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Actor Ptolemy Slocum on the Emotional Last Night of Shooting ‘The Wire’

Photo: Everett Bogue

Savvy New Yorkers may have recognized the actor playing the Business Card Killer on last night’s season finale of The Wire. After years as a member of Neutrino, one of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater’s most innovative improv teams, Ptolemy Slocum has made something of a cottage industry playing mental cases on HBO classics — first on The Sopranos, where he portrayed Junior’s dog-kissing institutional buddy Keith, and now as the unstable answer to everyone’s prayers on The Wire. Slocum’s interrogation by McNulty and Bunk was the last scene ever shot on the set of The Wire. He sat down last week to talk with Vulture about keeping the surprises of the finale, the Bunk’s final speech, and partying with Jimmy McNulty.

Courtesy of HBO
Did you know going in that this character would become so pivotal?
Don’t ruin anything for me! I am very diligent about this show.

So you haven’t seen the finale yet?
No! I don’t even know if I’m guilty or not. I can’t even tell from the script that I have, because he’s a twisted enough character that it could just be a psychological issue.

Were you a Wire fan before you got the role?
No. I’d never seen the show. And I’m actually very glad that I hadn’t because now that I have watched it from episode one, season one, I can only imagine the anxiety that would have welled up in me knowing how amazing the show was. But I knew nothing about the character other than what was in the pages they gave me to audition. They did tell me at one point during my audition that my character could go on trial, but I think that got cut when the season was trimmed from thirteen to ten episodes.

What was it like that last night?
It was a remarkable experience. The day started late. There was a funeral that day for the daughter of a crew member, so there was this kind of somber beginning, and lunch wasn’t taken until after nightfall, like ten at night. We got out of there as the sun was rising.

Did you have any other scenes that night?
No, so I was just watching the whole evening as everyone wrapped. They kind of organized the night so that as a scene would end, it was that person’s final scene ever. Everything stops. Someone gives a speech about how this is their last experience. They applaud, and everything starts up again. Starting and stopping. Punctuating with these moments of pure emotion, and it just felt like getting hit with walls of water after each of these speeches happened.

Top, Dominic West and Wendell Pierce. Bottom, Sonja Sohn, Delaney Williams, John Doman, and Lance Reddick.Photos: Ptolemy Slocum

Whose speeches did you see?
Daniels’s speech was very sweet. He cried. Landsman never left his chair — the only person who did his whole speech sitting down. His was such a moving and quiet speech, very introverted and self-effacing. Kima had a lot of tears, a lot of emotion. After her speech was my scene.

What was that like?
If you can imagine a normal set with 50 people on it, double that, because people came in for this one moment. And then everything was intensified because they’re all focusing on us much more than on an ordinary set. It was much more like theater than TV. It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. Afterwards, Bunk and McNulty gave their farewell speeches. Bunk started his off by standing there with his feet apart and saying, “All right, motherfuckers,” and gave an extremely moving speech about the familial feeling of The Wire, and how much the cast and crew supported him and his family. He’s from New Orleans, and some of the worst moments in his whole life happened while they were shooting the show.

And Dominic West?
Dominic was great. He was so kind to me throughout the shoot. And everyone loved him on that set. At the wrap party, Dominic came over and put me in this headlock. He looks off into the distance, and then he looks down at me and says, “Ptolemy” — in his Irish accent — and then he thinks for a long time, and then he says, “I’m sooooooo drunk.”

Vulture’s complete coverage of the Wire finale:
‘The Wire’: One Last Long, Boozy Irish Wake for David Simon’s Accidental Masterpiece
Ten Questions Left Unanswered by the ‘Wire’ Finale
‘The Wire’ Finale’s Montage: A Shot-by-Shot Commentary
Sternbergh on ‘The Wire’ Finale: The Anti-‘Sopranos’
Debating the Legacy of ‘The Wire’

Actor Ptolemy Slocum on the Emotional Last Night of Shooting ‘The Wire’