Q& A

The ABC is go­ing back to the beginning to air one of the most ac­claimed shows in the his­tory of TV. Guy Davis ‘ lis­tened care­fully’ to Clarke Peters about US crime- drama The Wire. Peters: “[ De­tec­tive work is] about still­ness and fo­cus and re­lent­less­ness

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For a show that’s widely re­garded as one of the fi nest tele­vi­sion se­ries ever made, The Wire has had a tough time get­ting seen by Aus­tralian audiences.

While Nine has aired the fi rst four sea­sons of this gritty Bal­ti­more-set crime drama cre­ated by for­mer jour­nal­ist David Si­mon and for­mer cop Ed Burns, its grave­yard-shift times­lot didn’t make ac­cess easy.

But the ABC is looking to change that by air­ing The Wire from the beginning on ABC2 in prime time, and hope­fully a greater num­ber of view­ers will be able to im­merse them­selves in the rich, detailed world of cops and crooks the show presents.

One of the main­stays of The Wire’s in­ter­na­tional cast ( which in­cludes UK ac­tors Do­minic West and Idris Elba, thor­oughly con­vinc­ing as a US cop and crim re­spec­tively) is Clarke Peters, who plays wise, dili­gent vet­eran cop Lester Frea­mon.

Call­ing from Lon­don, where he lives and works, he talked about his char­ac­ter and the scope of the show.

Con­grat­u­la­tions on The Wire, Clarke. It cer­tainly lives up to its rep­u­ta­tion.

It’s ev­ery­thing it’s cracked up to be, isn’t it?

When I heard you’d be call­ing from Lon­don, I said to my­self ‘ Are there any Amer­i­can ac­tors in this show?’ But you’re orig­i­nally from New York City, right?

That’s right. I’ve been here in Lon­don for many years – three decades now, ac­tu­ally. All my train­ing was done here, and my ca­reer as a the­atre ac­tor is why I stayed here. But my in­volve­ment with the show came through David Si­mon and the show’s pro­ducer, Robert Coles­berry, see­ing me do a play in New York, and I then worked with them on a show called The Cor­ner. For­tu­nately, they liked me in that and called me back for this.

Did you fi nd Lester easy to por­tray? How much in­for­ma­tion did the scripts or the back­ground ma­te­rial pro­vide about him?

I didn’t know how Lester was at fi rst. The brief I got was that he was a wid­ower and he had three sons, and it also out­lined the back­story that is re­vealed later in the sea­son, about how he was re­lent­less in mak­ing sure ev­ery as­pect of his cases was tied up and how that sub­se­quently got him side­lined for many years. I found also that he’s very much like Ed Burns – he’s metic­u­lous, he’ll fol­low some­thing from beginning to end and then check it again, he’s highly moral and wants to do the right thing.

Lester is a cen­tral fi gure in all fi ve sea­sons of The Wire, isn’t he?

Even now I’m blown away by that. [ Laughs] I think I was so afraid of over­act­ing and be­ing larger than life that I took an in­tro­verted at­ti­tude, and the mak­ers of the show locked into that.

That’s some­thing I like about the show and about your char­ac­ter, though – it il­lus­trates how much po­lice work de­pends on sur­veil­lance, or pa­per­work, or re­search, rather than car chases or kick­ing down doors.

That’s right. That’s how I al­ways saw de­tec­tives be­hav­ing. I have two cousins work­ing as po­lice de­tec­tives in New York City, one who worked un­der­cover. Talk­ing with them, the job was about still­ness and fo­cus and re­lent­less­ness and never think­ing you’ve closed a case un­til you’re done. Not know­ing what our sto­ry­line was go­ing to be from sea­son to sea­son, and some­times episode to episode, it was easy to take each step as it was pre­sented. I had many scenes where I was ex­plain­ing to peo­ple how po­lice work was done, and I found that easy be­cause I was ex­plain­ing it to my­self. [ Laughs] As long as I un­der­stood it and could ex­plain it to the crew, the au­di­ence would get it too. And I’d look like some re­ally smart guy when I was re­ally try­ing to keep my eye on what was de­vel­op­ing.

As much as The Wire is a crime drama, it’s also a so­cial doc­u­ment about life in the city of Bal­ti­more. Dur­ing the years you spent mak­ing the show there, what did you come to learn about the place?

I have to pref­ace this by say­ing it was the fi rst time I’d spent a good amount of time back in the States in 30 years. To spend so much time in Bal­ti­more re­sulted in some cul­ture shock, but my be­ing away gave me a more ob­jec­tive point of view about how things were mov­ing, where to hang out and who to talk to. And my naivety took me to some very in­ter­est­ing places. I think if I were to go back to the States, I would set­tle in Bal­ti­more. Not only be­cause I can re­ally do no wrong there, al­though that helps [ laughs], but be­cause of The Wire I un­der­stand it. A lot of other peo­ple in­volved in the show came and went but I sort of set­tled there and I feel a real at­tach­ment to it.

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