Listening In to The Wire: Part III

December 07, 2006


It's time to the re-up with the third installment of our extended Q&As with Baltimore-area actors who appear on The Wire, featured after the jump. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the conclusion of this feature with our mega-interview with series co-creator David Simon, and read the other Q&As from this week here and here.


Police officer Jay Landsman plays Lt Dennis Mello, but there is a character on The Wire played by Delaney Williams who is named after him who he is also partially the inspiration for. Landsman is currently an active police officer in Baltimore County.

How did you get cast on the show?

I go back a lot of years with David Simon. He wrote a book called Homicide and I was one of the characters. It was about our squad when I was with the Baltimore City homicide unit. Then I was also involved with the incidents that inspired The Wire. One of the characters on the show is named Jay Landsman. When I read for the part they called me and said, You did a fine job, but you’re no Jay Landsman. Then the following year I played Lt Dennis Mello. I’ve been a cop 34 years, so I guess I might have had some experience acting like a cop.

Is it strange to have a character named and partially based off of you?

Actually it’s flattering because Delaney Williams is such a good guy and he does a good job. Richard Belzer was supposed to be based on me on Homicide. Richard Belzer is funny as hell, but I don’t have that type of intellectual humor that he does. He was coming off with some real deep cracks, and I never gave that much thought to the shit that I said.

You’re still a police officer?

I retired from the city and I started over again in Baltimore County after I did close to 23 years in the city. I started in patrol [in Baltimore County], then I ended up back in homicide for another five years, I got promoted and went to narcotics for a couple of years and then I got promoted again and I got sent to the crime lab for a few years, I was the assistant to the director and then in the last few years I figured I wanted to go back to the street. I took over a small plainclothes squad, it’s sort of a Barney Miller squad in Baltimore County and I feel at home again. It’s great.

Do you feel like The Wire gives an accurate portrayal of Baltimore?

David did a lot of research in both areas [the police force and the streets], probably more in-depth than most would go. He pretty much lived the life on both sides in Baltimore. It’s very realistic. You’re not going to highlight the good people in Baltimore, but there are a lot of good people in Baltimore city. But as far as the drug world—the ruthlessness, the personalities of the drug organizations—I think he’s right on the money. I think he’s worked hard to capture that and takes pride in the accuracy. I’ve never seen anything like that, other than The Corner.


Rakiya Orange is a 17-year-old Baltimore resident who plays Charlene Young, a problem student at the fictional Edward J. Tilghman Middle School.

How did you get cast on the show?

My family runs a theater called the Arena Players, and Mr [Robert] Chew was my acting coach and vocal coach down there. Since he’s on The Wire [playing Proposition Joe] he was able to get auditions for a lot of the children. I read for a part that was only supposed to go on the show one time, but since my audition was so good they created a part for me.

Had you watched the show before?

I started watching during season three because my brother had a part on there, but his character didn’t have a name yet. I have watched all of season three, so now I just have to go back and watch season one and two.

What do you think of the show’s portrayal of Baltimore?

I think it is a pretty honest portrayal. Some stuff might be a bit exaggerated. The street life, that stuff really happens in Baltimore everyday, but the school system is not as bad. But I am fortunate enough not to have to be in one of those schools [portrayed] because I have been in [magnet] schools all my life. So maybe if I went to another school then I would really see, but the schools I have been to, they haven’t been like that.


15-year-old Rashad Orange plays Sherrod, a homeless youth who is looked after by drug addict/police informant Bubbles.

How did you get cast on the show?

Robert Chew had talked to Pat Moran and she said she needed some teenage guys or whatever, so he got a group of us together, ’cause I’ve been doing theater for a long time. There were only four major roles, and none of us got any of the major roles so we were all down, and one day they called me like, They wrote in a part for you.

Before they cast you did they make sure you and Andre Royo [who plays Bubbles] had chemistry?

They trusted it would work. I went down to the casting office and they told me Andre was coming in, and at that time I was just getting my first lines. He came in and we went through it, and they were like, Yeah, that’s the kid.

Did the creators tell you your character’s backstory?

They let us know like how we met, the road I was taking, how he pulled me in and changed things around trying to help me out. I guess they felt that we had it, so they just let us go.

How popular is The Wire in Baltimore?
The Wire is huge in Baltimore, The Wire is like the show. People will stay in the house all Sunday just to watch the show, and it doesn’t come on until nine o’clock.

Do the creators talk to actors about the show’s larger themes?

No. What they write is what we get, and what we put in to it is what they get. We like what they write, they like what we give them. That’s pretty much how it is.

Posted: December 07, 2006
Listening In to The Wire: Part III