Wendell Pierce

Wendell Pierce

Born in New Orleans, LA, Wendell Pierce was raised in the historic neighborhood of Pontchartain Park, one of the first subdivisions developed by and for middle class African-American families, by his father, a World War II veteran and maintenance engineer, and his mother, who worked as a teacher After attending Benjamin Franklin High School, he enrolled at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he pursued his education alongside such future stars as Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., and Terence Blanchard. Pierce studied at Julliard before launching his professional career on stage and in features. The former included turns on Broadway in "The Boys of Winter" (1986) and "Serious Money" (1987) as well as the acclaimed national tour of Duke Ellington's folk opera "Queenie Pie" in 1986. Pierce's onscreen work began at roughly the same time with minor roles in features like "The Money Pit" (1986) and "Casualties of War" (1989). In 1990, Pierce landed his first television series, "Capital News" (ABC, 1990), a David Milch-produced drama about the staff of a Washington, D.C. newspaper.A solidly built man with an easy grin and a knack for both complex drama and light comedy, Pierce soon found himself in demand as a character actor in features and television, where he frequently played men of authority on both sides of the law. His journeyman instincts brought him in contact with top directors like Spike Lee, who cast him as Ben Thomas, one of the accused assassins of Malcolm X in his 1992 biopic, and later cast him in "Get on the Bus" (1996) as Wendell, a Republican car salesman whose right-wing attitudes clash with a group of African-American men on the way to the Million Man March. Pierce later played a police detective whose investigation of an alleged death clashes with Woody Allen's own sleuthing in "Manhattan Murder Mystery" (1993), and also portrayed the gangster Little Caesar in Barry Levinson's "Sleepers" (1997) but it was his turn as Lela Rochon's co-worker, Michael Davenport, in Forest Whitaker's hit "Waiting to Exhale" (1995), that endeared him to many moviegoers. Saddled with a slapstick love scene that showed his character's lack of bedroom prowess, Pierce defused the lowbrow moment with honesty and good humor.Between film assignments, Pierce worked steadily on television, frequently as a series regular. Few of these projects lasted beyond a single season, including the sitcoms "The Gregory Hines Show" (CBS, 1997-98) and "The Weber Show" (NBC, 2000), but he enjoyed a lengthy recurring run on "Third Watch" (NBC, 1995-2005) as the corrupt police officer Conrad "Candyman" Jones. In 2002, Pierce received what most considered his star-making role as Baltimore homicide detective William "Bunk" Moreland on the critically acclaimed police drama "The Wire." Like his frequent partner, Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), Bunk represented the best and worst aspects of law enforcement: he was a dedicated detective whose pursuit of the truth occasionally bordered on the obsessive, but also a hell-raiser with a self-destructive streak that jeopardized his personal life. What separated Bunk from McNulty was his strong moral core; though he was not above bending the law to help him solve a case, he refused to step over the line, most notably when McNulty began doctoring crime scenes to suggest that a serial killer was loose in Baltimore. Bunk was, to use the particular palaver of the series, Good Police, a good cop doing the best he could against a tidal wave of crime, and his love for salty language, a good hat and an even better cigar made him one of the most immediately recognizable and likable figures in the show's sizable cast. For his work on "The Wire," Pierce received two Image Award nominations in 2004 and 2007. Though "The Wire" was never a ratings hit, its status among critics as one of the best television series ever produced had a positive effect on its cast and crew, and Pierce's profile grew exponentially as the show wore on. He worked steadily through its six-year run, delivering concise, memorable character parts in a wide variety of television series and features. He was a minister who feared his formidable parish members in the comedy "The Fighting Temptations" (2003), then shifted gears to play Ray Charles' unscrupulous manager, Wilbur Brassfield, in Taylor Hackford's Oscar-winning biopic "Ray" (2004). He earned more critical praise as Queen Latifah's husband, whose past drug use resulted in both parties contracting HIV, in the acclaimed TV-movie "Life Support" (HBO, 2007), and a morally conflicted cop with the key to an ex-Black Panther's past in Tanya Hamilton's acclaimed "Night Catches Us" (2010). During this exceptionally busy period, Pierce was also a primary force in the entertainment industry for shedding a light on the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina on his hometown. Pierce's neighborhood of Pontchartain Park was at the center of the deepest part of the flooding, and he became a motivating force there to help rebuild its homes and bring its residents back to the area. Pierce held celebrity golf tournaments to raise money, and toured throughout New Orleans in a production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" that used the actual destruction as the play's wasteland setting to raise awareness of the city's plight. Spike Lee also interviewed Pierce for his 2006 documentary "When the Levees Broke" (HBO), which focused on the people of New Orleans and their recovery after the disaster.Pierce's commitment to the revitalization of New Orleans also led to one of his most prominent roles, that of hardluck trombone player Antoine Batiste in "Treme." Produced by "Wire" creators David Simon and Eric Overmeyer, the series was filmed on location and interwove stories about residents from all social and financial strata as they rebuilt their lives after Katrina. Prior to casting, Pierce had been the first choice of actor-comedian Ray Romano and producer Mike Royce to play Owen Thoreau, the put-upon car salesman in the comedy-drama "Men of a Certain Age" (TNT, 2010-), but upon hearing that Simon and Overmeyer's show would be set in New Orleans, Pierce felt compelled to sign on with the HBO show. Despite low ratings, "Treme" was a critical success, with much of the praise going to Pierce's performance as the dogged Antoine, whose refusal to abandon his city, his music and his ex-wife (Khandi Alexander) seemed to sum up of Crescent City's own indomitable spirit.As Pierce continued to garner acclaim for his work on the second season of "Treme," the actor turned in a lighter performance as a police detective in the raunchy buddy comedy "Horrible Bosses" (2011), in which a trio of pals (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) decide to do away with their insufferable employers. Displaying a willingness to take on unconventional roles and push his range as an actor, Pierce next appeared as a married, but deeply closeted gay man in the indie drama "Four" (2012). For his portrayal of Joe, a successful college professor and devoted family man embarking on an Internet romance with a white teenage boy (Emory Cohen), Pierce received high praise and a plethora of award nominations, including an Indie Spirit nomination for Best Actor. Less lofty in its artistic aspirations, although far more ambitious in regards to box office returns was the franchise-capping blockbuster "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" (2012) in which Pierce appeared briefly as a human attorney employed by the newly-turned vampire, Bella (Kristin Stewart).


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