Any true fan of HBO’s The Wire will instantly know what the “fuck scene” is. Season 1, episode 4: Jimmy McNulty and Bunk Moreland visit the apartment of a murdered woman and work their exceptional detective skills to meticulously discover just how the murder occurred and also to find a prime suspect: Avon Barksdale’s crew. Just on plot alone, it’s a great scene and sets the tone for the show, but it’s elevated one step further into the stuff of legendary television content because of one very important detail: McNulty and Bunk only communicate using different pronunciations and iterations of the word “fuck” throughout the entire five-minute scene. It’s a masterpiece.
Today, Vulture released an except from Jonathan Abrams’s new book, All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of the Wire. This excerpt provides what we always wanted but never knew we would be lucky enough to get: an oral history of the famed “fuck scene.” Series creator David Simon said the decision to go explicit was in honor of Terry McLarney, a detective sergeant who also appeared in Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, a book David Simon wrote before creating The Wire after spending a year with Baltimore's detectives.
Simon says his inspiration for the scene came from McLarney himself, who once said that cops use so many profanities in crime scenes that “one day we’re going to get to the point where we’re all going to be able to just use the word fuck to communicate.” Simon brought the idea to his co-creator, Ed Burns, and the scene was born.
Wendell Pierce, who played Bunk, said Simon explained the premise of the scene to him but also told him to “come out the box with it.” That’s when Simon laid it on him: “He said, ‘You’re going to do that whole scene, but the only word you can say is ‘fuck.’ I said, ‘What?’”
“I think it’s an example of one of the best displays of my acting in the whole series,” Pierce continued. “Everyone understood exactly what we were doing at every moment, even though we were using just that one word or [a] variation thereof.” But he does have one regret: editors cut out what he thought was the best bit.
“We said, ‘Fuck. Fuck me. Mother fuck. Fuckity fuck,’ all of that. Then we were [being] watched the whole time by the super. ‘Fuck. Motherfucker. Fuck.’” Pierce said. “We go outside and we find the casing, and the super says, ‘Well, I’ll be fucked.’ They cut that out, though. I was like, ‘Oh, man, they should have left that in.’”
Dominic West, who played McNulty, really had fun with the whole thing:
Every time someone said, “Cut,” we were crying with laughter, Wendell and me, because it was really fun to do. It would get outrageous, sort of go, “Fuckkk,” and “Fuuuckkk,” most of which hit the cutting room floor, thank goodness, but it was just the most ludicrous varieties of saying “fuck” that we could think of.