Actor Tray Chaney Discusses His Role on HBO’s The Wire
The actor was a key piece of the beloved drama set in Baltimore that delved into deep social issues
Television is entertainment but also occasionally veers into the realm of education and exposure. Only the most special of shows have these dualities. The Wire is one of the best examples of this and is a serious contender for the best show to ever air. More than a decade after it ended, it still speaks powerfully to issues impacting the United States and people of color, especially in light of current events and strong advocacy. One of the show’s tremendous cast members was actor Tray Chaney, who still has strong feelings and memories of its impact and legacy.
The Wire, an HBO drama series created by David Simon, ran from 2002 to 2008. The show explored urban decay, told through multiple points of view, including the police, illegal drug traffickers, the school system, politics, the working class and the media. Set in Baltimore, it’s difficult to identify a more thought-provoking and authentic production. The crisp writing and phenomenal performances by the actors give viewers the experience of being thrown directly into that world than simply watching from the periphery.
Chaney is a multi-talented artist, known for dancing, music and writing, in addition to his acting. He was a regular on The Wire, playing Malik “Poot” Carr, a “corner boy” caught trying to survive in a world that had made him an underdog caught in the struggle from the moment he was born. For those in his shoes, the only way to get by is figuring out how to best survive “the game;” day-to-day life where winning is temporary and losing is often forever.
His portrayal is noteworthy for a number of reasons, including the way he and his colleagues worked so seamlessly together. The show isn’t about catching audience attention with the use of A-List celebrities. It’s about telling an incredibly intricate and layered story through performances that were often drawn from a place of authentic experience. They may be actors playing roles, but in many cases, they could be superimposed on real people whose lives mirrored the show to a surprising degree.
I was able to chat with Chaney regarding his run playing Poot Carr, and get his take on the impact of the show.
He has since starred in the show Sinners & Saints and worked on a variety of other projects for television and film. His work often projects strong social messages and always reflects his strong work ethic that leads him to diverse opportunities.
Undeniable: The Tray Chaney Story was released in 2019 and explores the life of this intriguing entertainer. Hopefully, he continues to find compelling projects that find a wide audience and make strong social impacts with their messages.
Tray Chaney Interview:
How did you land the role of Poot, and were you given any part, or did you lend any personal experience in helping create his persona/personality?: I actually auditioned with Pat Moran in Baltimore for the role of Wee-Bey. That was actually my first time ever reading for a role on TV as an actor. The Wire was my first television gig ever. I was called back three times, and the third time David Simon and some of the producers were there. I received a call later on that week saying I wasn’t casted for Wee-Bey but I had landed the role of Malik “Poot” Carr. My personal experience in preparing to play a character like Poot was spending a lot of time in Baltimore and just embracing their culture in some of the neighborhoods. I’m from Forestville, Maryland, right outside of Washington, DC, so it’s a lot of examples of characters like Poot that’s what inspired me to bring the character to life
Not to sound cliche, but when you were making The Wire, did it feel like you were part of something special, and if so, why?: Well it definitely felt like I was a part of something special because the writing and entire production of the show being shot in Baltimore was so authentic. It’s such a realistic show on so many levels that people can relate to until I knew I was a part of something that people would talk about for a while. But now The Wire has passed all of our expectations I feel I can speak for the cast. None of us knew it would blow up so huge and have an effect on pop culture like it did, but we did know we were filming something great.
How frequently do you hear from people regarding your involvement in the show and the impact it has had on them?: I hear from people all the time. The fans, friends, family, and the industry.
I’m always engaged in debates and conversations but I love it all. I’m just honored to say I’m a part of history.
What are things you hear most often from fans about the show?: Things I hear most is that The Wire was real because yes it touched on issues in Baltimore, but they were issues that the world could relate to.
Poot is one of a precious few characters who has a somewhat happy ending (presumably). Were you satisfied with his character arc?: Yes, because first off, to say Poot lasted five seasons is a blessing. I was the last man standing, and it showed that in America an individual has choices. Poot had a choice to stay in the streets or take the positive route, and it just proved you can turn a negative situation into a positive.
What was your favorite scene or moment on the show?: It’s so many scenes and roles to name as favorites. One classic scene was in the third season was when Snoop’s character does a drive by on Poot, and I had to fake my death. That was fun until I had to go home realizing I did my own stunts and my body was aching.
What do you believe is the lasting legacy and impact of the show?: I feel the impact of touching on so many subjects from the streets, politics, education, media, and regular middle class workers. When you talk reality shows, The Wire is the reality TV show the world gravitated to.
With the current focus in this country being on racism and police issues, do you think The Wire was ahead of its time with how it portrayed such dynamics and how do you think the show holds up today?: Yes The Wire has ALWAYS been ahead of its time and when we look at the world we are living in now, The Wire is still the most complex analysis of racism, rigged capitalism, and their disastrous effects on media, education, law enforcement, and politics.
If Poot Carr was a real person, what do you think he would be up to today?: Poot would be married with kids. That’s the example of not letting your past dictate your future.