Sterling K. Brown Was Super Close to Getting an Iconic Role in HBO’s ‘The Wire’

Sterling K. Brown has been doing his thing in Hollywood for years. Before dazzling us all as Randall Pearson on This Is Us and becoming an animated character in Frozen II, Brown starred in American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson, Army Wives, Supernatural, and countless other credits.

However, before snagging a role in any of these projects, Brown went out for a role in the acclaimed HBO drama series, The Wire. Set in inner-city Baltimore, David Simon’s award-winning series chronicles the drug scene through the eyes of law enforcement, drug dealers, the neighborhood, the press, politicians, and the school system.

Running for five seasons, The Wire is still heralded as one of the best TV shows of all time. And, Brown was nearly apart of the series before the role went to someone else.

‘The Wire’ got people to watch TV in a different way

Though the series is beloved now, HBO’s The Wire got off to a rocky start with low ratings. According to The Guardian, in the forward to a book about The Wire, Simon explained that in order to get people to buy into the series he had to “teach folks to watch television in a different way.”

With so many characters, The Wire didn’t have a main character. And though there were many explosive moments, there were also slower moments for context and story. The show didn’t have the pace of a typical television show because it aimed to be more like everyday life.

‘The Wire’ was praised for its realism

As The Wire earned recognition, one factor that it’s been praised for is how realistic it is, especially in its depictions of crime, poverty, and drugs in Baltimore. Many of the stories came from Simon’s co-writer, Ed Burns, who had worked in law enforcement and education. Meanwhile, Simon was able to bring in his experiences from working for The Baltimore Sun newspaper. 

“[Ed] did a lot of these protracted investigations, often of more than a year’s time, into violent drug traffickers,” Simon told Salon back in 2002. “[The Wire] was largely based on his experiences and his frustrations in the department. It became more of a treatise about institutions and individuals than a straight cop show.”


HBO’s ‘The Wire’ Was Loosely Based On Series Co-Writer’s Work In Law Enforcement and Education

Sterling K. Brown auditioned for the role of Stringer Bell

Idris Elba ultimately played the character, Stringer Bell, a ruthless, but business-minded gangster. But Brown came pretty close to snagging the role.

He revealed to Men’s Health Journal that he — along with Mahershala Ali, Anthony Mackie, and Mike Colter, all well-known for their work now, — all auditioned for the part.

“I remember auditioning for The Wire and being very close to Stringer Bell,” Brown said. “What’s been really cool for me in terms of the usual suspects is that it has been a situation of all love. We were like, ‘Somebody’s gonna get the gig. I hope it’s you.’” At any point 90 percent of all the acting-union members are unemployed, and you’re just fighting to be part of the rotating two percent.”

Even though he didn’t get the job, Brown said he still felt lucky to find enough acting work to pay the bills early in his career.

“There’s so much rejection that you have to be willing to deal with and let it sort of roll off your back,” Brown said. “There are people I know who are absolutely brilliant who had to segue into something else in life.”