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Josh Charles And Jamie Hector On The Challenges Of HBO’s True Crime Drama ‘We Own This City’


We Own This City posed different challenges for actors Josh Charles and Jamie Hector, but they both leaned into it. The pair play key roles in the limited series inspired by the book by journalist Justin Fenton.

The six-parter looks at the Baltimore PD’s Gun Trace Task Force and corruption in the city. We Own This City reunites The Wire’s David Simon and George Pelecanos, as well as several familiar faces, and boasts King Richard helmer Reinaldo Marcus Green in the director’s chair.

I caught up with Charles and The Wire alum Hector to talk about the HBO show and what details they were most proud about getting absolutely right.

Simon Thompson: With George Pelecanos and David Simon at the helm of We Own This City, combined with the subject matter and other factors, comparisons with The Wire are almost inevitable. David’s called this a coda to that work. Is that how you’d describe it?

Josh Charles: It’s an interesting question. I have been calling it that as well because David said in an interview that we did together, and he’s right. When he elaborated on that, he said when they finished penning The Wire, these people we’re telling these stories about weren’t police officers; this is the next generation. This is what happens after all of the decisions that were made, and we see what that leads to. I think it has a built-in audience for the people globally who admire and worship The Wire with this cult-like status, but this lives on its own.

Jamie Hector: I agree, but I never thought about it in the way Josh said about the built-in audience, but that’s true. To see what happened with Baltimore 15 years removed, what happened on the streets and during all the uprisings. It’s nonfiction. It’s true. Watching episodes one and two of We Own This City and reading the material, you can start from the beginning, dive in, and instantly have an interest in watching the entire limited series. I read those episodes, and I was locked in.

Thompson: It’s not very often that you get a first episode of a show where it lays everything out, and there is meat on every one of the bones, yet it doesn’t feel overstuffed, or you know too much too soon. You also don’t get a character upfront who you don’t see again for another four episodes.

Charles: (Laughs) I think what you just said is perfection because I felt that same way. I was marveling at how they could have so many pieces in the air continuously and that it lacked the formulaic approach. The narrative jumps around ten years and time, and weaves and things build to such a nice crescendo, but there’s such a slow burn. It all kind of simmers there while you’re starting to lay that out. The confidence of being able to have that kind of storytelling, for me as an actor, is what I’m always excited about it. I hate when people are trying to tell me too much too soon. Let me figure it out. With this, I leaned in reading it, I leaned in watching what I’ve seen so far, and I think it’s a fascinating piece of accurate history of how this happened and how it came to be. It’s incredible to watch.

Hector: It was an insane experience for me to sit down and watch how they were able to capture ten years of the Gun Trace Task Force, their journey through Baltimore, and how they negatively affected lives. We were also jumping back and forth in time, and I understood that my beard and my hairline had to change and how to stay on track. It was physical. It’s not just working with the actors; it’s also working with art, wardrobe, and the hairstylist and trying to capture those moments in time because it’s nonfiction. It’s authentic, and everybody had a lot of heavy lifting. Doing it and doing it well, at the level they have, is fantastic.

Thompson: Actors don’t get to make that journey over time as often as you might think.

Charles: No, that’s true. I think Jamie experienced it more than me on the show because I’m in multiple years, but they’re more towards the middle to back end. Jon Bernthal and Jamie go back even further. For Jon, in particular, there was a huge visual change in his appearance. What was that like for you, Jamie?

Hector: In life, we’re different. We’re not the same person we were three years ago or ten years ago, right? Thank God for script supervisors and our director Reinaldo Marcus Green to help us track the story. To be the guy I play, Sean Suiter, making $60,000, versus Sean Suiter, earning $115,000. Going from living in an apartment and taking care of yourself at one point to providing for the entire family, having to go back and forth into those places, and delivering to that moment was very interesting. It was fun, but it was also just making sure that we had all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed.

Thompson: Talking of dotting i’s and crossing t’s, Josh, you are a Baltimore native.

Charles: Yes, sir.

Thompson: Being able to tell this story, which is very in Baltimore, it’s not very often that you get that kind of synergy of heritage and storytelling.

Charles: It was incredible for me and a massive part of me doing this. I’ve wanted to work with George and David for a while; I knew Justin Fenton’s writing on this, so I knew the story very well, and it came together. Particularly for me, playing Daniel Hersl, a unique aspect of his character and how he fits into the Gun Trace Task Force is that he’s actually the one who’s from Baltimore proper. He’s from Highlandtown, a very specific place, so being able to bring that level of authenticity, even in how he sounds, was something I took a great amount of responsibility for. Critically, I couldn’t give a s**t, but I’ve got family members and people I grew up with, so if something’s off on the accent, I’m going to take more s**t from them for the rest of my life than anybody else, so that’s the part that was losing sleep over more than anything. It’s an accent that I grew up with my whole life; it’s in my blood, so it’s not one that I had to work that hard on, but at the same time, I still did because I wanted to find his very specific voice.

Thompson: Josh, you say you wanted to work with George and David, but Jamie, you have worked with them. For the newbies coming into the group, did they ask questions about your experience, how things worked, what they could expect, and so on?

Hector: I didn’t think of anybody as new because people who value their work understand creating the material they’ve created and doing it so well; it’s not easy to do. The casting process is so well done that you know you’re working with serious people. Josh, Jon, Wunmi Mosaku, these are all people who bring it, and to bring them on board, you know you’re going to be playing on set with some heavy hitters, right? With David Simon and executive producers like Nina Noble, one consistent thing is that once they hire you, they step out of the way.

Thompson: Wunmi is incredible. She’s so insanely talented. I’m a big fan.

Charles: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think she’s marvelous. Her accent was incredible. She’s a lovely actress, and the camera absolutely eats her up. She’s so good and such a sweetheart. I was so happy I had a scene with her.

Thompson: While we’re talking about things we love, Josh, I’m a huge fan of your movie Threesome.

Charles: Yes!

Thompson: That’s a movie that deserves way more love than it gets. Can we talk about that for a second?

Charles: The movie was made at a different time and for something like a million dollars. It was not a huge budget movie. Threesome was supposed to be a little Sundance movie that nobody saw. It was the writer-director Andrew Fleming’s life story and done in a sort of comedic vein. It wasn’t a time when there were a lot of movies about people and gender, and homosexuality. It was being done occasionally but certainly not in a light-hearted way. It got picked up and bought by Tristar and ended up doing pretty well. I’m proud of it because, at the time, that wasn’t being done. I haven’t seen it in a while, so maybe it feels dated, but if you put it in context for that time, that wasn’t happening. I took a tremendous amount of pride in playing the role, and many people over the years have told me that movie meant a lot to them as they were coming out or made them feel like they were watching someone who was a person like them. I’m proud of that. That’s what I’m trying to do with every role, even in a role like the one I have in We Own This City.

Thompson: Well, the push for a Threesome appreciation revival starts here.

Charles: There we go, buddy. Let’s do it.

We Own The City is on HBO and HBO Max. New episodes drop each Monday for the duration of the six-week run.

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