“Where’s Wallace?” might be one of the most memorable quotes to come out of HBO’s cult series The Wire, which sought to tell the story of one city’s institutional failures across five seasons. Recently, Jonathan Abrams released his oral history of the show, All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, which recounts everything from casting coulda-beens to the writers’ clever, liberal use of profanity. Now, Vulture has shared another excerpt from the book, in which the actor behind Wallace, Black Panther and Creed’s Michael B. Jordan, reflects on the character’s sad, galvanizing demise.
For many, Wallace’s character is the emotional lynchpin of the series’ first season. It’s a difficult show to get into, after all, one that can feel alienating for casual viewers due to its emphasis on procedure and its desire to humanize characters that other shows, at least at the time, were content to render as stereotypes. Wallace, an unsupervised 16-year old drug dealer who has never left the six-block radius in which he was raised, is one of those characters, and the fact that he ends up dying (slowly and pathetically) at the hands of his best friends is one of the show’s greatest injustices. “To see that end so viciously with his two boys, his two best friends … That death scene is something people always come up to me and talk about and say how they were crying and how much it affected them,” Jordan says in the oral history.
Given that Jordan was himself just a kid at the time, the scene was as emotional for him to film as it was for the viewer to watch. He tells Abrams of his last day on set:
I kind of knew it was coming. Especially when you get that knock on your trailer door from David Simon. I’ll never forget it. He said ‘I love you. The audience loves you. We’ve got to kill you. We’ve got to kill you off.’ I remember telling my mom not to show up on set that day. My mom gets extremely emotional, and this was kind of too much. I didn’t want her to see it. It was a long time to shoot that shot. We definitely overshot that for sure. I remember them having to duct-tape the windows, so the lights wouldn’t go through, because were were going so late into the night, to the morning. But it was really quiet. The crew knew.
Everybody showed up. Even if they weren’t working, they kind of showed up on set. I knew Andrew Royo did, for sure. He was definitely a mentor of mine on that show. He showed up to help me get into the mindset and really talk me through it. I remember getting the squib under my shirt. They had a tube running down my leg with warm water for when he peed himself, when he got scared and shit. Me and J. D. Williams, who played Bodie, we’re both from Newark, New Jersey, and we both spent a lot of time on that show together, and I learned a lot from him over that show. We was just talking to each other, and then [when we started shooting the scene] it was like I didn’t even know him.
Wallace’s death resonates throughout not just the season—D’Angelo’s cry of “where’s Wallace?” will haunt any fan of the show—but the series as a whole. In season four, Bodie, one of the kids tasked with killing Wallace, is offed in much the same manner by a kid who’s essentially a younger version of himself. As The Wire hammered home time and again, the cycle is never-ending.