Many of the minor characters are played by real-life police officers, politicians and former criminals. In fact, many of the former criminals who act on the show were previously arrested by the real-life cops who act on the show.
The character of "Bubbles", played by Andre Royo, was largely based on a real Baltimore drug addict and police informant who went by that name. The real Bubbles, who would slur his speech much more than the fictional character, first started working with the cops near the early 1960's after being arrested for a burglary. He spent the next few decades as an informant, leading to the arrest of several hundred felons and getting paid at least $50 for each one caught. His near-photographic memory and ability to blend into the scene made him one of the best in the city. Eventually he would start using the hat method portrayed on the series, where he acted as if he was selling hats and would place one of a certain color on the head of those the police should arrest.
According to Michael Kenneth Williams, he secretly struggled with a cocaine addiction during the third season. He never missed a day of work nor was he ever late. He also suffered with an identity crisis and severe anxiety due to his popularity as Omar.
The writers/producers briefly considered doing a sixth season about the influx of Latinos into Baltimore, but none of them knew enough about Baltimore's Latino population to write about it so the idea was dropped.
The character of Avon Barksdale is loosely based on Melvin Williams. Williams was a notorious drug kingpin in Baltimore who was brought to justice by Ed Burns. Williams joined the show as the deacon in season 3.
When Dominic West first auditioned on videotape from his London home, he tried to have his girlfriend read the lines for the other characters in the scene, but her English accent kept throwing him off and he kept laughing. So West performed the scene himself by leaving pauses where the other character's lines were supposed to be. West admits to imitating Robert De Niro for his audition. At first, the producers found the audition tape "weird" and "comic" but they reconsidered when they concentrated on West's performance. When West was offered the role, he became reluctant because the contract was for five seasons. But his agent convinced him that the show would not last more than one. It ended up lasting five seasons.
Tray Chaney originally auditioned to play the character of Wee-Bey Brice but the producers felt he was too short. They were so impressed with his audition that they created the character of Poot for him to play.
Entertainment Weekly included Omar Little in its list of the "16 Ultimate TV Antiheroes" at position #3 in the July 15, 2012 issue, after Walter White (Breaking Bad) and Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) as #1 and #2 respectively.
According to Andre Royo, "The Mayor hated us because he thought we made Baltimore look bad. He told the cops to come down on us for anything: jay walking, resisting arrest, loitering. People got arrested, production was postponed sometimes coz people were locked up; people went missing for a couple of days at a time. But it was a crazy time, it was amazing, the most exhilarating moment of my life."
According to Sonja Sohn, during the first season she had much trouble remembering her lines causing numerous delays. She says it was due to childhood trauma of growing up in a ghetto and witnessing police brutality. Because of this she was uncomfortable in the neighborhood while filming took place and had issues with portraying a police officer.
Due to the fact they hadn't appeared in anything significant until The Wire, and their American accents were so perfect in the show, many people were unaware that Idris Elba and Dominic West were actually British.
The character of Sgt. Jay Landsman played by Delaney Williams was based on Jay Landsman, a real-life Sergeant with the Baltimore County Police. He was featured in David Simon's book "Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets". Landsman himself joined the cast in the third season playing Lt. Mello.
Tom Waits - composer of the show's title theme, 'Way Down In The Hole' - agreed that The Wire's producers could make use of the song provided they first let him see the show. Videotapes were promptly dispatched to the Waits household, followed by weeks of agonising silence. When the execs finally got the courage to give the legendary singer-songwriter a call, Mr Waits explained that he'd received the cassettes but he couldn't play them because he didn't know how to operate his VCR. "My wife knows how to use it and she'll be back in a couple of days," Waits continued. Two days later, a release was signed.
Bubbles was based on a real police informant known as "Possum", whose true identity has not been made public at the request of his family. Possum was noted as having an incredible memory for faces, and was often very helpful in pointing out drug dealers to police. David Simon met with him twice, shortly before Possum's death from AIDS, intending to write an article about him. He ended up turning it into an obituary.
Stringer's name is a composite of two real Baltimore drug lords, Stringer Reed and Roland Bell. His story bears many similarities to the life of Kenneth A. Jackson-specifically, his crossover from the illegal drug trade to legitimate business ownership and political contributions.
Michael B. Jordan did little preparation for the part of Wallace, but used his experiences growing up on the streets of Newark, New Jersey, as a way to prepare for the role. Jordan said, "I live in an area where there are lots of drug dealers and I know some people who may or may not sell drugs, so this is not new to me."
In an online interview, David Simon stated that Ziggy is loosely based on a real stevedore named Pinkie Bannion whose antics have become a local legend around the docks. According to Simon, Bannion "used to take his duck to the bar and repeatedly expose 'pretty boy' and all else. As they said in Bawlmer about Pinkie: 'That boy ain't right.'"
By the time the series had enough critical clout and rabid fandom to legitimately justify another season, David Simon was working on _Treme_. However, when Attorney General Eric Holder, yet another powerful fan of the show, gently joked in 2011 that he'd like to see another season, he received a not-so-joking response from Simon, who retorted "we are prepared to go to work on season six of The Wire if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanising drug prohibition." As of 2017, the two sides still appear to be at a stalemate.
Sonja Sohn's role in the series led to her current work as the leader of a Baltimore community initiative called ReWired for Change. The program is run out of the University of Maryland School of Social Work and uses episodes of the series as a teaching tool, encouraging the participants to examine and query their lives and past actions. Other actors and writers involved with the series serve as board members.
Some of the show's interiors, including McNulty's apartment set and the police station's offices, were constructed inside a former Sam's Club Warehouse store. The zoning for that building dictated that its tenant had to be a retail business, and when the producers got into trouble for renting the building without selling anything from it, they considered opening a store there to sell t-shirts, DVDs, and other show souvenirs before the issue was finally resolved.
Michael Kenneth Williams has stated that he pursued the role of Omar because he felt it would make him stand out from other African Americans from Brooklyn with acting talent because of its contradictory nature.
At a reunion of some of the cast in 2014, it was revealed that the actors weren't all that satisfied with the show at first. "I told my agent to call Law & Order (1990)," said Wendell Pierce; Sonja Sohn said, "A lot of us were like, 'I don't know, it's kind of slow.'"
Marlo Stanfield was based on Timmirror Stanfield, a major Baltimore drug trafficker. In 1986, Stanfield was 25 and ran a gang which included over fifty members. The Stanfield gang controlled South Baltimore's Westport area and West Baltimore's Murphy Homes housing project. The gang committed multiple murders and drew the attention of authorities, who were able to persuade fifteen witnesses to testify. The core of the gang was convicted.
In preparation for the role of Bodie, J.D. Williams walked around Baltimore's inner city during the middle of the night a few days before the first taping; talking about this to AllHipHop, Williams stated "it was like 12 or 1:00 in the morning. I just threw on a black hoodie and walked around. I went to one of their hoods and watched that night. I learned not to do that no more, I was lucky I made it back that night."
Sonja Sohn would gather relevant members of the cast to memorialise any character who was killed off. This began after she learned she was supposed to be killed off and fought for her character's life.
The producers wanted to keep a documentary-type atmosphere. Therefore, aside from the ending montage at the end of each season and a few exceptions, no musical score is used in the series. The music had to be coming from a stereo, boombox, etc. i.e. it had to be literally part of the scene.
Jamie Hector has commented that he sees Marlo Stanfield as striving to obtain power rather than profit and revelling in using that power over others and that much of his performance stems from trying to capture Stanfield as a man of power and economy using minimalist movement and speech.
In season three, when McNulty is comparing the units skills favorably to those of other Baltimore police he mentions Donald Worden as one of the few police who can match them in skill. Worden is a real life detective who served in the Baltimore homicide unit when David Simon covered it. For at least part of that time he was the partner of Jay Landsman, who plays Dennis Mello and was the inspiration for the character of the same name.
Rawls' distinctive manner of intimidating subordinates is based on real-life Baltimore CID commander Joe Cooke. David Simon has also commented that Rawls' attitude towards the murder rate and his unit's clearance record is a product of the extreme pressure he is under
David Simon has said that Clay Davis is based on three different politicians in the Maryland State Senate, and that his affectionate use of the word "partner" is based on one of them, saying that everybody in Baltimore knows who this is.
David Simon's books "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" and "The Corner" (written with Ed Burns) both mention the real Dennis Wise. He is described as one of the two most infamous contract killers active in Baltimore during the late 1970s - Vernon Collins being the other. Police were frustrated by the fact that no witnesses could be found against either man. Neither Wise nor Collins would break under intense police questioning, refusing to say anything other than to request a lawyer. Dennis Wise was eventually sentenced to life in prison in 1979 for a contract killing. He earned his bachelor's degree in Psychology while in prison. In 1999, Maryland Correctional officials transferred Wise to an Arizona prison in Yuma because he was allegedly leading an influential prison gang. Wise wrote a novel called The Wolf Trap while in prison.
Michael Kenneth Williams expressed that his relationship with and love of off-Broadway New York theatres, such as the National Black Theater in Harlem gave him the skill set needed for his portrayal of Omar; in particular using the Meisner technique to create Omar from the ground up, immersing himself by researching details of inner city Baltimore. The role presented a particular challenge as it was the first major recurring television character he had played.
The journalist characters of the fifth season were mostly based on real-life employees of The Baltimore Sun during David Simon's tenure as a writer for the newspaper. Scott Templeton is based on Jim Haner, a Sun reporter whom Simon believes fabricated stories. James Whiting is based on former Sun editor John Carroll. Thomas Klebanow is based on former Sun editor Bill Marimow. Rebecca Corbett, Tim Phelps, Steven Luxenberg, and Jay Spry are all based on former co-workers with the same names. Staff writer William F. Zorzi, a former Sun reporter, plays himself. Simon based Gus Haynes on himself.
Domenick Lombardozzi speaks with the accent of his native South Bronx, which producers did not believe Lombardozzi would be able to convincingly hide and so did not ask him to try, planning a future explanation as to why the character was policing in Baltimore. Ultimately, in the fifth season premiere episode, The Wire: More with Less (2008), Herc mentions having come from the Bronx when he makes a reference to his hometown New York Yankees being historically more successful than the Baltimore Orioles.
Felicia Pearson was discovered by Michael Kenneth Williams at a Baltimore club. He invited her to come to the set one day and he introduced her to the writers and the producers, and after subsequent auditions, she was offered a role in the series.
James Ransone, is a Baltimore native and has described Ziggy as representative of the difficulties people face just trying to get by in Baltimore. The character's creators have deemed him "the angry prince of goofs."
Omar was originally supposed to appear in only seven episodes before being killed off. He proved so popular with fans and critics alike that the writers changed his arc to make him a major character throughout the show's run, although David Simon denies that there was ever any plan to kill him off in the first season.
David Simon has described his goal of presenting McNulty as ambiguous in his motivations. Based on his experiences with real detectives, he feels that most crime dramas present their police characters with the falsehood that they care deeply about the victims in the cases they are investigating. Simon states that in his experience a good detective is usually motivated by the game of solving the crime-he sees the crime as an "insult to his intellectual vanity" and this gives him motivation to solve it.
Ray Winstone was offered the role of Jimmy McNulty, but turned it down. Winstone liked the show but did not want to be away from his family for seven months of the year, which was the filming schedule.
In season one, two detectives, Augustus Polk and Patrick Mahon - were assigned to the Barksdale detail. The names "Polk" and "Mahon" are a play on "pogue mahone," the anglicized version of an Irish expression meaning "kiss my ass." "Póg mo thóin" (pronounced pogue moh hone) was also the original name of Irish folk-punk band The Pogues, whose music is used throughout the series.
Much like its sister show Homicide: Life on the Street (1993), contains numerous references to David Simon's book "Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets". For instance, the opening of the very first show is lifted directly from the book.
Andre Royo almost turned down the role of Bubbles: "In my mind, there were two problems: 1) I didn't want to play stereotypical character, it could be the kiss of death for my up and coming career and 2) I didn't think I could do better than what I'd already seen and as an artist, if you don't think you can do better than what has already been done then why bother? Luckily I had a strong manager, he said 'they're not offering you the part, they're offering you an audition. Come in and do it'. I met them, and realised that it felt like something different, they weren't trying to be general cop show and they were making sure that no one came across as a gimmick."
Michael B. Jordan auditioned before casting director Alexa L. Fogel in New York City for the role of Bodie. He was called back twice and the auditions went well, but he was turned down for the part because Fogel thought he was too young. The part went to Jordan's friend J.D. Williams, who grew up in the same hometown with Jordan in Newark, New Jersey.
The character of Blind Butchie was inspired by a case that David Simon covered in his book "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Street". Patrolman Gene Cassidy was shot in the head at point blank range with a .357 Magnum handgun. Although initially expected to die of his injuries, Cassidy made a partial recovery but was left blind and without his sense of smell or taste. A drug dealer named Butchie Frazier was eventually convicted of attempted murder in the first degree.
David Simon has said that Omar is based on Shorty Boyd, Donnie Andrews, Ferdinand Harvin, Billy Outlaw and Anthony Hollie, Baltimore stickup men between the 1980s and early 2000s who robbed drug dealers. In an episode in season 3, Avon asks Slim Charles about available muscle to help them and he inquires about the name "Shorty Boyd", a nod to the former stick up man. Andrews later reformed, got married and helped troubled youths. In season 4, he plays one of the two men Butchie sends to help Omar in prison, in the episodes The Wire: Margin of Error (2006) and The Wire: Unto Others (2006) and Omar later meets up with him at Blind Butchie's in The Wire: That's Got His Own (2006) while planning the big drug robbery. Andrews died at age 58 in New York City on December 13, 2012 after suffering an aortic dissection.
Wee-Bey Brice was based on a hitman named Vernon Collins, AKA Bey-Brother, who worked for a heroin dealer named Thomas H. Taylor. He was described by one FBI informant as a "narcotics hit man who is feared throughout the narcotics underworld in Baltimore." Collins is mentioned in David Simon's book "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" as one of Baltimore's notorious contract killers in the late 1970s along with Dennis Wise (who spawned a character of the same name.) Wee-Bey is a reference to this hit man and drug trafficker. Collins was arrested in 1987 and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.
By the end of shooting for season 1, the producers realized that shooting for subsequent seasons should take place mostly on the eastern side of Baltimore because of the lack of trees. Without as many trees in the frame, the passing of the seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring & Summer) during a running season of the show wouldn't interfere with the continuity of the story.
George Pelecanos is given credit with creating the character of Dennis Wise, based on unused notes from his novel "Drama City", about a man getting out of prison after almost two decades. The idea reflected the "reform" theme of the third season, so the character was added.
Robert F. Chew recalled that when he auditioned, the other actors were all well groomed, well dressed and thinner than he was. He later learned that the real-life inspiration for the character was a charming and debonair drug dealer so he was surprised to have received the role. He was initially unsure as to how long the character would remain in the series and so he was pleased to be one of the few characters from the drug world who appeared in all five seasons.
A fictionalized version of the events of the 1999 Baltimore mayoral election were presented in third and fourth seasons. Many saw the connection between Carcetti and Martin O'Malley, an Irish-American Baltimore City Councillor who was elected mayor, defeating two African American opponents. David Simon denied that the character of Tommy Carcetti was supposed to be O'Malley. David Simon did acknowledge that O'Malley was "one of several inspirations" for Carcetti. He further stated that while Carcetti was "reflective" of O'Malley, Carcetti was a composite drawing aspects from other local politicians that he had covered when he worked as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.
David Simon said that Avon Barksdale is a composite of various Baltimore drug dealers. He is likely based, to some extent, on at least two notorious Baltimore drug dealers: Melvin Williams (who plays the character of The Deacon) and Nathan Barksdale.
A picture of former Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay is pinned on Frank Sobotka's dartboard. Irsay moved the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984. He is one of the most hated sports figures in Baltimore.
David J. Smolar, who appears in the final episode of season 3 as a reporter talking to Councilman Gray, previously appeared as the piano player in a restaurant scene between D'Angelo and his girlfriend in episode 5 of season 1. Smolar performed the piano music heard in that episode, a posthumous Chopin Etude and later movement 2 of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata.
According to the book Difficult Men, which chronicles the rise of modern television, one role research ride-along that ended with Seth Gilliam (Ellis Carver) and Domenick Lombardozzi (Herc) ducking gunfire in the backseat of a police car. On another, Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland) reported seeing "a guy with a knife still in him" as well as a cop trying to take a man who'd been shot downtown for questioning instead of to a hospital.
In the first scene after the opening credits, Jay Landsman tells his officers that Colonel Raymond Foerster has died of cancer. Actor Richard De Angelis, who played Foerster, really did die of cancer in the middle of the film recordings.
Dominic West's original audition tape for the part was recorded with him as the sole actor leaving spaces for the lines that would be spoken back to him. The producers were amused by the tape and agreed that they had to give him an audition.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In an unusual move for a police series the officers almost never fire their guns. Only one police officer, Prez, ever fires his gun on the show and in all three cases it is a mistake. The first time he accidentally shoots the squad room wall. The second time he drunkenly fires a shot into the air and then (compounding his gun mistakes) uses it to pistol whip a teenager, blinding him in one eye. The third time he mistakenly shoots an undercover cop.
In season four Dominic West, the ostensible star of the series, requested a reduced role so that he could spend more time with his family in London. On the show it was explained that Jimmy McNulty had taken a patrol job which required less strenuous work.
Although Cheese Wagstaff and Randy Wagstaff have the same last names, it is never stated that they are related. David Simon has since confirmed in interviews that Cheese is Randy's father. Simon planned to reveal this in a fifth season episode but later decided against it.
When John Doman found out that Rawls was gay, he went to David Simon and told him not to hold back, that he would go as far as they wanted to play that side of his character. The funny thing is that Rawls' homosexuality barely matters on the show.
Producer Robert F. Colesberry also plays Detective Ray Cole. After Colesberry died tragically following routine heart surgery, the Ray Cole character also died from a heart related illness in the show. The entire cast participated in an elaborate detectives wake in honor of Cole and Colesberry's memory.
Dennis Lehane revealed that he was given the duty of writing Omar's death scene in The Wire: Clarifications (2008) specifically because none of the other writers wanted to be known as the guy who killed Omar.
Marrimow is a character who is known for his hostile and punitive commanding style in Season 4 who doggedly pursues Herc's badge because he doesn't like him. Marimow (minus one "r") is also the name of one of the editors during David Simon's time at The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun Reporter, Scott Templeton found it necessary to take "creative license" while writing his articles regarding public safety in the city of Baltimore. He explained that his last reporting job had been at the Kansas City Star. Ironically, the KC Star has long been infamous for its use of "creative license" while reporting on public safety issues in Kansas City.