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Down From “The Wire”: TV’s Most Talented Cast Makes Its Way to the Movies

Down From “The Wire”: TV’s Most Talented Cast Makes Its Way to the Movies (photo)

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On his DVD commentary for the pilot episode of his television show “The Wire,” creator David Simon describes the series’ objective. “It seems to be a cop show,” he says. “But we were actually trying to mask something different within a cop show…It’s about how institutions have an effect on individuals and how… you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you have committed to.” The milieu of Simon’s marvelous serial was the working classes of Baltimore: the cops, drug dealers, lawyers, public school teachers, longshoremen and so on. But since “The Wire” went off the air after five seasons on HBO, the struggles of most of the show’s incredibly talented cast within the institution of Hollywood has only served to prove the universality of Simon’s theme.

Granted, it’s only been a year. But so far, the show’s veterans have been popping up in films that have only served to illuminate the depressing gulf between the level at which Simon and company were operating at and the one at which most of mainstream Hollywood does. Granted, “The Wire” had 60 hours to develop its characters to a typical movie’s 90 minutes. But when an actor from the show appears in a mainstream film in a role similar to the one they portrayed in “The Wire,” the contrast is often shocking.

04232009_JamieHector.jpgConsider, for example, the effect of putting Jamie Hector into one scene of “Max Payne.” Over the course of the final three seasons of “The Wire,” Hector played one of the series’ main antagonists, a brash and ambitious young drug dealer named Marlo Stanfield. Stanfield distinguishes himself from his peers with his intelligence and cold-blooded brutality, and Hector distinguished himself as an actor with his icy intensity and withering glare. In “Max Payne,” Hector plays a brash young drug dealer named Lincoln, though that’s where the similarities to Marlo end.

Mark Wahlberg’s title character comes to Lincoln looking for information; Hector plays the scene seated behind a desk covered in assault weapons, punctuating his dialogue with exaggerated gestures with a knife and sheath he holds in each hand. The scene, though a bit over the top, isn’t entirely out of context for the video game-inspired world of “Max Payne,” but when compared with “The Wire”‘s verisimilitude, the results are almost laughable. That’s no fault of Hector’s, of course, and at the very least, the scene proves he’s a genuine actor; Hector is so good as Marlo — so unrelentingly cold and hard — that you might have mistaken him for one of the numerous members of “The Wire” cast, like Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who are survivors of Baltimore’s real drug war and who are playing fictionalized versions of their own lives. Hector most recently appeared in a multi-part guest spot on the NBC series “Heroes.”

04232009_MichaelkWilliams.jpgTelevision actors often struggle to shed the small-screen identities they become associated with — think of the struggles of the “Friends” cast as they moved into the world of film. But the cast of “The Wire” were so good at their jobs that they’ve made their post-series careers that much more difficult. Personally speaking, I have real trouble watching Michael K. Williams in films without thinking of his incredible performance as Omar Little, inner city Baltimore’s answer to Robin Hood, a principled gangster who only steals from other gangsters and whose exploits have lent him near-mythic status: kids on street corners in Baltimore “play Omar” the way kids in the suburbs might play “Power Rangers.”

Williams, who has a distinctive scar bisecting his face, brings palpable ferocity and a convincing air of invincibility to the part — after a few seasons, he’s convinced the audience he’s unkillable, just like he’s convinced the rest of Baltimore. Which is why it’s so hard — almost painful — to see Williams in a role like the one he tackled in Spike Lee’s “Miracle At St. Anna.” He appears in beginning of the World War II flashback, as a terrified Buffalo Soldier who repeatedly screams “Kill me now!” as his unit trudges into an ambush where he’s promptly granted his wish. Williams imbues his brief appearance with all the emotion he can muster, but playing such a pathetic creature seems like conduct unbecoming the man who brought to life one of the greatest badasses in television history. Hopefully, Williams’ role in the upcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road” takes better advantage of his gifts.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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