• Ryan Thomas

My Experience Working on "We Own This City" HBO's Latest Cop Show by the people behind The Wire

Part 1: Getting the job.

Starting right off I want to be very upfront that anything I say that sounds like it could be taken negatively in any way is just a representation for how I was feeling at the moment. My entire experience with this project has been nothing but positive, and full of wonderful people. But I did want to delve into some of the negative mental aspects of this career path. I think it's helpful to recognize how much we as artists and performers can get into our own heads, and what it’s like to deal with that.

I first heard of the project about six months before they started casting and I was very excited. I have been a huge fan of David Simon ever since the show "Homicide: Life On The Street," and consider "The Wire" to be one of the best and most influential made things I’ve ever seen. I had followed the story of these dirty cops in Baltimore at the time. As a former police officer, telling these stories, exposing the ugliness, and shining a light on corruption and problems with policing in this country I believe are such vital things to healing and fixing these issues. So needless to say, this was something that I felt passionately about. I felt that I was a perfect fit for it, and it was a true dream job for me.

A member of Actor's Club, a great workshop that I had attended in Baltimore for years when I was still there, posted on facebook that Pat Moran Casting was working on this. (For more on why this was so significant to me click HERE)I had auditioned for Pat Moran more times than I could count when I was in Baltimore. I’ve always enjoyed auditioning for them and nowadays it kind of feels like going home when I get to do so.

Even though I had a manager/agent, I knew they didn’t have any relationship with Pat's office, so I reached out to them directly. Just a quick email to say, "Hi, remember me? Remember I was a cop? Maybe you have something coming up that I would be a good fit for..." A short time later they got back to me and they had a great role for me to read for. Here’s the crazy thing, even though this was a TV show about Baltimore City Police, and I worked for a different agency, (I worked for Baltimore County Police, trust me there's a difference) the role that they wanted me to read for was a Baltimore County detective. Of course I’m thinking this is perfect. I couldn’t possibly be more suited to this role. This was made for me. So I started preparing for this audition as soon as I got the sides (that's the excerpt of the script for the audition). I spent several days working on it, thinking about it, learning it, and getting familiar with it. I had a zoom audition and I felt like it went great!

Just a quick aside, this is what it looks like when I set-up for self-tape and zoom auditions now. While I greatly prefer the pressure and immersion of an in-person audition, this is how the business is now. It's obviously shifted out of necessity, but I'm sure it's also a lot easier on the Casting Directors and their offices. Yes, I painted a wall in my apartment to do this. OK, back to the story...

I soon got an e-mail that they wanted me for a callback / producer's meeting. So I’m feeling even better about it at this point. I’m feeling like this is my role to lose. They gave me an additional scene to prepare and I got to working on it. The scenes felt so real, lived in, and authentic. It's such a blessing for an actor when great writing does some of work for you. It felt like I spent 22 years of my life preparing for this role, and I was ready. This was a really good part that’s in four or five of the six episodes. I was psyched. The day of the callback comes, and afterwards I felt great. Then I hear nothing...

This is always a tricky time after auditions because I do my best to do an audition and then forget it. Get it out of my mind so I don’t obsess on things and can freely move on to the next one. You will drive yourself absolutely crazy in this business if you get worked up about every audition, or you beat yourself up over not getting them. So I always make a concerted effort after an audition to forget it and move past it. That way if I hear back and I get the job then "Great!" and if I don't get it, I haven't spent time stressing about it. But this one was different, I couldn't get it out of my head. I start checking IMDb Pro as they start posting actors that signed to the project. A few weeks later I see that they have cast someone for that role. I was pretty devastated.

Of course, I looked up the actor that got the part. He's talented and has a ton of solid work under his belt. They made the right call, and he did a great job on the show. I never have any animosity towards any actor that gets a part I auditioned for, nor against producers or directors or casting people that don’t go with me. If I’m not 100% the choice for the role then I don’t take things personally. Sometimes they might love you as a performer, but you're just not right for that particular role. That was certainly the case with this one, but it hit me harder than not getting any other role ever had.

I will be honest, I got pretty depressed. I couldn’t get it out of my head I just kept telling myself, "If I can’t get that F***ING job then what the hell am I even doing in this business? I can’t get a job playing a Baltimore County detective when I just spent over two decades of my life working for that specific agency? I must be terrible. I must be absolutely crazy for pursuing this because clearly I’m not any good at it." This was a really really rough time for me, and this is the reason that I try to get auditions out of my head as soon as it's over. I don’t think I did much of anything in that time. I was really low. It hurt. I shouldn't have let it, I know better, and I knew better. But man, I wanted to be on that show so bad.

After a lot of reflection and working on myself I finally started to feel better. (And I'll be honest, this wasn't the only thing going on at that time that was bringing me down. It was a really tough time that turned out to be a great learning and growing experience.) Not even a week after I finally started to feel like I had moved on and come to peace with missing out on this project, I heard back from Emily in Pat's office that they had another part they wanted me to read for. This was a much different part than I had initially read for, and as soon as I got the script I was so thankful for the way things had worked out. This part just felt more suited to me. A few days later I had another audition over Zoom. Again, I felt great about the audition, but this time I didn't stress about it. I felt good. No matter what happened, I know that I gave them my best, and if that's what they wanted for the role then it would be mine. Also, if that wasn't what they wanted, I was gonna be OK with that too. Sure, I would have been disappointed, but I wasn't going to let myself slip like that again. I had gotten to a much better place.

A few days later, I got an email with the offer for the job, and month and a half later...

The way this has all come full-circle is truly amazing to me. The first thing I ever submitted and auditioned for was David Simon's first TV show, and it was being cast by Pat Moran. If you didn't read my other post, I didn't get that job. I put acting on hold for too many years, and then eventually started to audition with Pat regularly. But I was stupid and didn't start acting until just as The Wire was wrapping, so I missed out on that one. Now, David Simon was back in Baltimore, doing another cop show, that was exposing real dirty police, and it was being cast by Pat Moran. And I WAS GOING TO BE ON IT.

To be continued...

If you like these posts and want to see more, please leave a comment and tell me what kind of stuff you'd like me to write about. If people are reading these I want to do my best to make sure it's content you all want to see, find entertaining, and answer any questions that I can.

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