Apparently playing one of TV's most challenging characters — The Wire's hard-drinking, corner-cutting Baltimore detective Jimmy McNulty — wasn't challenge enough for Dominic West. "I've been dying to direct," the British actor says. "HBO, thank goodness, took a chance on me." The gamble was worth it: West's episode, "Took," in which McNulty's plot to secure funds for the police department by concocting a serial killer of homeless men spins out of control, debuts this Sunday, Feb. 17 (9 pm/ET, HBO), and it's pitch-perfect. We asked the aspiring auteur to take us through some of its more challenging scenes.
THE SCENE: Show of Force
Squad cars, helicopters and boats swarm the Seaport in search of the "killer." "I can't tell you how exciting that was! It wasn't written that there'd actually be helicopters and stuff. I asked for all that stuff. And suddenly it was like we were shooting a $100 million movie! I felt like Michael Bay! It's a bit gratuitous, but I think it makes the point that McNulty's little ruse has had a massive effect. Fortunately, the scene was planned really well — every second, every shot — and we had three cameras, so we did it all in about four hours."
THE SCENE: Copping an Attitude?
McNulty, Lester (Clarke Peters) and Kima (Sonja Sohn) hash things out in the homicide bull pen. "I think that scene was during my first or second day. My biggest fear was that my fellow actors would tease me mercilessly. As it turned out, they were incredibly helpful and sympathetic. I think they saw how terrified I was, so they took pity on me."
THE SCENE: Trial and Error
Attorney Billy Murphy questions corrupt politician Clay Davis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). "That scene was really hard to shoot but really fun to edit, because a lot of it plays out in the glances the people give to each other. And those aren't scripted. It was also difficult because we cast this wonderful guy, Billy Murphy — a celebrated Baltimore lawyer — as himself, defending Clay Davis. He was brilliant, but he's a non-actor, so we had to do his stuff line by line, which was really laborious."
THE SCENE: Here's Omar!
Stickup artist Omar (Michael Kenneth Williams) confronts drug runner Michael (Tristan Wilds). "That was difficult because it was supposed to happen at night, when it wouldn't have been a problem for Omar to pop out of nowhere and then disappear. But then the schedule got changed, and we had to shoot it during the day, so we had him limp along the street so that all the corner kids would think he was a homeless guy, which conveniently fit in with the whole theme of the season. In fact, that was my brilliant idea!"
THE SCENE: A Baltimore Lullaby
Epilogue: Kima soothes her baby with a gritty variation on Goodnight Moon. "[Screenwriter] Richard Price actually took that bit from his own novel, Clockers. There's a scene where the hero cop is at home, and his baby wakes up, and he says something like, "Good night, hookers.... Good night, drug dealers.... and good night, moon." Some people said the final image was a bit too movie-like. I thought it was a wonderful, wonderful ending."
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