Every so often, we all have an experience that completely changes our life. The Wire was mine.
I still have trouble believing that I was blessed for two seasons to appear in one of TV's most admired programs, a show that many college students like myself—and even Sen. Barack Obama—feel is the coolest on TV.
I remember my first audition for The Wire. I was surprised when Baltimore casting agent Pat Moran told me that I was reading for the part of the Puerto Rican lover of the show's Robin Hood-type thief, Omar. Though I was nervous about the possibility of maybe having to kiss a guy, I love the show so much that I trotted out my best Spanish accent.
I didn't get the part but was given a one-day, walk-on stint as a drug mule for up-and-coming kingpin Marlo Stanfield. I felt paralyzed by the prospect of sharing my first-ever TV scene with such legendary Wire characters as Chris, Snoop and Bodie. All I could think about was, "Don't mess this up." I didn't, so I left the set thankful for my brief but fun "Wire" experience.
So of course I was thrilled a few weeks later to receive a summons from Pat's office to read for two more roles. I must have done something right because the next day, O-Dog was born and I've played him ever since.
As a film student and fan of urban dramas, I was aware of the praise heaped on the HBO show and its actors. So I arrived on set fully expecting to encounter a bunch of pampered, egotistical "thespians" too busy to be bothered with a novice like me. Oh, was I wrong.
When new acquaintances ask what my Wire cast mates are like in real life, I always use the same words: "They're like family." Not a single one has an ego that seemed puffed up or even noticeable. Take Jamie Hector, a.k.a Marlo Stanfield, one of the baddest men on TV. He instantly took me under his wing. As an actor he seemed bigger than life to me, yet he is as humble as anybody you could run into. Gbenga Akinnagbe, who plays Chris, the assassin who coos comforting words to victims before he puts a bullet in them, was my other "big brother" on the show. Mass murderer on TV; nicest guy you'll meet in real life.
Then there's Felicia Pearson or Snoop, the scowling female assassin whose mannish clothes and guttural voice make some viewers think she's a guy. I was the most worried about meeting Snoop because I felt she'd either kill me or refuse to acknowledge me. I'm glad to say that Snoop is one of the most fun-to-be-around people I've ever met. Hang around Snoop in her hometown of Baltimore for a day and you'll see how much local people love her tough character.
She can't walk a block without getting showered with words of love and respect. Her book "Grace After Midnight" shows how far she's come—from a child abandoned by her mother to selling drugs to being imprisoned for a murder she says was self-defense to leaving that life. Her Wire success is a testament to her dedication. I can't wait to see what's next for her.
The most fascinating thing about being on The Wire has been the reaction from fans. After I finished filming my first season, I didn't tell anybody outside my family that I was on the show. I wanted to see what the response would be. Well, it was huge. The night of my first appearance, I got calls from everybody on my phone list and people I hadn't heard from since middle school. Because I have had more of a presence in Season 5, fans forget that I play a minor character and give me Marlo-worthy props.
At my gym, I can't even change my shoes without strangers asking me to spill secrets from the show. It still surprises me when people I don't know ask to take a picture with me. I don't know who's more excited, them or me.
Then there's the flip-side. I was the thug who, at the end of Season 4, killed Bodie, one of the show's most admired characters. I still get scolded and harassed by people who know me as the triggerman. To be honest, the night that we filmed the scenes where O-Dog kills Bodie was one of the most intense I've ever experienced. It was great to have been an important part of the season finale, but I was so nervous that when the cast went to eat, I sat in a corner alone, not touching my food. I felt like the worst person alive.
And though I told myself it was "just a show," I knew it meant the end for one of my favorite TV characters. It didn't help that JD Williams, the great New York actor who plays Bodie, is extremely nice. Even worse, cast members who weren't shooting that day came to the filming to show JD their love. I'll never ever forget what Gbenga (Chris) said to me—one "killer" to another—as he left the set: "Welcome to the crew."
So now it's over. To say I was sad on the last day of filming is a gross understatement. But no one can take away the amazing fact that I did my first serious acting on one of the best TV shows ever produced. I can only pray that my next job is half as enjoyable and beneficial as the first.
And if it isn't, at least I got my family.
Darrell Britt-Gibson played O-Dog on the HBO series The Wire.