the take

‘The Wire’ Alumni Watch: It Pays to Be a Player

Clockwise from top left, Reddick in Lost; Ryan in The Office; Wilds in 902102; Williams in The Road.Courtesy of ABC, NBC, CW, and Dimension Films

Throughout much of the run of HBO’s Dickensian™ series The Wire, it was occasionally observed that despite being on the best show in the history of anything, The Wire’s actors seemed to have trouble getting cast in other projects. As recently as this January, David Simon blasted Hollywood for ignoring The Wire’s black actors in particular, and the Times ran a story about Chad L. Coleman, who played Cutty, putting in his shift at the Park Slope Food Co-op during a slow time in his career. But lately, we’ve noticed that the show’s actors, black and white, seem finally to be riding a career wave.

There was Amy Ryan (Beadie Russell), of course, classing up The Office as the endearing new HR rep/Michael Scott’s forthcoming stalker obsession. Lance Reddick (Cedric Daniels) has become J.J. Abrams’s go-to creepy guy, as seen on Lost and in trailers for Fringe. And Jim True-Frost (Prez), a longtime Steppenwolf member, is stepping in to the company’s Broadway hit August: Osage County later this month as put-upon nephew Little Charles.

Interestingly, though, that’s about it for the cops of The Wire. It’s the dealers who’ve won this first round of post-Wire casting calls. Tuesday’s Times paean to The Road’s child star, Kodi Smit-McPhee, also included a great moment of Michael K. Williams (Omar) “brilliantly improvising” as a thief. He’ll be in five other films in the next two years, including Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna. . Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield) has a hush-hush role coming up in Heroes, while Idris Elba (Stringer Bell) is everywhere — Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla, David Goyer’s The Unborn, and the pilot for HBO’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Gbenga Akinnagbe (Chris Partlow) has a splashy role in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, alongside Denzel, Travolta, Turturro, and Gandolfini.

But the ex-Wire dealer who’s made the biggest score has to be Tristan Wilds. The former Michael Lee has moved to the sunny climes of Beverly Hills, as he joins 902102. Watching Wilds clown in the show’s trailer, playing a hot, rich kid, makes us think that maybe the cast members of The Wire have made it; even David Simon would be forced to admit it’s a long way from Baltimore.

Were the dealers, in their relentless assault to peddle “WMDs” to the streets of Baltimore, much more convincing than the cops? Maybe, maybe not. Street character (if not actual dealer) Cutty isn’t working on anything yet, while it seems like eventually Dominic West will land something better than playing a villain in the Punisher sequel. But it is notable that the dealers, whose profession on The Wire forced them to portray people whose working and home lives were never separate, often were given more character complexity than the cops who chased them. Another side effect of the game, we suppose. –Michael D. Ayers

‘The Wire’ Alumni Watch: It Pays to Be a Player