Wendell Pierce Wants to Tell a Different Type of Hollywood Story

Wendell Pierce, who has played a Baltimore police detective, a New Orleans jazz musician, and an Alabama civil rights leader, speaks with Maxim about race and sexism in America. 

From the first he cigar smoked to the last crime scene he surveyed, The Wire’s Detective Bunk Moreland has become an iconic law enforcement character, a wise man in the sea of dysfunction that was David Simon’s imagined Baltimore Police Department. Wendell Pierce’s portrayal of Moreland was hilarious, heart breaking, and, more often than not, convincingly lubricated. With The Wire(recently re-mastered in HD) firmly entrenched in television history as possibly the greatest show of all time, and his new movie Selmanominated for a Best Picture Oscar, Pierce has the opportunity to consider the luck he’s had and the degree to which he’s made it. He spoke with Maxim about what his (fictional) retirement and why he wants to work for women.

What do you envision the character of Bunk is doing today?

He has retired, like the real Bunk, and he’s working with the Baltimore Ravens security team. He loves football, he loves to hang out, and it’s a great job. That’s what the real Bunk is doing and I think our fictionalized character is doing the same.

How does Selma relate to your other recent work, like Treme and The Wire. Seems like you consistently choose projects that deal with social justice issues in America. 

It relates to them because they’re all these cultural documents that lift people up. They remind people of how the human spirit of activists can induce behavior that changes the world. I feel like that happened with Treme and The Wire and it’s why I’m proud to be a part of Selma.

Selma is being released amidst some very difficult times for race relations in America. How does its story reflect the current moment?

It is a reminder of the sacrifice people made so that we can live up to the true meaning of being an American, of having rights; that’s what freedom really is. We understand that people have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in foreign shores in war so that we can have our freedom today. But we also need to remember that people gave up their lives right here in America, on dirt roads and in the muddy waters of rivers, and hanging from trees, because there’s blood on that ballot box. People died so that you and I can have the rights that we have today. And that’s the ultimate patriotic act, and that’s what people need to take away from that. It’s not a racial issue, it’s an American issue about freedom. This wasn’t some long ago, historic moment. It is acutely present and ongoing.

Political projects are not foreign to you. You’re a very political guy – what is your take on Obama’s performance over the past few months?

Obama has demonstrated, from the very beginning, that he truly was and is an agent of change. He has demonstrated, throughout his presidency, that he can be compromising, conciliatory, and work across ideological barriers, and at the same time be very principled, and take unilateral action when necessary, like we’ve seen in the past couple of months. He’s going to be viewed as one of the most consequential presidents ever. Ending don’t ask, don’t tell. Starting normalization with Cuba. The killing of Bin Laden. The expansion of community college. 

Ava  DuVernay is one of a number of prominent female directors you’ve worked with. What’s standing in the way of Hollywood giving female directors larger budgets and more opportunities to succeed?

Stubbornness. Lack of vision. The claim that it doesn’t work or they can’t do it, propping up the miseducation about female directors. It’s evident that there’s been multitudes of competent women that can direct films and it’s just another example of how if Hollywood could open up its eyes to diversity, there would be more really great films. The more you open up to anything and anyone, the more growth there is – that is a fact that applies to the economy, to social concerns, and especially culture. The more exposure you have, the more ideas you have, the better ideas they’ll be. Don’t isolate yourself on purpose. Ava DuVernay is someone who’s gone from a budget of $100,000 on her first film to now $20 million, and now it’s being honored with all of these nominations and awards. It’s obvious the more inclusion you have, the more growth you will have.

Photos by Paramount Pictures / Everett Collection