It ran for five years on HBO to universal critical acclaim. That means that no one watched it. Since its conclusion in 2008, more and more people have picked up the DVDs and have caught on to this underappreciated phenomenon. Unfortunately I don’t think any of those people are casting directors.
The show has a huge ensemble and there was never a weak actor in the batch. They all played such rich parts; it would be difficult to differentiate them from the characters. So logic would suggest they would be stuck playing similar characters in other movies…but that’s not the case. Take a look.
Jimmy McNulty aka Dominic West
The Wire had a large cast but there was one guy that was easily labeled the lead. Dominic West played McNulty, a detective who didn’t know when to shut up but was more surprisingly noble than the rest of the force. He was the one determined to take down the vast drug trade in Baltimore. West took familiar aspects like alcoholism and made it fresh and nuanced. It was a very popular role that should have been able to get him plenty of strong parts around Hollywood. Instead he’s been stuck in big-budget movies where he has been wasted.
In 2006, he was the villainous senator in 300, which was a fun part but not enough to really show his chops. He then played the villain in Punisher: War Zone, a movie that was so panned many have forgotten it even existed. Thankfully. This weekend he’s in a Neil Marshall movie called Centurian where once again it looks like he’s playing a one-note character in an expensive action film. Despite him being paired up with Michael Fassbinder, the movie looks more like Doomsday than The Descent. Yuck.
Lt. Cedric Daniels aka Lance Riddick
This is the only actor of the set who I think is still doing pretty well. Lt. Daniels was such a complex character. A lot of the times he was a tough company man in the Baltimore police department, but he was also quite honorable. He respected McNulty, but didn’t always tolerate him.
Lance Riddick is an intimidating looking actor. He’s very tall and has a stare that could kill small animals. So it was very cool casting to place him as Matthew Abaddon in LOST. He wasn’t on the show for very long, but he had a distinct presence. Abaddon was a man shrouded with mystery (On LOST?!?!!? Get out!). Riddick was able to bring a lot of cool elements to what could have been a one-note character. He is not a regular on the show Fringe, which is a lot of fun. He plays a thankless character who doesn’t get to do very much every episode. Every once in awhile he gets a good scene, but he’s easily underused.
Kima Greggs aka Sonja Sohn
The Wire is often seen a male-oriented show but there were a few strong female characters as well. The largest role was Kima Greggs who was a detective who was brought in from narcotics to help bring down Avon Barksdale. She’s incredible competent, often surpassing the male members of the squad. Her home life wasn’t perfect, but being in a lasting lesbian couple ended up being one of the more healthy relationships on the show.
Despite being one of the strongest actors in the set, it’s hard to find Sonja Sohn in much anymore. She had an arc on Brothers and Sisters and has popped up in a few other TV shows. Her largest film role was in Step Up 2 the Streets and she was barely in the movie. Just enough to make me say, “Wait, was that Kima?” Sadly, it was.
Stringer Bell aka Idris Elba
The Wire was a show that showed every angle of the city. Just as much focus was spent on the inner workings of the drug dealers as it was on the men trying to bring them down. One of the most memorable characters from the Barksdale group was the right-hand-man, Stringer Bell. He was a scary guy and most of that was because he was so intelligent. Watching how he operates convinced me that the war on drugs will never end because the criminals are now this smart.
Idris Elba has been constantly in movies ever since The Wire ended, but they’re just not very good movies. Obsessed? The Losers? Now Takers? These are just clichéd African American parts in lame movies. I did think he was well used in a stint on The Office as an intimating new boss. However, I think there is some hope. He was cast in Thor. Hopefully Heimdall is a solid part and will lead the way to more three-dimensional characters.
Omar Little aka Michael K. Williams
Everybody has a favorite character on The Wire. I lean more towards Lester Freamon, but almost everyone else responds with Omar Little. And why not?! He was the most bada** character on the show with the large scar on his face and the shotgun in his hands. He was a guy who only robbed drug dealers. He was the wild card in this game. Omar’s coming…
I haven’t seen much of Michael K. Williams’ post-Wire career, but it seems like he’s looking for stronger roles than the others I’ve named. He had a short, but satisfying part in Gone Baby Gone. It was so weird to see Omar in a police outfit. He was recently in Life During Wartime, Todd Solondz’s quasi-sequel to Happiness. Williams actually reprised the role originated by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Willams will soon be seen in my most anticipated show of the fall: Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorsese’s show about prohibition.
So some of the actors turned out all right, but most of them are stuck. They are such good actors! It’s like they went from performing Shakespeare to…The Losers. Now there are many more actors I wasn’t able to cover. Amy Ryan is doing really well. A lot of them are now on David Simon’s new show Treme. Some have had solid work on other shows, like Damages. Yet most are stuck doing jobs like Heroes, Happy Town, and (ugh) Did You Hear About the Morgans?.
So Hollywood, I’ve already asked you a big favor to ignore Scott Pilgrim’s box office. Now I’m going to beg you to hire these actors and give them good parts. Everyone else, just catch up with The Wire on DVD. It’s kinda the best show in the history of the medium.