'The Wire': The Dominic West perspective
With only three episodes to go in "The Wire's" final run, the biggest question remaining is simple: Are you in, or are you out?
Because much of the show's final season -- the believability-straining fake serial killer, the ax-grinding and thinly drawn newsroom story, an overall feeling of the whole season being rushed -- has added up to a somewhat disappointing swan song so far, at least when compared with the last four seasons. But, for all its faults, this is still David Simon's Baltimore we're talking about: a self-contained, intricately crafted universe still offering moments of sheer brilliance, and with them the lingering prospect that the whole thing could be drawn to a satisfying close.
Last week, I spoke with Dominic West about all of the above and more, including his character's whereabouts in Season 4 and the tantalizing possibility of there being more "Wire" to come after this season. A familiarly dry, McNultian wit was in full effect yet served with West's still-surprising native British accent that sounds light-years removed from Baltimore. Actors: They're a tricky lot.
(Please note: There are, in the broadest sense, a few lines below that could be considered spoilers, especially for those who believe "The Wire" is heading toward a happy ending. Tread wisely.)
So are you now purged from feeling the Jimmy McNulty in your head?
Yes, I mean I think so. Though I seem to be talking about it more now than ever before. It’s sort of taking off on the U.K. side last, so everyone I meet is saying, "Oh that’s what you’ve been doing all this time!" No one ever gave two hoots about it when I was out there, but now I seem to be fielding a bit of interest, which is always nice.
Was he kind of a hard character to let go of? Are you going to miss being that guy?
Yes and no. Well (laughs) we’re trying to get the movie made; we’re trying to persuade David Simon, and he doesn’t need persuading -- he just needs a story. Because Wendell (Pierce), who plays Bunk, and Sonja (Sohn), who plays Kima Greggs, are really pushing to get a movie made because it would be great, so David said, "Well, it would have to be a prequel." And I said, well, in that case I would have to have surgery, and you would have to write in that McNulty looks astonished the whole time. So I don’t know, I don’t feel like I’ve really said goodbye yet.
So that’s exciting that you guys are trying to keep the show going in some respect.
Well, yeah, there’s just so much material and so many plot lines to go on, and I think Wendell thought, why not make a movie? There’s a ready-made audience, and I think a lot of us feel it will be a long time before we get to act such great writing and with people we like as much as we all like each other.
So your character really kind of took a turn this season.
Yes, how much have you seen?
I’ve seen up until the episode that aired this Sunday
Oh great! Number seven is the one I directed.
Oh yeah, that had to be an interesting challenge.
It's by far the best one, don’t you think?
(Laughs) Oh, absolutely.
I think there’s a certain, I don’t know, I can’t put my finger on it. I thought there was just a freer visual language and a higher class of storytelling in Episode 7. (Laughs)
Were you kind of surprised with the serial killer angle and how McNulty has evolved so far this season?
It was such a gift, that one; it was such a beautiful storyline. I was so happy when David told me about it. He told me about it two years ago when we were shooting the end of Season 3. . . . It’s that perfect thing that they did with "Hamsterdam" and legalizing drugs. It's quite an outlandish plotline that is highly unlikely to ever happen, but somehow he makes you believe it could happen. I just loved it, and I really enjoyed playing it.
I felt with McNulty he’s got to up the ante a bit because he’s so in trouble with his job and so hateful of his bosses that he’s got to go one step further with self-destruction before he can be free of his demons. He had to hit rock bottom, and I think this is what the serial killer angle does.
It’s been a little difficult because McNulty’s always gone up to that line up to now, but this is definitely the season where he’s crossed it.
Yeah, just incredibly self-destructive [behavior] and potentially destructive of Bunk and his colleagues. But in the end I felt he’s thrown in the job, and he’s realized he can’t live with the job, so he’s driven it into a tree.
Your character took a back seat for most of Season 4. Was that tough to deal with?
No, I actually requested it. I really needed to get home and be with my daughter for a bit longer. So we talked about it a long time ago and David said, "I can let you go light in 4 as long as you come back in 5." So I took that time out, and it turns out it’s by far the best season we did. (Laughs)
That makes a little more sense. Not knowing that, it seemed like such an incredible choice to take the central character out like that.
It sort of fit in with what I think a lot of people felt in Season 2, having built this wonderful set of characters in the projects and the drug corners that they took a complete left turn and went to the port. It was sort of in keeping with David Simon’s audacity as a writer, that he’d lose one of the main characters. But, God, he pulled it off. I thought he took it to another level; he really did.
So I know you can’t discuss how the series wraps up, but are you satisfied with how it closed?
Yeah, I was amazed, actually. I found it really astonishing, because he explained it all to me early on because I was directing Episode 7, and so he chose to tell me what happens in the end. It’s an amazing feat of logistics how he has wrapped it up. Little story shoots that were sent out in Season 1 and you never heard of again come back and are sewn up –- I’m mixing hundreds of metaphors here –- but what you find at the end of "The Wire," and I think in life, is that all these characters that you’ve come to know and are fading away are replaced by a younger generation. So you see exactly who’s going to become the new McNulty and the new Omar, because the thing about the police work against drug gangs is they bring down one and a few years later they’re building a case against a whole new one. I suppose it's the idea that relentlessly things don’t change and you keep seeing the same thing again and again. Not that I think that’s the message of "The Wire" -- if there is one -- but I was amazed at how clever [Simon] was at tying up stories and how brilliant he was at showing how each character is born again in a new character.
It sounds like viewers are going to be really satisfied as well if it binds up like that.
I think so. A lot of people die as we go along, but every one of them makes absolute sense. I think they did an amazing job with it.
Was it tough that it was an abbreviated season with only 10 episodes this time?
Yeah, I think it was a mistake. I think HBO must’ve thought it was a mistake too when the writers strike came along. (Laughs) There was no question, I felt it most in the first three episodes, where my character had to cover a lot of ground to get into the storyline. A lot of shortcuts had to be made where, had we 13 hours, I think would’ve been played out more thoroughly. Again, he did an amazing job, but he always had 13 in mind and had to lose three hours somehow.
That’s the main criticism I’ve heard of this season, that things just feel very compressed.
I felt that. Definitely in the early episodes, not in the late ones.
Speaking of the late episodes, here's a quick wrap-up of tonight's episode. Surprise, Clay Davis was acquitted -- after a one-day trial! (Remember all that stuff about things feeling compressed?) Omar continues his open season on Marlo's crew (including young Michael, who was nearly struck blind with fear after Omar put a gun to his head). McNulty's dealing black-market police resources now that his picture-message stunt and corresponding phone call to Templeton got the department's attention, so Lester gets to wade through the Greeks' code, which thus far appears to be a series of inscrutable clock faces. And, oh yes, St. Augustus of Metro has come to find Templeton's stories a bit suspicious and started looking to his cop buddies for corroboration -- and, hey look, it's the network-trotting Det. John Munch! Ah, Belzer, good to see you.
What other cameos from seasons and series past could David Simon have in store? And, will this series really get the ending it deserves? Perhaps a better question is one that came out of the controversial "Sopranos" finale: What exactly are we hoping for?
Stay tuned. Three hours left.
-- Chris Barton