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Jamie Hector on Playing Marlo on ‘The Wire’ — and Keeping Secrets About ‘Heroes’

Courtesy of HBO

In case you hadn’t noticed, Vulture is a tiny bit excited over this Sunday’s premiere of the final season of The Wire. Like all media outlets, we will not rest until our readers have reached the same breathless level of anticipation, so today we bring you … our second Wire-themed interview of the week. (And we’re not done yet!) Brooklyn native Jamie Hector, better known to fans as drug lord and number-one Baltimore Major Case Unit target Marlo Stanfield, weighed in about the new season, moonlighting on Heroes, and how a soft-spoken nice guy goes about playing one of the most ruthless characters on TV.

So, what can you tell us about the new season of The Wire?
For starters, it’s gonna be about you guys [the press]. And Marlo is also going to be the center of attention in that he’ll be moving in a direction beyond money. He’s trying to attain power beyond power. Some people strive for money, some strive to avoid certain things. Marlo strives for the ability to push other people’s buttons. And he’s going to have fun with that. He’s gonna have a lot of fun with that.

Everyone always remarks on how super-nice you are in real life. How do you get into the mind-set of a ruthless drug lord?
It was fun. It was research, and it was reading and music and sitting back and actually trying to get into the shoes of this character. I spent some time around some people who had lived the life, and I focused a lot of my research on how the character moves. He moves the way a king might move or the way any leader of men might move. Marlo wastes nothing: He’s very economical. He’s a man of few words. He wastes no actions. It requires a lot of discipline.

Did you build that history yourself, or did David Simon and Ed Burns give you his backstory?
David Simon and Ed Burns have so much confidence in their actors. They just said, “Listen, we believe you, just go.” A funny thing — and I told Ed Burns this on set — is that the life story that Michael [one of the kids from Season Four] has on the show is the backstory that I had conceived for Marlo on my own. His family was addicted, and other individuals raised him. He was smarter than the others, but he used it to other ends. So Michael’s story is Marlo’s backstory. And it’s why I think Michael is going to turn out like Marlo, Chris Bartlow, or Omar.

Who on The Wire is the least like the character he plays?
Gbenga Akinnagbe, who plays Chris Partlow. He’s very friendly and very outgoing. Nothing like his character!

These days you’re working on Heroes. That must be very different from working on The Wire
My character’s name on Heroes is Benjamin Knox Washington. I can’t really disclose much about him, but I can tell you it’s a lot of fun. So many special effects — and it all winds up looking so real. The set is different — it’s warmer outside, obviously — and in Baltimore, since most of us are not from Baltimore, we all hang out and go to dinner after shooting. We’re like a family.

You started with The Wire in Season Three, and now the show has become a cultural phenomenon. How has the atmosphere on set changed?
The atmosphere on set is very exciting — much of it having to do with the lack of knowing what’s going to happen next! The producers keep us in the dungeon about what’s going to happen next. When you finally get your hands on the script, you’re like, “Wow, this guy’s gonna get to live, this guy’s gonna die. Oh my goodness!” We’re a lot like the viewers in that way.
—Bilge Ebiri

Earlier: Michael K. Williams on Playing Omar on ‘The Wire,’ Discovering Snoop, and How Janet Jackson Changed His Life
David Simon Deification: A Season-by-Season History

Jamie Hector on Playing Marlo on ‘The Wire’ — and Keeping Secrets About ‘Heroes’