It's pouring rain in Los Angeles on a Thursday night as the writers' strike continues on; flash-flood warnings and power-outage reports are being broadcast over radios and televisions throughout the city. As cars skid through puddles and the wind blows through palm trees, Rocket Video on La Brea is hosting a Q&A session with actor Lance Reddick, best known around these parts as Lt. Cedric Daniels on HBO's The Wire.
Surrounded by autographed posters of cult films and aisles of DVDs, Jeff Miller, Rocket's bespectacled manager, nervously eyes his notes as he tells the 6-foot-4-inch Reddick, "The Wire is one of our most popular DVDs — we can't keep it on the shelves."
Presently in its fifth and final season, The Wire is one of the few series currently airing original episodes in this strike-triggered scriptless season. Created by former cop Ed Burns and former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon — whose nonfiction books also launched Barry Levinson's TV show Homicide: Life on the Street and the HBO miniseries The Corner — the show focuses on Baltimore's crime world, City Hall corruption, the failing American education system, and, this year, the collapse of the newspaper business. Reddick, who has also appeared on Lost, Oz, The Corner and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, plays an honorable lieutenant in charge of a special investigative unit trying to bust a drug ring; now his character is on the shortlist for police commissioner.
The Wire lacks the ratings of Sex and the City or The Sopranos, but it's earned a reputation as one of TV's best-written shows, and a devoted fan base that includes celebrity writers, rappers, critics, cops and criminals.
Jeff Errico, seated in the front row, says he has seen each episode: "Four times, at least."
Dressed in checkered Vans slip-ons and a baseball jersey, the 28-year-old storyboard illustrator looks like Jason Schwartzman, or rather, Dustin Hoffman circa All the President's Men. He's here tonight with two friends — Adam Wiser, an out-of-work screenwriter, and Dave Adick, an out-of-work director's assistant. Wiser, who has brought DVDs for Reddick to sign, explains that he and his friends were so excited about the new season, they celebrated the first episode with a champagne toast.
Up until now, Wiser explains, his friends watched the show separately by sharing a couple of copies of the DVDs.
"We have literally had 10 or 20 people who have watched the show through one or two copies of the DVD," says Wiser, who wears a dark sweater on this cold night.
"It's like crack on DVD," Errico adds. "It's better than porno."
After Miller finishes asking his prepared questions, he opens up the floor for audience questions. Though the crowd here is modest, the questions are exact.
"What's your favorite Lt. Daniels scene?"
It hasn't aired yet, so Reddick says he won't say. But he loved the scene in the second season in which he told a drunk cop to go to rehab.
"Who is your favorite character?"
"Bubbles, there isn't a single moment I don't believe him."
Some nod in agreement; others look at each other with eyebrows raised.
"You said you read for the casting agents a number of times before you were cast as Lt. Daniels. Did they see you for other roles?"
"Yes, I read for Bunk and Bubbles."
"You said you suffered a back injury some years ago. Was that the inspiration for your very specific posture on the show?"
Yes, in fact, Daniels' walk is a direct result of Reddick's back injury. He admits he has a hard time watching himself in the earlier episodes.
"Who would you say are the show's biggest fans?"
"Well, The Wall Street Journal called our audience the intelligentsia," Reddick offers. He adds that when he's on the streets of New York, where he lived until three years ago, he is mostly stopped by "Latinos, blacks and middle-aged Jewish people."
"Would you say that a lot of your biggest fans are writers? It seems like it's a gift to the striking writers that the show is back on; it's something to look forward to."
"It's true," a fan interjects from two rows back. "On the picket line, you meet new people every day, and the one thing we can talk about for hours is The Wire."
John McCoy, a young, black, out-of-work TV production assistant, wants to hear about Reddick's experience at Yale, and his hands shake sweetly as he poses his questions.
Reddick tells McCoy about applying for Yale at age 29. He was already married and had wanted to be a pop star. When he found out he'd been accepted, he figured that other actors in his class might be younger but none would work harder then him.
Afterward, McCoy explains that he usually doesn't come to Rocket Video. He saw a flyer here last week, while he was searching for the first season of The Wire on DVD.
"I had been to literally twelve different video stores and they had all been out. They didn't have it here either, but I saw the advertisement for Lance to come and I thought, 'Wow! I'll definitely try and make it.'"
Though the audience is mostly made up of 30-ish single males, there are two couples in attendance, both bundled up in New Balance sneakers and sweaters.
Andy, 30, and Margot, 24, live in the neighborhood and rent The Wire here. Andy works as a government contractor and Margot is a nanny. Neither has ever come to an event at Rocket before, but they did sneak in to see Werner Herzog at the Arclight during the L.A. Film Festival.
"That is the other thing we rent here," Margot explains.
"Werner Herzog films and The Wire," her boyfriend confirms.
As Reddick sits at a small card table after the talk, signing DVDs and answering a few one-on-one questions, a middle-aged woman rushes in from the rain and, with an exasperated sigh, shakes off her coat and looks at Reddick with disappointment.
"Oh, no, I missed it! The rain was so bad. I've been trying to get here for an hour."
Miller has one more announcement for the crowd: "Next month, writer Paul Haggis will be here. And he might bring Charlize [Theron]. Maybe. He might bring Charlize."