Tristan Wilds, <EM>The Wire</EM> Tristan Wilds, The Wire

The best program that ever aired on HBO — and the best drama currently on television — is coming to a close this week. It's not Deadwood. It's not The Sopranos. It's The Wire (Sundays at 8 pm/ET), and we talked to star Tristan Wilds about the series' upcoming finale. Wilds, whose Michael Lee has become an integral part of the show since his memorable entrance with three other school kids at the beginning of Season 4, opened up about the tough decisions Michael has had to make, The Wire's smartest character and what it's like shooting on the streets of Baltimore. How did you end up on The Wire?
Tristan Wilds: I was sent out to audition for Randy, so I went to [casting director] Alexa Fogel's office and it looked like it was going great. I had two or three callbacks, and then I met the producers, the director and Mr. [Robert F.] Chew, who played Prop Joe and was the acting coach on the set. They said I was too mature for Randy but then called me back to try a different role. They brought me to Baltimore and taught me about Michael's character in a day, and I guess I did OK. Do you get stopped on the street by people thinking that you're Michael?
Wilds: All the time. I just say what's up to everybody. Michael says a lot of goodbyes this season. Which was the toughest?
Wilds: The scene with me and Dukie [Jermaine Crawford], when he's getting out of the car, and the scene with my little brother [Bug, played by Keenon Brice] were tough. And the scene with Snoop [Felicia Pearson]. I had a real problem with that. I know I'm an actor, but Snoop was like my big sister and it felt weird for a while. I had to swallow my pride and become Michael, but that was really hard. If you could play a different role on the show, which one would you want to play?
Wilds: Stringer Bell [Idris Elba], because his character was so smart. Oh, my goodness, was he smart. You've [also] got to be a really smart dude to put Omar [Michael K. Williams] up against Brother Mouzone [Michael Potts]. Did Omar go out the right way?
Wilds: A lot of people say Omar didn't go out the way he [lived]. [If] you think about all the people he killed, snitched on and stuck up, he was down to get done by someone he didn't expect. I knew it was going to be a little kid, because in the episode where I went up to Marlo [Jamie Hector], his friend said, "Who is that?" and he said it was just a little kid. You can't underestimate kids. If you think about it, Omar could get out of any situation scot-free, so if he went head-on in a war with anybody, including Marlo, he would have won. It had to be someone he underestimated, and a surprise. It was both. Going back to Stringer Bell — was he the smartest character on The Wire, or who would that be?
Wilds: I would have to say the Greek [Bill Raymond]. He does his work so discreetly. You don't know who he is unless he wants you to know who he is. To be that smart and watching everything all the time and knowing how to run your business without getting any static — this guy is really on his game. He's sitting at the counter with his paper just smiling the whole time. Why doesn't The Wire get its due?
Wilds: The show is real enough to strike a chord in [everybody], and most of the time people don't want to see realness like that. Or maybe they think that it's fake TV and we're just being violent for no reason. What you see on the show is really happening, and not just in Baltimore. It's happening in a neighborhood two blocks down from where you live. People don't want to open their eyes to the truth. What makes The Wire different from other cop shows?
Wilds: I don't want to say it's a cop show. What makes The Wire a beautiful story is how true to life it is. In other shows, you have a good guy and a bad guy. In The Wire, bad guys are trying to be good, good guys are doing bad. You have real life. The people who do bad get bad things done to them. How were you treated on location in Baltimore?
Wilds: The neighborhoods were the best part. The only bad thing that ever happened was when we were shooting a commercial and, funny enough, some guy was selling drugs in Marlo's lair. The cops were trying to handle it, and the guy was yelling, "Come on, man, I'm just trying to hustle over here. I don't even watch The Wire!" Was there a moment when The Wire could have jumped the shark?
Wilds: When Stringer Bell got killed, I didn't know where else they could go with the show. I was stuck. I [thought], "That's the end of The Wire." But then they came back with us, and I guess that was OK. Now that it's actually coming to an end, how would you describe your experience working on the show?
Wilds: It was the best feeling ever. It was a life-changing experience. I can't even explain it in words, to be in a neighborhood that's considered so bad and get so much love. To be on a set with so many people who have so much love for you as soon as you get [there]. I never felt that before, and I love every single person for that.

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