'The Wire's' Crawford on Helping Real-Life 'Dukies' Actor Jermaine Crawford, who plays lovable outcast "Dukie" Weems on HBO's critically acclaimed show, The Wire has gone through some serious changes since he first joined the cast. He's now determined to help the very sort of person he portrays.
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'The Wire's' Crawford on Helping Real-Life 'Dukies'

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'The Wire's' Crawford on Helping Real-Life 'Dukies'

'The Wire's' Crawford on Helping Real-Life 'Dukies'

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

You know, there's been a lot of talk around the office this week about one thing - okay, maybe two. Presidential politics, of course, but also the start of season five of the HBO series "The Wire." And in case you haven't heard of it, "The Wire" is a really gritty series about the intersection of drug dealers, police, city politicians, the media - all set on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. Here's a clip from the new season.

(Soundbite of HBO series, "The Wire")

Mr. JERMAINE CRAWFORD (Actor): (As Dukie) You remember that one day summer pass? You remember, just before school started up again. You know, I took a beat down from them boys. I don't even throw a shadow on that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRAWFORD: (As Dukie) That was the day y'all bought me ice cream off the truck. Remember, Mike?

BRAND: BRAND: One of the characters in that scene, Dukie Weems - he's a child whom we saw in season four with lots of potential. In the first episode of the current and last season of "The Wire," Dukie is on the corner helping his friend Michael deal drugs. Jermaine Crawford is the 15-year-old actor who plays Dukie. I spoke with him earlier.

Jermaine Crawford, welcome to the program.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Thank you for having me.

BRAND: Now, describe the character you play.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, I play the character Duquan Dukie Weems. He goes through the circumstances of poverty and being poor and abused because of his parents' situation. You know, they're drug addicts and they sell his clothing on the corner. So he's a very deprived character, but he's also a very intricate character and he has such a great heart. And he has so much going for him as well.

BRAND: You are not from the streets of Baltimore.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Not at all.

BRAND: Not at all. So how did you get into this role? How did you own it, if you will? How did you become a street kid?

Mr. CRAWFORD: You know, most people think that "The Wire" is filmed on a set, but it's filmed right in the streets of Baltimore. It's filmed right where, you know, your drug dealers and your drug addicts are, you know. As we film, you know, they're on the sides watching. So as you're filming and you're playing somebody that's kind of undergoing the same circumstances as they are, you just kind of watch. It kind of goes in the inside and you try to just reflect what you see. You know, it's not mimicking. It's just, you know, envisioning what you see, but trying to do your best to portray what you see.

BRAND: So did you actually meet with real kids who live there?

Mr. CRAWFORD: All the time.

BRAND: Uh-huh.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Especially in the fourth season, you know, since we have the classrooms and whatnot. So a lot of the kids were going through the same situations that my character was going through. It was definitely a life-changing experience for me to, you know, be with these kids. And you know, they have such great hearts and you would never know unless they told you themselves. And it was kind of painful for me as well, so I just felt as if it was my duty, as an obligation, you know, to be an advocate, to have a voice for these people who don't necessarily have a voice.

BRAND: I'm wondering, working in Baltimore and being surrounded on the scene there in the inner city and amongst all that sadness, and you know, the dilapidated buildings and seeing the real people who have to live there every day, I wonder if that ever gets to you.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, it did get to me. And you know, most people say that before they play a character they try to go to the setting of where the character, you know, was set and you know, observe. But we were filming there every single day. And that definitely opened up my eyes to start writing and producing my own documentary on teenage homelessness because, you know, it affects everybody. Every single person.

BRAND: So when you heard about the audition for this role, what did you think it was for and how did you prepare for it?

Mr. CRAWFORD: I tried to bring a heart to the character. You know, I tried to create the character to be like the kid that everybody was rooting for, that everybody, you know, wanted to see good happen to. I tried to make the character realistic. You know, my character was 12, 13. I wanted him to be like a regular 12 and 13-year-old, not this character that you see on TV.

BRAND: And in the fourth season, he really struggles, right? He's an outsider. He's a kid who's picked on by other kids. And his teacher, Pryzbylewski, he takes a shining to him and really tries to help him.

(Soundbite of HBO series, "The Wire")

Mr. JIM TRUE-FROST (Actor): (As Roland Pryzbylewski) What's up with Duquan? I gave him some new clothes. I was expecting...

Mr. TRISTAN WILDS (Actor): (As Michael Lee) He might have lost them.

Mr. TRUE-FROST: (As Ronald Pryzbylewski) That fast?

Mr. WILDS: (As Michael Lee) It's not that. His people take his clothes, sell them in the corner.

Mr. TRUE-FROST: (As Ronald Pryzbylewski) You're kidding.

Mr. WILDS: (As Michael Lee) No, sir. Everybody knows.

Mr. CRAWFORD: I mean, actually in the fourth season, he got evicted and he walked up to his front door and all of his stuff was right outside of his door. So he went through a lot of stuff in the fourth season, but you know, like I said, he's such a goodhearted kid. And you know, everybody has to root for him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: But I think also as, you know, as a viewer I had a pang when I saw him walk up to the doors of high school, where he was supposed to go, and he turned away and walked away.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, I mean, I felt that Dukie walked away because of the fear that he had. And I also think that he knew that he had the opportunity to just be with Michael. So for him, it was the option of either step out of your comfort zone or just stay in your comfort zone with, you know, this person that you grew up with. So I think he chose to stay in his comfort zone and remain to stay with Michael.

BRAND: And Michael being another kid in the fourth season who returns in the fifth season, who also struggles with trying to live a law-abiding life and the lure of the corner and chooses - chooses the corner.

(Soundbite of HBO series, "The Wire")

Mr. WILDS: (As Michael Lee) He dead.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) He dead?

Mr. WILDS: (As Michael Lee) Like so.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Character) They all dead. Feel better? Done no wrong, ya. No special day. He's just dead.

Mr. CRAWFORD: As you see in the fifth season, you know, the first episode starts off with me working for Michael.

BRAND: Mm-hmm. Which I couldn't believe it was you because, first of all, you're so much bigger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRAWFORD: I know. A lot of people said that I've started off probably around 5'5" and now I'm like 6'1", no exaggeration either.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Some people have said that "The Wire" depicts a too-grim picture of Baltimore, and that there are a lot of nice things that happen there. There are a lot of people who aren't caught up in this cycle of violence and political cynicism.

Mr. CRAWFORD: My thing is, we have to give a wake-up call to America. You know, this is what's going on in your backyard. I mean, do something about it. I mean, if we showed all the good stuff, it would just be another pop culture TV show. But we need to show what's going on bad and if it's not exposed - I mean, there's nothing that is going to be done. So hopefully, something will be done.

(Soundbite of HBO series, "The Wire")

Unidentified Woman: (As character) Fighting the war on drugs. One brutality case at a time.

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Girl, you can't even call it war.

Unidentified Man #4 (As character) Why not?

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Wars end.

BRAND: What's your next role?

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, I'm still auditioning for things, and you know, hoping that the right things comes my way. But right now I'm really focusing a lot of attention to writing and producing this documentary. I mean, it's really near and dear to my heart, you know, interacting with those kids and seeing, you know, that they're such great kids if they'll only led into the right direction. So it's definitely something that you can be expecting in the near future, but I'm definitely going to continue acting as well.

BRAND: Well, Jermaine Crawford, thank you very much for speaking with me today.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Thank you so much. I really appreciate this.

BRAND: Jermaine Crawford plays Duquan Dukie Weems in "The Wire."

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: And to hear Jermaine dish on what his fellow actors are like when the camera stops rolling, you can get it through npr.org.

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