Michael B. Jordan didn’t see his death on The Wire coming, but he knew it had to happen. As a teenager, Jordan had a small but meaningful role on the HBO drama, playing 16-year-old Wallace, a young drug dealer selling to buyers from Baltimore’s low-rise projects. “Wallace was the heart of the show,” Jordan says in All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, Jonathan Abrams’s oral history of the show. “[The Wire creator David Simon] wanted to rip that heart out and really use Wallace as a harsh example of sometimes being the victim of your circumstances.”
As recounted in All the Pieces Matter, Wallace’s murder takes place in the first season episode “Cleaning Up,” when he is shot by his fellow low-rise dealers Bodie and Poot: “To see that end so viciously with his two boys, his two best friends … That death scene is something people always come up to me and talk about and say how they were crying and how much it affected them,” Jordan told Abrams. “Years later. It’s just a testament to the writing and the crazy performance. It was awesome.”
Here’s Jordan recalling his final day on set, which he said he asked his mom not to show up for:
I kind of knew it was coming. Especially when you get that knock on your trailer door from David Simon. I’ll never forget it. He said ‘I love you. The audience loves you. We’ve got to kill you. We’ve got to kill you off.’ I remember telling my mom not to show up on set that day. My mom gets extremely emotional, and this was kind of too much. I didn’t want her to see it. It was a long time to shoot that shot. We definitely overshot that for sure. I remember them having to duct-tape the windows, so the lights wouldn’t go through, because were were going so late into the night, to the morning. But it was really quiet. The crew knew.
Everybody showed up. Even if they weren’t working, they kind of showed up on set. I knew Andrew Royo did, for sure. He was definitely a mentor of mine on that show. He showed up to help me get into the mindset and really talk me through it. I remember getting the squib under my shirt. They had a tube running down my leg with warm water for when he peed himself, when he got scared and shit. Me and J. D. Williams, who played Bodie, we’re both from Newark, New Jersey, and we both spent a lot of time on that show together, and I learned a lot from him over that show. We was just talking to each other, and then [when we started shooting the scene] it was like I didn’t even know him.
Simon said he told Jordan that Wallace’s final scene was really a gift: “I said it to Michael, ‘People are going to remember Wallace. Wallace is going to bother them for a long time after the whole show is forgotten. You’re going to work. You’re going to have a career. You did great with this.”
Additional reporting by Basil Sitaras.