Wood Harris knows about paying dues. Hes got a Master of Arts from New York University, and his acting roles range from someones sidekick to a crime boss, to the greatest guitarist of all time. Now hes making his way in the world of music as well, and its safe to say that Wood has paved his way to success with calm focus.
After playing roles in films like Above The Rim and As Good As It Gets, and television shows like New York Undercover, NYPD Blue, and Showtimes Oz, Wood garnered the role of Jimi Hendrix in the 2000 Showtime Original film, Hendrix. He followed with more work in Remember The Titans and Paid In Full, solidifying him as a credible lead actor.
In the past three years, Wood gained an even larger and more fanatic audience playing drug kingpin Avon Barksdale in HBOs series The Wire. More recently, he has been featuring original music on his Myspace page, he and made an appearance on Russell Simmons Def Comedy Jam.
To kick off AllHipHops Wire Week, we took some time with the laid back jack-of-all-trades to discuss the finer points of acting, singing, freestyling (anyone peep his appearance on Wendy Williams show?) and the ways that old heads are resurrecting Hip-Hop.
AllHipHop.com: Obviously Avon wasnt featured in Season Four of The Wire, but hes still the looming character, because he represented a lot of the foundation that all of the characters came from initially. How did you feel about the plot development on this season?
Wood Harris: Well to be honest with you, I havent watched it. I dont know the plot that well. Ive seen a couple of episodes. I really like the kids on the show, and I think its very strong what I saw. Im just not the biggest TV dude. I watch sports, the news, a good show or something decent. But Im not a big episodic viewer.
AllHipHop.com: Did you watch when Avon was actually in the episodes?
Wood Harris: No, I didnt watch at all, I still havent seen Season Three. Ill catch a couple of episodes just to see how Im doing, but once youve read the script it takes eight or nine days to make each episode. Youre working while theyre airing them and its a lot to be done, so I never really sat down and viewed it all. But I know them inside out because I know the scripts.
AllHipHop.com: How does it make you feel to have participated in a show thats had so much impact?
Wood Harris: At the end of the day, its a great thing. Its dope, because I feel like we had something to do with the foundation of the show, and originally we [the street] were supposed to have one year. Me, Stringer Bell that plot was only supposed to go one year, but we ended up doing three years on the strength of people liking the plot and the storyline. A lot of that had to do with the acting, because we really worked hard to convey what the writers were trying to say. In any communications we might have had, we knew what we were doing better than they knew what to write. That type of chemistry, I think that made The Wire good for viewers.
Having not really watched the episodes, I still be like, Wow, people really dig this show. Its a tripped out experience, because I be off into something else. Its done already, I did it. In a year you spend 15 weeks shooting it. You got the rest of the year where youre doing all of this other stuff, then when they air the show, I forget about some of the stuff. I dont know all the storylines, because its quite a few storylines that happen on The Wire. People know sometimes more about it than me. They come to me like, Yo man, in Season Two when such and such happened Then I get embarrassed, I usually chill and say Okay cool, as if you know the name of somebody you dont know – you dont really wanna say it because you should know the name. Thats how I feel when people know storylines and plots better than me.
Nobody knows the Avon storyline better than me, but theres other ones with the cops and other people. For instance people I didnt interact with, I dont really know their storylines. On purpose though because Im not studying their storyline, it makes me stay in my character better. Theres certain things as an actor that you have to really exercise so that you convey a realness.
AllHipHop.com: Its true, because if you were on the streets you wouldnt know what the cops were doing.
Wood Harris: You dont know any of it, you can guess and you might think you know, but truthfully you dont really know. You wanna feel a little lost when you play a role, whatever the character is. I interact mostly with Idris [Elba] who plays Stringer Bell, we have a great chemistry and a brotherhood because of that. I just shot a movie with JD [Williams] in Baltimore and L.A., its called For Life. I dont know if its gonna remain that name but thats the current name of it. Its produced by Tony Austin, hes the president of Russell Simmons Music Group. This is somebody Im in cahoots with and working on other things with, its a lot going on. Im happy to be in my shoes.
AllHipHop.com: Youve played a lot of different roles. From Jimi Hendrix, when you came out and did [Paid In Full] – you played the nerdy guy turned street guy. Do you ever worry that youre going to get typecast as a street guy because of your work with The Wire and movies like Paid In Full?
Wood Harris: I dont get really worried about it, because if you look closer its not that hard to see more than that. Im fortunate to be Jimi, Remember The Titans, those are big things. Even Paid In Full is a true story too, so is [Avon] Barksdale. Those were based on real people, I think what happens is over time you start to have an identity that people recognize. It takes time though, youre able to govern it. Youre able to shape it, obligation to me as an artist is to pretty much do whatever I wanna do.
I have integrity; its great for me to play those roles because Im able to give them a different kind of brain because Im a different type of actor. Paid In Full – they could have went with anybody to do that and made a whole different type of movie, but a lot of what you see is me making the character basing it on the real A.Z. Hanging out with A.Z., being just like A.Z. and getting really lost in it so that Im able to watch it and feel like Im watching a film and I aint lookin at myself. As an actor you wanna feel like Im getting lost enough to watch this.
AllHipHop.com: On the Wendy Williams show, she put you on the spot to rap. How does that make you feel when you tell people you do music and theyre like, Sing for me; rap for me?
Wood Harris: I dont really have a problem with it at all. Im not looking for no validation so it doesnt really matter to me. She just said freestyle, I aint expect it. She told me to put the headphones on, I put the headphones on and there was a little beat in the headphones. She said I heard you can rap and you do music, freestyle. So I did a real freestyle off the top of my head and if they did jokes, I just went off of them. Its nothing to me, everybody rhymes so Im not selling rap. Rap sells itself, they can say rapper or MC. Im not trying to sell none of that, Im just me. I just hold the integrity of that, Im not a character Im really me.
AllHipHop.com: Music is something that makes you feel good.
Wood Harris: Yeah! Im high on it, Im a creative person. Thats a gift, I feel high off creating and being creative. I do my own stuff, I feel very empowered by that. True old school artists, every generation gotta have em. You make yourself what you are, Im in my generation and Im one of them. These are the steps that I take, they can have judgment but I dont have to bear witness to it because I dont care. Whatever you do, you may be a great dancer. What do you care about what somebody says about your dancing? Im bring the noise style; you can diss me because I dont listen.
Hip-Hop is in a place where its evolving, number one, I thought it was dead, but I think theres resuscitation on the rise with Jay-Z and Snoop. I think their albums sound great. Ive talked to Jay-Z, when he first went and signed to become CEO over there. I sat with him one-on-one alone for about an hour, I played my stuff for him which he really liked a lot. Now its more on the other end, I think I have a cool relationship with him. I told him You cant retire Picasso; you must paint until youre 75 or 80 or die. It depends on the person; some people aint gonna really do that. I like Lupe Fiasco, Im from Cape Town the west side of Chicago where he roams the streets – weve been under the same skies. But Jay-Z, that album is amazing. Im not usually a fan of any rappers, I dont really listen to rap anymore. Hip-Hop is a totem pole, it has faces at the top, middle and bottom. You make up your mind whos at the top.
AllHipHop.com: What were your top three Hip-Hop albums of 2006?
Wood Harris: Its hard for me to say that, I spent a lot of time on the East Coast, in DC and in Cali. The big music out here was E-40 with his album [My Ghetto Report Card], we was feelin him for so long. Then Too Short did his thing with the Blow The Whistle. The old school has took the crib back, they said F**k being the old school, we are the new school. Theyre saying Were the new school forever, theres no more schools. School is out now, lets get grown. School is out because motherf**kers is wearing their pants around their f**king thighs. I listened to Lupes album [Food & Liquor] the other day, I love Lupe; hes dope. Im such a critic. I got it set up in my head sometimes when I listen to music. My son is nine, I play music to him and I get the opinion from the most innocent ears. I cant let him hear all of the songs because theyre profane, I get the clean versions.
The Game surprised me with his ability – I think youre being dishonest if you cant agree with that. Its not like I didnt see [Games talent] before, but sometimes thats what a sophomore record does, its either gonna connect you in deeper or push you away a little bit. Mos [Def] is my homey, I sat in the studio months ago hearing some of his new stuff that hes putting together and it really is some defining stuff in there. Mos is one of the smartest, hes in his thirties. Thats a great song by Jay-Z, [30 Something]. Its because school is out. Hes honest about [his age] on the record, Hip-Hop is dishonest a lot. The magic of what Jay-Z is saying is pretty empowering. Embrace it because thats powerful, I love it. The Hip-Hop artist has to communicate life truthfully in order for Hip-Hop to sustain.