• Ryan Thomas

Acting on HBO's We Own This City

Part 2: Doing the job...


Wherein a dream comes true.


I got the job! This was one of the most rewarding and validating experiences of my life. I moved to New York five years prior to pursue acting and this job brought me back home to Baltimore. Not only that, but to work on a show from one of the greatest TV creators of all time, go through the casting process with Pat Moran, AND play a cop on a show that exposes these dirty cops, while shining a light on so many other issues with policing that I have been talking about for decades. I mean, damn! This was perfect to me. I was going to be working 5 days on this show, but in what I saw as a wonderful stroke of luck, I was mostly scheduled one day per week for about 5 weeks straight. This gave me the opportunity to catch up with people and spend a lot of time being back home and with my family. After a few COVID delays I was on the set my dream job.


One thing to note, after being given the job, receiving the scripts, getting the schedules and everything it still wasn’t until maybe two or three days before my first day of shooting that I felt like everything was confirmed and I actually had the job. This is not uncommon in this business. And it’s totally fine, but I just had this feeling in the back of my head the whole time that the bottom is going to drop out and I’m gonna lose it. Again this is also kind of common with actors and with this business. It’s one of the reasons that I don’t really talk much about things that I’ve got coming up or things that I’m looking forward to. I’m always afraid of jinxing it and then it not happening because I talked about it. I’m not even talking about saying anything that would cost me the job (like violating a non-disclosure agreement). That would make sense. I’m talking about that weird metaphysical superstitious crap that I shouldn’t believe in but still gets in my head.


The First Night of Filming (for me)...

My first night on set (which was about five months in for the full time cast and crew) felt so surreal to me. It still kind of does. As you can see from the doofy-ass picture of me in front of my trailer, I was pretty excited. (I'll throw a few other embarrassing moments from that night all the way at the bottom of this post.) It really didn't feel real, but I knew I belonged there. Imposter syndrome is a very very real thing in this business. I would be lying if I said it never hit me. It did feel very unusual to be taking this big step, but it also felt right. I knew I had busted my ass to be a professional actor. I knew I had taken the risks, taken the classes, paid dues, worked hard and I believed that I was good enough to be here. But man, your brain still likes messing with you. This however, was one of those times where I actually felt like I was home. I've known all my life this is what I meant to do, but it was never so pinpoint as that moment.


That night we were recreating one of the nights of unrest in the wake of the Freddie Gray case. This stuff all happened while I was an active duty police officer in Baltimore County. I was working day work the whole time, and never had to go help the city with the crowds. But even considering that I hadn't been there, this was a powerful night. So many of the background performers were citizens that were there for the actual events. I got to meet our esteemed director, Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard), Justin Fenton, the author of the book, We Own This City, and last but not least had the absolute pleasure and honor of meeting and working with Jamie Hector. This dude is the real deal; phenomenal actor, and and even kinder person. After we wrapped our scene I found out I had been working with a couple of acting friends from Baltimore! At the very end of the night Jamie said we should get a picture to send my Mom because I had told him she was a huge fan of his from Bosch. To this day I'm not sure if she's more excited that I got on a great TV show, or that I got to work with Jamie Hector.



That Social Distortion shirt is getting all the publicity today.


Preparing the role...


Ok so, I jumped ahead. Honestly, I just thought it was more engaging to start with the first night of filming. Now, how did I prepare? First off, I love the preparation. If you're an actor (or trying to be) and you don't love the prep work - START. Figure out how to make it something you love. This is where the meat of your work comes in. I prepare for everything a bit differently. Different roles require different things, and speak to me in different ways. This role was the most different of all, I was playing a real person (who was still alive and well aware of this project), and it was about real incidents, some of which are still highly controversial and hotly debated. A human being was dead, and I was part of telling his story. This was the biggest opportunity of my career, and it was so important for me to get this right.


The first thing I did was read the book. I take my prep work very seriously. Whenever someone thinks enough of me to entrust a piece of their project to me, I'm going to do my best to make sure they know they made the right choice. Aside from learning the lines (which, honestly folks, that's the easiest part of acting) my preparation involves a whole lot of analysis and introspection and building the character the way that I can connect with them. It's so important to me to have an aspect of any character, no matter how despicable they may be, that I identify with. As an actor it's our jobs to humanize whomever we're portraying, even monsters. Actors are exceptionally fortunate when good writing does some of that work for us. And like I said in this case this was a real person. I felt the responsibility to the real David Bomenka to portray him in the most honest and sincere light that I could. So I reached out through a couple of different people that I knew could get in touch with him to see if he would be open to meeting me for coffee or lunch so I can get his side of things. Understandably, he does not want to talk about this case, with anyone. I certainly don't blame him. I will also admit to having a very different idea of who he was and what his role in this whole story might have been from just catching the pieces of the news that I was getting years prior, and reading the book helped me out considerably. Obviously, my experience as a police officer was a big help as well. I felt like I could understand him, or at the very least understand how I would feel being in that situation. I could put myself in the shoes of a cop that got pulled into something bigger than him. I sincerely hope that if he, or anyone that knows him, sees this they at least feel like I was fair to him.


And to get this out of the way, yes, the story around Sean Suiter's death is very controversial. Having read everything I could get my hands on, talking to people that knew both Suiter and Bomenka very well, and getting to speak with David Simon and Justin Fenton about the details, and my own decades of police experience, I sincerely believe the whole incident was portrayed in the most honest, respectful, and true way possible. If anyone has any questions, or would like to see me write more about it, leave a comment below or email me.


Realism...


I would be remiss if I didn't take sometime to talk about one of the most impressive things I saw from these artists, namely Reinaldo Marcus Green, David Simon, and George Pelicanos. The truth matters to them. This is one of the closest things you will ever see to reality being put on film. It's almost a documentary treated as a narrative film. In my limited time on the set I was able to personally witness their creative process several times and how what really would have happened was always the overriding concern. They didn't want to dramatize things, they didn't want to "Hollywoodize" things, they didn't wanna blow anything out of proportion to suit the narrative that they wanted to tell. They wanted to tell the truth. I could see first hand how important that was to each and everyone of them. On top of that, every chance they had to recreate a real occurrence they did so with the utmost care, respect, and sincerity. They know how important it is to present this story that can't be picked apart by factual inaccuracies. Much of the dialogue that you hear, especially from police incidents, is taken verbatim from public records, and body camera footage. I sincerely don't know if a more realistic show has ever been made.

My Acting Dream Turns Into a Nightmare...

And you can read all about it right here, next week!

Thank you for reading, and in the meantime, leave a comment and tell me what other stuff you'd like to see me write about. Subscribe to the blog to get updates, and bee good to each other!

59 views3 comments