Last week we all took a stroll through the garden, only this time, things were a lot prettier—at least as pretty as the gritty streets and ports of Baltimore could possibly look. The Wire's highly touted and, in some cases, widely debated high-definition transfer finally premiered, via HBO's one-season-per-day holiday marathon. Starting this week, the episodes will be available for digital HD download and streaming.
The Greatest Show of All Time has finally been polished up. So what do we make of it? Is an HD sheen too clean for such a gritty series and environment? Will the re-airing finally sway the legion of slackers who have somehow yet to experience this masterpiece? Or is HD just the figurative verification mark The Wire needed to officially claim uncontested GOAT status?
We discussed those questions with the actors behind two of the show's most memorable characters: Andre Royo (addict and hustler Bubbles) and Tristan Wilds (corner lieutenant Michael).
What do you think about The Wire finally being transferred into HD?
Andre Royo: I'm an old-school actor, so I find it unique. I'm happy but it's also a little weird. I'm like, "Wow, we ain’t got no sexy women—why are we in HD? What do they want to see more clearly?" At the end of the day, I just appreciate HBO for putting it back out because, strangely enough, there are still a lot of people who haven’t seen the show. I'm glad people are gonna get a chance to revisit it, and we’re going to find a new audience.
It's so crazy, when we were shooting this show, very few people were watching us. We never could compete with the numbers that The Sopranos, Sex in the City, or Six Feet Under were doing. But now, we're talking ten years later—this is a show that everyone is still talking about. This is the show where I could never take my mom to any awards, but it’s also the show where I could take my mom to the White House. It's very complex. It's a very unique opportunity and experience to grow with this show and see how it's lasting.
Do you think the legacy of the show isn't appreciated the way it deserves to be?
Depends on what you mean by "legacy." When it comes to the television world, they recognize now and they say, "Oh, snap, this is one of the greatest shows." A lot of the shows that came after tried to capture the same tone as The Wire, which is hard to do.
Our legacy in the streets is something special. You’re always waiting for somebody to come up and say, "Yeah, it was alright," or, "I don’t know what the big deal is." You anticipate a little hate. But this show? I got two types of people that come to me. It’s either, "I love that show," or, "I haven’t seen it yet." It's either A or B—there’s no in between. I think the legacy is right where it needs to be: People either love it or they haven’t seen it yet. That’s something special, because when they do see it, I love to hear what they have to think.
And now the HD relaunch will give them another chance to catch up.
Yeah, the HD will give that chance for people to go back. I’ve already had people come up to me about re-watching it, like, "I just rewatched the series for the third time." People really enjoy this type of storytelling. People enjoy the honesty that the show was trying to express. And now that it's coming back out again, we're going to give a new audience the opportunity to join in the conversation of what’s going on in middle-class America.
Do you worry that some of the show’s grittiness, which it’s famous for, will be lost in an HD transfer?
For the first time, I'm a fan and an audience member, and I don’t know. I can honestly say, I don't think it's going to hurt it, but it might magnify the grit. It might magnify the pain. I think it'll magnify the emotion of what's going on.
Which episode or scene are you looking forward to rewatching the most?
Damn, that's a hard one. I like that. It's a tough question. I wanna say, the love scene between Kima and Cheryl. [Laughs.] But I don’t know if I have a scene that I'm looking forward to. Unlike most shows, you really don't appreciate The Wire by the episode; you don't appreciate The Wire by a scene. You appreciate it as a whole. Not until you get to that last episode do you go, "Oh, my God, this is a great series!"
When we were doing the show it didn’t feel like television—it felt like theater. It felt so organic. You felt the energy of the streets helping us tell this story. - Andre Royo
I’ve run into people in the awards voting committees, and they were truthful. The idea of trying to get nominated involves sending in, like, three to four episodes. If you watch three or four episodes [of The Wire] outside of continuity, you’ll have no idea what’s going on. It’s just a lot of people talking. You only really get The Wire when you see the whole season.
Like I said, when you get to that final episode, that's when you go, "Oh my god... That was great." It brings you back into thinking about how everything was connected, how every piece was put together. That’s what made The Wire special.
I guess I’m looking forward to [re-watching] season four, since it’s my favorite. I wanna see those kids. That was an amazing story and it opened us up to a whole different television show when we focused on the kids. I can’t wait to watch that one all over again.
What do you miss most about playing Bubbles, or just being on the show in general?
I do miss Baltimore. Baltimore was the best character, and for us actors it was like the biggest stage ever built. When we were doing the show it didn’t feel like television—it felt like theater. It felt so organic. You felt the energy of the streets helping us tell this story. It was really something I've never felt before and something I'm still searching to feel again now. In some ways, the actor in me is so close to Bubbles, because I’m still chasing that high. Every audition, every part I play, every new show I’m doing, I chase that organic feeling of the way we all worked together. It was like doing one big, five-year theater piece.
If we checked back in on Bubbles right now, do you think he’d still be clean?
I think Reginald stayed clean. he has about two or three stores on Park Avenue selling wonderful suits. He has a girlfriend and two kids. That’s the one thing I didn’t get in five seasons: I didn’t get that girlfriend, and I didn’t get a love scene like Sam Jackson had with Halle Berry [in Jungle Fever]. Bubbles never had a girl, so he’s probably making up for lost time with two girlfriends right now.
That’s a nice, happy ending. Do you feel like the show ended at the right time?
I truly believe David Simon and Ed Burns are geniuses and masters at what they do. By the time we got to the fourth and fifth season and people really started talking about the show, HBO On Demand started kicking, DVDs started selling. Of course people wanted seasons six and seven. But Simon and Burns write books, man; they write novels. They’re storytellers and they understand that no good story can keep going forever.
The audience’s imagination is stronger, but David Simon and Ed Burns conceived these five chapters. And it was a fight to get each chapter told. Every year we were on the bubble of being canceled. It wasn't a cakewalk. We fought for every season. And at the end of the fifth, David Simon was like. "The story’s told. The book is on the shelf. And people will always come back to take it off the shelf and revisit these characters. But I can’t just kick out a new season because we’re hot right now."
The actor in me feels like it was the perfect ending. The businessman in me of course would love three more seasons, because that means more money. But at the end of the day, he did the right thing.
What’s the comment you hear the most in the streets?
It's one of those things where people come up to me, and I never thought I’d experience this type of admiration, but they approach and they just say, "Thank you" Actors, of course, love to sign autographs and get our picture taken every once in a while. We love that people watch the show. But they don’t come up to as us fans of the show; instead, it's more like, "Thank you for telling that story. I had a brother or somebody who was dealing with the addiction." Or, "I was dealing with addiction myself—you told my story."
I really love that people generally just say those two words: "Thank you." And I thank them for taking the time out. We're all busy trying to survive, and when you sit down in front of that TV to lose yourself, you know how it is. There are a billion channels now, so when you watch our show, and stay with it for five years, we have to thank you for that. I thank our audience for staying with us. And Complex has always been there for us, always had kind words—we appreciate that, too.
What do you think about The Wire's new HD relaunch?
Tristan Wilds: I'm pretty excited about it. I'm excited to see what it looks like. It's been about ten years [since The Wire premiered], right?
Thirteen, actually. It premiered in 2002.
Yeah, so that was when DVDs were just starting; people still had VHS even. So I'm excited to see what it looks like remastered.
What do you think about the fear that converting to a higher quality might damage the show's grittiness?
I think there's something about it, the VHS feel, that gave it such a reality. You fit yourself into it. It wasn't too pretty, perfect, and pristine. It was literally like this is happening right now in my backyard. It's not something I want to see but I have to watch it because it's so good.
Do you think this is going to help the show reach a larger audience that maybe it didn't have when it was on the air?
I don't think the conversion is what’s going to draw a larger audience. The Wire has such a big cult following and has had one for a long time. People were already going back to it through DVDs and such. I think it coming back on in general is what’s gaining fans. People are excited to see it back on television. Now, they can watch the same way they do with Breaking Bad, or Sons of Anarchy.
Which episode or Michael scene are you looking forward to rewatching?
The obvious choice would be the Snoop scene. But besides that scene, which I think is everyone’s top choice, I'd say the boxing scenes. I love the feeling of being in that boxing gym, so I want to see it translate now from when I first watched it.
Since you brought up Breaking Bad, I have to ask because it’s become this big thing: The Wire or Breaking Bad? In your opinion, which show takes the title?
[Laughs.] Come on, you know I have to say The Wire. If I was on the other side, I'd say them, but I’m not. I’m on this side. I'm sorry, guys—I worked with Bryan Cranston on Red Tails, so shout out to him, but The Wire takes this.
When the show ended, we saw Michael kind of become the new Omar. If we checked back in on him now, what would he be up to?
I think Michael would be stealing from the rich to give to the poor. That would be his forte. He’s robbing from the guys who have way more than they need, and kind of giving back. It was definitely the same Omar forte.
What do you miss most about playing the character?
The people. Being on set with everybody, constantly learning from people, whether it's J.D. Williams, Sonja Sohn, Wendell Pierce, Michael K. Williams—everybody. They were literally the best acting teachers anyone could ever ask for. For a kid from the projects to have such amazing people around him on his first role, to guide him on learning your choices and performing honestly and from the heart, I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
When you're in the street, what type of fan do you get the most: a fan of The Wire, a Mack Wilds fan, or someone who loves one of your other roles?
It differs, and the people who you think would come up to me for different things differs as well. I’ll have like a young, suburbanite girl come up to me talking about, "Oh my God, you were on The Wire! My dad used to watch you all the time, and now I am too. The way that you built that character…" And I'm like, “Aren't you 16? You didn't watch 90210?”
One time, during All-Star Weekend, I walked by a table of four grown men, and they're like, "Yo, we loved you in The Wire but don’t think you don’t have four grown ass men watching 90210 too." Dude was like, "You gotta get back with Silver, bro! She’s the one for you, bro!"
What do you have coming up next?
Honestly, I took a hiatus in 2014 to work on the music. But as of this year, I’m starting up again. I'm looking at scripts and everything right now and actually writing a few on my own.