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
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.