If Idris Elba Had His Way, He Wouldn't Have Left The Wire

Few shows, if any, can hope to rival "The Wire" in terms of quality, pop culture influence, or even just the sheer amount of stars-in-the-making who came and went throughout all five seasons of the acclaimed HBO series. From the various Baltimore cops attempting to navigate (and oftentimes directly contributing to) the corrupt system to the gangbangers carving out their territory in the streets to the various individuals caught in between them, creator David Simon made sure to cast each and every role with as much authenticity, talent, and gravitas as he could. After all, when one's ensemble boasts the likes of Lance Reddick, Wendell Pierce, Dominic West, Andre Royo, Michael K. Williams, Reg E. Cathey, and even a young Michael B. Jordan, you must be doing something right.

As one of the bigger and most prominent stars to emerge from the groundbreaking HBO show, Idris Elba brought all the charisma and stage presence the writers could possibly hope for in the character of Stringer Bell. A thoroughly ahead-of-its-time antagonist upon his first appearance in season 1, no movie or show to this day has ever recreated the magic of Russell "Stringer" Bell. That's largely thanks to the vastly different and refreshingly measured energy that Elba infused the bookish criminal with, taking what was already on page and elevating it even further throughout Stringer Bell's fascinating but ultimately doomed arc.

With the 20th anniversary of "The Wire" celebrated earlier this year, many of the cast and crew reflected on the show's lasting influence all these years later. When it comes to Simon specifically, he remembers Elba hoping to stay in the role for even longer than he ultimately did.

'This is your calling card'

In an interview with the Associated Press conducted earlier in 2022, "The Wire" creator David Simon recalled his earliest conversation with Idris Elba, when the actor first learned about the tragic fate of Stringer Bell. Despite having ascended to the upper echelon of Avon Barksdale's (Wood Harris) criminal organization, Bell ultimately overreached when he found himself at odds with Barksdale over their very different methods over running a drug empire. Add a personal vendetta to the mix and an ill-advised betrayal, and it becomes sadly clear in season 3 that the fan-favorite character had an expiration date.

According to Simon, this difficult choice understandably upset Elba, but it just might have been the push needed to land Elba on the map to stay, as well.

"I remember thinking, we killed Idris Elba when people were really starting to discover just what a leading man he was. And he'll tell you, if you get a chance to talk to him, when he read the script he was like, 'Man, you know, I can't believe I'm leaving the show.' He was not happy. And I remember talking with him over the script and saying, 'Idris, you're gonna have movie offers, you're gonna be an A-lister. People are gonna get a load of this death, and watch this — they're gonna acquire the story arc in retrospect, and this is your calling card man. You're gonna do fine."

Ultimately, it would seem that Simon was proven right in the end. After all, just look at Elba's two movies in 2022: one where he plays a mystical djinn in a romantic epic, and another where he fights lions in hand-to-hand combat. Perhaps we have Stringer Bell's death in "The Wire" to thank for that.