Photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters. The Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
via NYTimes: Television
By STUART MILLER
Published: March 25, 2009
NEW ORLEANS has always been home for Wendell Pierce. But recently it’s become more than that, so much that he sometimes needs to be in two parts of the city at once.
On March 20 Mr. Pierce, acclaimed as Bunk Moreland on “The Wire,” was scheduled for a 12-hour day shooting the HBO pilot for “Treme,” an exploration of post-Katrina New Orleans by the “Wire” creator David Simon. He was also scheduled to be at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the revitalization of the hurricane-battered Pontchartrain Park, one of the city’s historically black neighborhoods. In both places Mr. Pierce was essential.
In “Treme” he plays the trombonist Antoine Batiste, struggling to find work while coping with a scattered family. “The show follows the lives of a disparate group of people during the rebuilding,” he said. It features a range of characters, like a chef and a civil rights lawyer, and an ensemble that includes Steve Zahn, Khandi Alexander, the Oscar nominee Melissa Leo and the “Wire” actor Clarke Peters. “My character,” Mr. Pierce said, “is an everyman.”
But in Pontchartrain Park he is no everyman; he is the leader, the president of the Community Development Corporation who spent eight months planning and negotiating with government and insurance officials to build affordable and environmentally friendly homes that will preserve the community’s character.
But the city doesn’t run as smoothly as a television series. The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority changed the groundbreaking’s location twice and start time thrice, leaving Mr. Pierce unable to sneak away from his day job.
“My whole frustration in dealing with the redevelopment, I’ve used that for my character,” he said. “I’m enjoying the fact that art is imitating life.”
In August 2005 he arrived at his parents’ house in Pontchartrain Park for a family gathering just in time to flee the storm. He moved his octogenarian parents to Baton Rouge, then worked to restore their home; they returned two years ago.
Still Mr. Pierce wanted to do more.Wendell Pierce is a New Orleans native who stars as a trombonist in a pilot (from David Simon of “The Wire”) named for the area.
His first step was, naturally, artistic. He acted in an independent movie about the renowned cornet player Buddy Bolden. He starred in a “Waiting for Godot” with the hurricane as central metaphor; in 2006 it was staged in New York, then in 2007 on the streets of New Orleans. And he turned down another TV role to shoot the pilot of “Treme,” though HBO has not committed to the series (but given its track record with Mr. Simon, that seems likely).
Mr. Simon said Mr. Pierce was integral to his show because “he totally understands that in New Orleans, the nuances have nuances.”
“To do this without him would be fraudulent,” he added.