FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.
The hit HBO series "The Wire" kicked off its fifth and final season last night. It's set in my home town of Baltimore - on the corner around the way, and in city hall, the police precincts, local schools and this season, the newspaper office. I spoke with two actors from the series.
In a moment, we'll meet Jamie Hector who plays a rising drug dealer.
But first, actress Felicia Snoop Pearson. On "The Wire," she plays an androgynous street corner killer. Last season, Snoop got all hot and bothered about a nail gun. We're not talking about one of those home improvement show moments. She used the nail gun to entomb bodies in an abandoned brownstone. And in this scene, she's found the perfect tool.
(Soundbite of TV series, "The Wire")
Ms. FELICIA PEARSON (Actress): (As Felicia Snoop Pearson) If you want to shoot now, this is the Cadillac. This is gun powder activated, .27 caliber, full auto, no kickback. Now, don't mayhem. (Bleep) right here is tight.
CHIDEYA: Felicia Snoop Pearson's character on the show is called Snoop. And like her character, the real Snoop used to deal drugs and was even sent up for killing a woman. Her new memoir is "Grace after Midnight." We got a chance to talk to her about "The Wire" and her book. She was at a night club when one of the actors on the show, Michael K. Williams, told her she should be on the small screen.
Ms. PEARSON: Well, I didn't know who Michael K. was. He came to me, you know? And asked me was I a girl or a boy. And I said, I'm a girl. He was like, wow. And, you know, he was like they had a script for a guy, you know? And he was like, forget that. I want you to come to see the writers and the producers and all that. And the next day, he called me. I came. They said they want to send me out for audition. I auditioned. And here I am.
CHIDEYA: And at the time that Michael came up to you and told you about coming on the show and trying to recruit you to come on the show, where were you on that line between leading the straight and narrow life in terms of where you got your finances from and going into crime, what you had done before.
Ms. PEARSON: I was still on the corners. I was still on the corners.
CHIDEYA: Doing what?
Ms. PEARSON: Selling drugs.
CHIDEYA: You know, Baltimore, which is my hometown - so much runs through Baltimore in terms of a drug trade. There's a lot of supply.
Ms. PEARSON: Hmm.
CHIDEYA: What made you good at what you did?
Ms. PEARSON: Maybe because I know the streets, you know? And then, I went and tried to get a job. You know, I had three jobs. And like I say in "Grace After Midnight," every time I turn around, it kept following me, so what else can I turn to? Streets would never let you down. That's sad to say but, you know, I would supposed be starving and go to a shelter, you know, because they flied me like, no, because of your criminal background.
CHIDEYA: You went to jail for killing someone in self-defense.
Ms. PEARSON: Mm-hmm.
CHIDEYA: Do you ever wish that you could go back in time and…
Ms. PEARSON: Every day.
CHIDEYA: Every day?
Ms. PEARSON: Every day.
CHIDEYA: Tell us about the title, "Grace after Midnight." And how did that come about?
Ms. PEARSON: "Grace after Midnight." I got midnight from my past. You know, it was like it wasn't no coming from out of there. You know, it wasn't no break anyway. As soon as it get dark around my way, that's when a lot of things go off, a lot of things pop off. Grace is right now that I'm trying to bless another kid with the opportunity that I'm getting right now was something. And just to let people know, you know, you can make it through your trials and tribulations, even though it's just seem, so gloomy seem so gloomy. But you can make it out of.
CHIDEYA: What is grace mean to you?
Ms. PEARSON: Grace means what I'm doing now - everything.
CHIDEYA: Now that you are on television, playing a character with the same name that you have, do you feel that there's a private Snoop and a public Snoop, or do you feel like all of it is just laid out on TV? Do you have a private life, I guess?
Ms. PEARSON: Yes, I do.
Ms. PEARSON: The character of Snoop that I play on "The Wire" is nothing like the real Snoop at all. You know, I had - the character Snoop don't cares about nothing. The character Snoop listens to Marlo. The real Snoop don't listen to nobody. The real Snoop - she has a kind and loving heart to give her last dollar to anybody, you know? I mean, it's so different. It's totally different.
CHIDEYA: When you think about this show ending, what's next? You've written a book, been on TV - very popular character, what lies ahead for you?
Ms. PEARSON: More movies, more whatever that comes my way. You know, I don't know what the future holds, but I know I'm in it.
CHIDEYA: Well, Snoop, thanks for talking to us.
Ms. PEARSON: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: The author of the memoir "Grace after Midnight," Felicia "Snoop" Pearson. She plays the character by the same name on HBO's TV series "The Wire." And "The Wire" has been praised for the accuracy of its characters, whether they're cops, reporters, politicos and gangsters.
Take Marlo Stanfield, a ruthless drug dealer who still cares for a few folks.
(Soundbite of TV series, "The Wire")
Mr. JAMIE HECTOR (Actor): (As Marlo Stanfield) All I'm saying, if I'm going to take your package - splitting it would be fair. I mean I got to pay all my people the same and you need to go open the price on me.
Unidentified Man (Actor): (As Character) Pay your people less.
Mr. HECTOR: (As Marlo Stanfield) They're my people, yo.
CHIDEYA: Actor Jamie Hector explains how he sees the character he plays.
Mr. HECTOR: Marlo is a very disciplined businessman, economic sociopath. You know he's a cat on the streets that just has an advantage over others because he's just, basically like he has no heart, but he has heart for those that he loves that are around him.
CHIDEYA: In the first episode of the season, you'll see him holding court over a group of friends and frienemies(ph), including one played by Method Man. What does it take for your character, Marlo, to stand in a front of a group of people and try to hold them down, hold them to order?
Mr. HECTOR: In his situation, murder. And it takes also taking care of them. Really, that really plays a huge part, being able to take care of those that stand around him.
CHIDEYA: You know "The Wire" has been highly praised for bringing together, weaving together all these different parts of city life.
Mr. HECTOR: Right.
CHIDEYA: And it's very specific about Baltimore, but it also says a lot about cities in general, where you have the government, you have the underground, you have the police officers. And as this series matures and as this series frankly reaches its end, you see that every hierarchy has its problems.
Mr. HECTOR: Yes.
CHIDEYA: The police hierarchy is going through its problems, the government hierarchy is going through its problems, and the criminals are going through their own problems.
Mr. HECTOR: Yes, indeed.
CHIDEYA: In a way, this show was about power. What did you learn about power, being on the show?
Mr. HECTOR: That everybody is trying to get it. Not everybody is going to achieve it, but at the same time, you know, those that decide to stick to the script may somewhat achieve it at times but everybody tends to try to break the rules a little bit. And as far as like joking the status as you've seen in the - I mean, you've seen that throughout the entire - all the fight, every season so far, the police, they dupe the status in order to get what they may want and the Board Of Education, and everybody is trying to get power and try to get recognized and try to make a difference but at the same time the powers that be don't allow it. So I learned, basically, that everybody really, really would like to get power but there's just a fine line between getting power and staying legal.
CHIDEYA: Now, the cast also has evolved over different seasons, and this final season is your third season. What have you learned about working with a tight group of people who…
Mr. HECTOR: Oh, you know, I learned a lot, you know? you surround yourself with what you want to be best at and you hopefully become that. Working with Sonja, working with Felicia, working with Gbenga, working Idris and Wood, and as well as behind the scenes - Ed and David and Nina - I learned how to be a better person. I learned how to be a better actor also. And, you know, I learned how to take what they have and apply to what I have, which you will find to in everything that I'm doing.
CHIDEYA: Mm-hmm. Has there ever been a moment when you're like, yeah, I'm glad you think that, but that's not how I'm going to play this scene.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HECTOR: No. You know, funny thing about it is they hire you and they expect that you would know how to deliver, so I mean I work on what I have to work on before I come to the scene so I understand what's going on before and after inside, on down and on the top.
CHIDEYA: "The Wire" has been put together by some people with very different, very interesting backgrounds. People with…
Mr. HECTOR: Correct.
CHIDEYA: …backgrounds in media, law enforcement, even on the other side of law enforcement. I understand that you talk to with Melvin Williams who was a drug dealer and talked to him about your role. What did you learn from that interaction?
Mr. HECTOR: When I spoke to Melvin about the role, he told me some interesting things. And one thing that he said to me was, remember when you make money be aware that somebody's always trying to take it, so always keep an eye on your dollar. And he also - I mean, he told me so many things. He basically - it wasn't more so what he said it was more so how he moved. That was very interesting.
CHIDEYA: What do you mean by that?
Mr. HECTOR: He studied martial arts. He understood how to stay still. One time we were shooting out in Baltimore and it was very hot outside and, you know, people tend to acted up when it gets up, in other words they can't stand still, they fidget, they want to take their clothes off. And he simply said, the art to mastering this is just be still. And he didn't break a sweat. And it was, I mean, extremely humid and it was a hot, you know what I mean? It was just very uncomfortable. And his art through that was simply just to be still, and that's my first introduction to Melvin.
There's one time when I went into - I came on set and I was going to my trailer and there you - and then I went into the wrong trailer, I actually opened the door. And there he was lying in the dark, lights off and just lying there with his hand leaning on his fist and just looking at the door. And I was like, oh excuse me, (unintelligible) and I just shut the door. So that was my first introduction to him, his stillness. And that's more than example for me as my way to approach a character than having somebody talk all day.
CHIDEYA: You also have a lot of other things going on. You have a clothing line.
Mr. HECTOR: Yes.
CHIDEYA: And you're going to be on "Heroes" which is such a highly acclaimed show. It doesn't seem like after "The Wire" ends you're going to be unemployed. Tell me a little bit more about what your plans are?
Mr. HECTOR: Yeah. Well, you know, well I started a clothing line called Royal Addiction, and I'm opening a store in Brooklyn at (unintelligible) Brooklyn 463 Tomkins. And it's a trendy line and it's a line that I enjoy because I enjoy dressing. I enjoy - I've always enjoyed, you know, putting sneakers together with the outfit. And the way I dress, I'm sure people would also - enjoy it also. First, there's Marlo, his character, people enjoy watching him to see what he's going to wear.
As far as "Heroes" go, yeah, it's huge and I enjoy that also. I'm playing the character Benjamin Knox Washington. And we began shooting. And it's fun because there's so much going on behind the scenes as far as sci-fi, so to speak, action. I mean the minute I got on set it was complete action - behind the scenes throwing people, punching people, just up and down, in and out, and it's just - that's another challenge in itself because, you know when you're acting, you know, you tend to do so much drama at times that you'd love to get into like an active sport and just exercise everything that you know. And I'm martial artist and I have the opportunity to apply that.
CHIDEYA: Sounds like you got a lot on your plate, Jamie.
Mr. HECTOR: Yes, indeed.
CHIDEYA: Thanks a lot.
Mr. HECTOR: You're welcome. Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Jamie Hector plays Marlo Stanfield on HBO's critically acclaimed "The Wire." Yesterday, the show kicked off its fifth and final season.