He should be more famous is the prevailing sentiment about several cast members of David Simon’s The Wire, most glaringly so in the cases of Dominic West, aka Det. McNulty, and Idris Elba, aka Stringer Bell.
Thankfully, the two seem to be—at long last—getting their due. The 44-year-old West is starring in a saucy Showtime series, The Affair, making its debut October 12, and features in the British historical comedy-drama Pride, in theaters September 26. Directed by Matthew Warchus, the film chronicles the true story of a group of LGBT activists who, in the most unlikely of scenarios, joined forces with the miners during the U.K. miners’ strike of 1984, forming the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign. Yorkshire native West portrays Jonathan Blake, a real-life member of the LGSM.I spoke with the gregarious West for a longer feature on the excellent film that will run later this week, and our conversation, as it often happens, drifted into various other topics, including the recent headlines the actor made by lending his name—along with 200 or so other public figures—to an open letter published by the Guardian speaking out against Scottish independence ahead of the referendum vote Thursday.
“I feel like a lot of English people in that they want a divorce, and we’re better off together,” West told The Daily Beast. “The world should be unifying rather than fragmenting, and I think it would be a terrible shame if the United Kingdom was no longer united. I think it would be awful if they split, so that’s why I signed it.”
Inevitably, The Wire came up. West spoke fondly of the “astonishing afterlife” of what many consider the greatest television series of all time and said he is still taken aback by the absurdity of strangers confronting him on the street and saying, quite apologetically, “I haven’t yet watched The Wire…I’m so sorry! But I mean to.” Asked whether the cast and crew were ever planning on making a feature-length film of the show, West offered an interesting response:“Constantly,” he said. “There was constant talk of The Wire movie in the bar for five years, but nothing seemed to come about. I was talking to Wendell Pierce about it more recently because he was the driving force behind the movie idea, and we wanted David Simon to write it, obviously. But David Simon said, ‘It can’t be a sequel, it has to be a prequel. And that’s going to be all right for the black actors, but for the white ones, they don’t look younger than they did 10 years ago.’” West laughed, before adding in jest, “Whitey doesn’t look so good.”
Another headline-grabbing West incident was the trek he made last year to the South Pole in support of Walking With the Wounded, a charity event raising money for wounded soldiers. West led Team Canada/Australia in a race against Team UK, led by none other than Prince Harry, and Team America, led by fellow actor Alexander Skarsgard. The groups eventually banded together and reached the South Pole on December 13, 2013. And West, who was a relative stranger to Prince Harry before the expedition, came away with nothing but good things to say about the royal.
“He’s really impressive, and incredibly empathetic for someone in his position,” said West. “He’s a veteran of the Afghan War and a soldier, and that was very apparent over the fact that he’s a royal and a big celebrity. There were telling things that he did that would illustrate the fact that he’s a soldier rather than a royal. He would always dig the latrines and was very good at it. I had a nice time sitting on the ice squatting over a latrine dug by Prince Harry.”
Success didn’t come overnight for West, who was forced to cut his teeth as an extra in several films early on in his career, including as a palace guard in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and a brief bit as a photographer in—yes—Spice World. The very mention of his part in Spice World causes the Brit to erupt in a violent fit of laughter.
“That was after a three-day wedding in Ibiza,” he said. “But Spice World was a career high. I was very keen to meet [the Spice Girls]…I don’t know why! I didn’t have a favorite, but the only one who spoke to me was the Ginger one. She was quite nice to me. The other ones just looked at me like I was this terrible aberration in the casting.”
Memo to Baby, Scary, Posh, and Sporty: There’s still time to right this injustice.