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John C. Reilly was almost The Wire's Jimmy McNulty

Screenshot: Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule

Sure, Dominic West’s accent was as inconsistent as a plate of fried lake trout, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role of The Wire’s resident fuck-up. West captured the humor and pathos, as well as whatever bit of magic it took to make someone so insufferable so easy to root for. But as Jonathan Abrams’s oral history of the series, All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, reveals, West’s casting was no sure thing. In fact, as an excerpt from the book published in GQ makes clear, creator David Simon was initially eyeing chameleonic character actor John C. Reilly for the role.

Now, there’s no denying Reilly’s talent. He’s an Oscar nominee (for 2002's Chicago), as well as one of the few actors who can pivot between absurd, over-the-top comedies like Walk Hard and Step Brothers and awards contenders like The Lobster and Gangs Of New York. But, at least in retrospect, a role like McNulty’s doesn’t seem to lend itself to the actor’s dada-esque undercurrent, which has been only wrangled to star in one TV series: Adult Swim’s hallucinogenic Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule. It’s easy to imagine that we may never even have gotten the cult superhero were Reilly wrapped up in five seasons of an intense HBO drama.


The excerpt also touches on a number of other casting stories, from the way in which an unsavory cab drive helped Wendell Pierce score the role of Detective Bunk Moreland to Michael Potts’ tenuous entrée into playing the show’s most high-concept character in Brother Mouzone.

Even more fascinating are the stories of the Baltimore locals, be they city politicians or former drug lords, who became part of the show’s fabric. For those stories, however, you’ll need to pick up Abrams’ book (which we highly suggest).

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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.