Critics have called The Wire's most unlikely star, Felicia Pearson, and her character “Snoop”—a tomboy teen killer and “hit girl” in one of the city's violent drug crews—one of the “most ruthlessly charismatic” murderers to ever grace the small screen. To be sure, the 27-year-old, baby-faced Pearson delivers a calm, enigmatic and sometimes oddly endearing performance unlike any other small-screen debut in recent memory.
It's a fitting anomaly, as far as The Wire back-stories go. The critically lauded but relatively un-hyped dark horse in HBO's amazing stable of original series, The Wire kicked off its fifth and final season this past Sunday.
But it was just last season that the show introduced viewers to street-wise Pearson, an intuitively natural acting phenom—and the lone cast member amid an authentic and gritty roster of otherwise studied actors who was actually recruited right off the streets of Baltimore, where the show is set—with zero previous dramatic training.
An ex-con who spent most of her teen years in prison for a self-defense homicide at the age of 14, Pearson was only two years out of the joint when Wire regular Michael K. Williams (who plays a shotgun-wielding robber named Omar) came across her while on the lookout for a street kid to play what was originally planned as a male character. He discovered Pearson at a Baltimore nightclub.
Pearson's natural confidence, thick Baltimore-bred accent and intense personal story inspired Williams to arrange for her to meet with Wire producers. They offered her the part in short order, and Snoop, the kid from the streets, debuted as “Snoop,” the character in the opening sequence of season four's premiere episode.
“I can get into it, lose myself in my character,” Pearson told CityBeat in a phone interview from her hometown. “'Cause she is like a hit-girl, running wild, which is what I used to be. But now I'm not like that, I'm a better person. It's like a blessing right now. I'm getting to turn my life around.”
Pearson's is a story of hope sprung from a show almost completely devoid of uplifting messages—but she's making the most of her foot-in-the-door shot. She recently penned Grace After Midnight: A Memoir with David Ortiz, hit the road on a book tour and has been inundated with offers of roles including “everything from a pregnant teen mom to a hooker to younger gang bangers.”
Pearson said she'd welcome the chance to play as far from type as possible, citing Hilary Swank and Tupac Shakur as two of her acting role models.
She's also a fan of the cast surrounding her on The Wire.
“They're amazing,” Pearson said. “They're all really well-trained and educated in acting, but I'm learning as I go, like how to work the camera.”
The directors and writers who meticulously research and fine-tune the show's authentic portrayal of inner-city life and crime have even turned to her for technical consulting.
“There wasn't much they could tell me about Baltimore I didn't already know,” Pearson drawled matter-of-factly. “That's all I knew up till now—so, yeah, sometimes they asked me if something seemed right in a scene now and then.”
Created and produced by David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun crime reporter, and Ed Burns, an ex-Baltimore police detective, the classically crafted elements of The Wire produce storytelling of downright Dickensian proportions.It's not a surprise, then, that The Wire is often praised as the most novelistic experience on television today—one that tells a shameful American secret in an intelligently crafted, patiently complex matrix of interwoven storylines and fully fleshed-out characters.
But to Pearson, the show's success is rooted in a far simpler, more personal pleasure: She has yet to tire of people telling her how much they enjoy the show and her work on it.
“That's a real trip,” she explained. “Having people I've never met or heard of come up and tell me they admire me for something positive, like my work.
“I never dreamed of something like that happening to me.”
But Pearson figures she's as entitled as anyone to a serious career in front of the camera, despite—or maybe because of—her hard upbringing.
“There are some things that are God-given talents,” she said. “And it doesn't matter how much money or how little education you may have. Your natural ability will get you through the door.
“So I don't think that coming up hard will make you a better anything. But I do think it will make you work harder at it, because you have to.”