The actor plays real-life former detective Sean Suiter in the series that sees him re-team with 'The Wire' executive producers David Simon, George Pelecanos, and Nina K. Noble.
Nearly 15 years after Jamie Hector said goodbye to his character, drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield on The Wire, the New York actor returns to Baltimore for another David Simon show about the real-life failings of the justice system in Charm City, We Own This City.
In We Own This City, based on Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton's book by the same name, Simon and his fellow Wire producers George Pelecanos and Nina K. Noble tackle the rise and fall of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), a unit within the Baltimore Police Department that, instead of protecting the community they were meant to serve, planted drugs and weapons on its residents to make false arrests and plunder them of thousands of dollars.
"I was blown away by the fact that these guys were so bold to do what they did," Hector tells Metacritic, adding his astonishment that, in this rare case, justice was served. "There's a team of people that disagreed with the way that they were functioning and decided to catch them. That was surprising to me — the fact that there was so much documented information to show what these guys were doing and that they're paying the price for it — because it's only recently that law enforcement actually pay the price for crimes that are committed."
Indeed, in 2017, eight officers were convicted of shaking down the community, among them unit supervisor Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, played in We Own This City by Jon Bernthal. Fresh off his seven-year stint on Bosch, Hector now tackles the role of Detective Sean Suiter, who in 2010, along with Jenkins, was part of a GTTF incident in which an innocent motorist was killed following a car chase between members of the task force and two men they had attempted to rob.
Suiter, who went on to become a homicide detective for the Baltimore PD, died in 2017 while on duty, just one day before he was scheduled to testify about his dealings with the GTTF before a grand jury. To this day, his death, which has been ruled a suicide, remains a much-debated mystery.
Here, Hector talks to Metacritic about returning to Baltimore for his second Simon show, the pressure of portraying a real-life character who is still deeply mourned by his community, and what makes the city of Baltimore so special.
Having already done a very dark Baltimore show with David Simon, what was the draw to return to the city and do something similar?
George Pelecanos, David Simon, Nina K. Noble. Their ability to tell a story where you'll be able to be entertained and learn something at the same time. And Baltimore. When the material was presented to me by George Pelecanos, he gave me a call and said, "I know you just got off Bosch, playing law enforcement officer Jerry Edgar for seven years. But what do you think about this character named Sean Suiter?" I was like, "I would love to read the book, but just the fact that you're calling me at all and I get a chance to really play again," I was excited about it.
So, I read the book and loved the material, loved the story. The surprising part was how Justin was able to gather so much source material and interview so many people and get so much accurate information on these guys that put them away.
Were you familiar with the Gun Trace Task Force before you were called? How hard was it to wrap your head around the story?
I was not. It wasn't complicated to wrap my head around the story. It was complicated to wrap my head around what happened to Sean. When it comes down to systemic issues, that's been taking place since The Wire was created 20 years ago. It's the way that they were so bold to do it in the open and never think that they can get caught [that surprised me].
When it came down to Sean Suiter, it is tragic and it is really what affected me, seeing his lovely family, his dedication to the work, his humility, his joyfulness, his spiritual connection in terms of the iconography that he had on his desk, which spoke to that. All of that was a little surprising to me.
For those who don't know the story at all, who is Detective Sean Suiter?
Detective Sean Suiter is a father [of five]. He's a husband. He was raised by his mother and his uncle. He loved sports. He was raised in Washington, D.C. and during the era in the '90s where there was a lot of crime and violence. He made it through. He joined the Armed Forces, following in the footsteps of his cousin, leading him into really excelling. He joined law enforcement and his ability to bring a case together is really what brought him up in the ranks. He was actually never a part of the Gun Trace Task Force, but he had crossed paths with Wayne Jenkins. Everybody knew him. Everyone loved him. Sean Suiter was just a down home, really loving individual in the community and in law enforcement.
If the storytelling was black and white, you'd get the sense that he's the good cop, and then there are bad cops. But it's not quite as clear as that, in this case.
Right, right. Because the beautiful thing about the writing of the team is everybody is flawed. You'll see gray in all areas, especially when it comes to the work of George, David, and Nina. There's no perfection in any man. And he dealt with some issues.
How did you go about researching him?
I reached out to production, and I asked them for everything they had on him. I asked for tapes of his voice. All images. I also was fortunate enough to have conversations with friends of his that worked with him. They were able to tell me things that I wouldn't share, about him and who he was. I chose not to speak to his family because this is so fresh. His wife and his children, I chose to stay away from them. But in regard to everything else, I really took my time with it and asked a lot of questions and listened to a lot of tapes. I just really wanted to get his voice. And when I say his voice, I mean intrinsically who he is.
To those who knew him, this must still be emotionally fraught.
Absolutely. It is.
Is there pressure in portraying a character like that?
I wouldn't say it's pressure, because this is not a story about Sean Suiter. This is a story about the rise and fall of a unit, the Gun Trace Task Force, which was supposed to serve the community, but in turn attempted to destroy it. And Sean Suiter happened to play a part by being in law enforcement. There are so many law enforcement officers that were on the right trajectory, moving in the right direction, but because of what happened with the Gun Trace Task Force, it affected their growth. It affected everything in Baltimore. Whether they were good, bad or in between, they were affected.
So, there wasn't much pressure for me, it was more so understanding who he was, how this thing happened. How did all of this take place? And where were you when it was happening? And what was happening? This is what my concern was, being able to tell the story honestly.
Did you form an opinion about what happened to Sean?
I didn't. No one can tell you what happened right there. We can try to put the pieces together, but they remain unanswered because there's no footage, there's no cameras, you have no witness. So, I couldn't form a full opinion on that.
What was it like for you to return to Baltimore?
It was great. I loved it. I love the people of Baltimore. A lot of times you're in a bubble, when you're working on a production, and you're living in areas that are built up, luxury living. It's cool. It's like, they're taking care of you in order for you to focus on the work. But going into the inner cities and connecting with the people, it was interesting because on one hand, I felt good being back and working on this project [but] on the other hand, while working, I did connect with people that were brutalized by this team. Two young men called me over and started talking about the guys that beat them.
But having this conversation with the young guys, even though it was a tragic situation that they've experienced, it was still a joyful conversation because the shows that came to visit their city, the shows that were able to put their city on the map. They were happy to have a conversation. So it was really good being back and really kicking it with the people.
If you had to put Baltimore on the map for anything other than police corruption, what would it be?
One, the amazing creatives that come out of Baltimore. You have David, Nina; you have [makeup artist] Debi Young. No one knows who Debi Young is, and everybody needs to know. And more than that, the people of Baltimore, who before they knew my work received me in a different way. It was like Southern love in its own little way. It was receptive. I would highlight the creatives and the people that are trying to do the work in Baltimore. So many wonderful foundations out there. People that are doing the work, but they just go unnoticed.
No one there gives up.
No one. It's more than thick skin. It's a love. No one gives up.
We Own This City airs Mondays at 9 p.m., beginning April 25, on HBO and also streams on HBO Max.
Get to know Jamie Hector:
As aforementioned, Hector previously starred on Bosch (Metascore: 73) and The Wire (91). He also is also known for The Strain (70), Power (61), Queen of the South (59), and Wu-Tang: An American Saga (58).