "Snoop"Pearson "the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a televisionseries," but the singularity of that role may be hindering Pearson's currentcareer: after all, how often are casting agents looking for a lesbiandrug-dealer type with a super-thick Baltimore accent? Snoop may have beenPearson's acting debut and swan song all in one—she hasn't appeared in anythingsince The Wire . However, she has hadsome success as a rapper ,and a memoir describing her seriously rough childhood, Graceafter Midnight , was published to mostlypositive reader reviews in late 2007.

 

Looking at the record, it's clear that while some Wire alumni—especially Reddick, Elba andWilds—have done well, most of the show's black actors haven't exactly hadbreakout careers. But then again, thewhite actors haven't become superstars, either: Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty)has kept a rather low profile on British television ,while Aidan Gillen (Tommy Carcetti) hassimilarly kept mostly to limited small screen roles. So if there really is apost- Wire curse, it seems to be acolorblind one.

 

Photograph of The Wire cast © HBO. All rights reserved.

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