The Wire Week: Julito McCullum (Namond Brice)

Julito McCullum has firmly made his run for greatness and The Wire is his race track. The 16-year-old actor has more performance credits than he’s got years in school, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and the Oprah-approved movie Akeelah and the Bee. On The Wire, Julito plays Namond […]

Julito McCullum has firmly made his run for greatness and The Wire is his race track. The 16-year-old actor has more performance credits than he’s got years in school, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and the Oprah-approved movie Akeelah and the Bee.

On The Wire, Julito plays Namond Brice, son of the murderous Wee-Bey of Avon Barksdale’s crew, and realizes that he simply isn’t built for the bloody shoes of his father. Julito is a different sort of teen than his Baltimore counterpart. He’s a regular student, enjoys dancing and even hopes to explore the art of rapping. With The Wire, the Brooklyn native exemplified the viscous cycle that permeates the Black community. In real life, he shatters the cycle and defies convention like he was rebelling against Namond’s abusive mother. So tell me how you got into acting. I did some research and you have a nice lil’ resume.

Julito McCullum: It’s funny because when I started I wasn’t actually I an actor I was a dancer. What kind of dance?

Julito: Hip-Hop. I was like the first-I was like the only Black kid that was doin it with 30 and 40 yr olds when I was like 10, 11. It was crazy. And that’s another thing. I couldn’t really get jobs like that because they wouldn’t want to pay me for me and my mom and living expenses and things like that for tours. So me and my mom, we thought about it and we were like, we’re not going to get as far as we want to be doing the dancing thing so I needed a new grind. So my mom, who knew a couple of people in the industry, got us connected to our manager and the day after we went into an interview with them we went out on auditions. So let’s talk about The Wire-

Julito: It’s crazy! Lemme just tell you. Before I even got in The Wire, me and my mother used to always say this is our favorite show. Not knowing that they were gonna make a role for a kid two years later. We used to always be like, “Yo, The Wire is hot!” You know, before you actually blow up you have to do all these lil’ surveys [with questions] like, what’s your favorite show? And we wrote The Wire. Then we used to always pray that they would [cast] kids on the show. It’s crazy, the day before my agent called and said you have and audition for The Wire, we thought it was a role as an extra. They were like, “Nah, they have principle [speaking roles] this year for the kids.” Crazy. [His mother whispers something inaudible] Ok, Ma. Ok. Respect ya moms! She’s all you got.

Julito’s Mother: I just don’t like him to leave out anything. The Wire was big for him because he also helped find the other kids on the show. Oh, well let’s talk about that. When you went in to audition did you originally read for Namand?

Julito: Yeah, I read for Namand. And usually you have to go through a couple call backs but soon as I got in there they wanted me and I got it. I was the first kid to get before all the other kids got it so they used me and made me help them cast to see who else was gonna get each part. Cause like, the other kids they read for like “Dukie,” and some of them read for my part until I got it. They were going back and forth with them. But soon as I went in there they were like, “This is Namand. We want him. That’s it. Shut it down.” So being on a show with a bunch of kids, how is the energy on set between the adults and you all?

Julito: Being on The Wire, it’s crazy, we’re like a family. We worked together for nine whole months so it’s like. We all grew together. There were never no egos colliding or nothing like that. It was funny because I thought it would be since the other guys had been there since season one and we kinda comin in and taking their shine. But it was never like that. They helped us anytime we needed help. We always would chill outside of The Wire. Still to this day I’ll see Jamie [Hector], who plays Marlo or other guys who weren’t in this season like Wood [Harris, “Avon Barksdale”] or Idris [Elba, “Stringer Bell], we all cool it’s all love, it’s all love. You shot the show in B-more. Were a lot of the cast from Baltimore?

Julito: Actually it’s like, the people who have the big roles, none of them are from Baltimore. None of them. But the side people and the extras they’re from B-more. But none of the principle actors are from Baltimore. Except Snoop, she of course is from Baltimore and Prop Joe. And Slim Charles. He’s not from Baltimore but he’s from DC. It’s like, if you’re not from B-More you’re from DC and if you’re not from DC you’re from VA and if not [from VA], they went straight to New York. They got a lotta Brooklyn people in the show. Where are you from?

Julito: Brooklyn. I’m from Canarcie [Brooklyn]. I moved to Flatbush for five years and now I live back in Canarcie. What would you say is the importance of the creators of The Wire switching it up and adding kids to the plot this season?

Julito: The importance was to get the teenage viewers. Because right now, if you’ve got the teenage viewers then you’ve got it all. Because kids are like, the main people out right now that’s watching TV. They say that just putting kids in the show made this the best season yet. So it’s like it was a big move to have kids as the main focus. Like now, I’m walking down the street and some kids were like, ‘Oh My God – that’s Namand, that’s Namand.” And then I walked across the street just now and a 40 yr-old Caucasian guy came up to me. So they’re getting a lot of different people watching it. The show is a really in depth show that deals with some serious issues especially concerning Baltimore’s reality. As a young man how did you prepare for the role?

Julito: I really didn’t have to do no preparing for this because I’m from the hood and I go to a regular public school so I see this all the time. But was different was I had to be in Baltimore for about, four or five months before we even started shooting because they needed me out there to help them cast the other kids. But I did kind of like watch the kids and see how they act because you know, a Baltimore hood is very different from a Brooklyn hood. So I would watch and observe. But as soon as we got it rolling everything came natural. Namand was a very serious role for an actor. You had to really step your acting chops up!

Julito: I think a lot of people thought I was just going to play the regular average hood kid, but there was more the character. They just had to wait and see. I mean I had to be crying and all of this stuff like getting beat up all the time. It was kinda hard, but I did it. I mean I definitely felt like I had to step it up because it was a nationwide show with 13 episodes and everybody loves The Wire . So everybody is gonna watch The Wire so I was like, you know, you have to definitely step it up. But the [character] shows my versatility because I’m crying. It shows I can be soft. It shows I can be loving. So it’s different from all my other roles ’cause usually I’m just hard, straight up. Then I come to this role and it shows that he [Namand] does have a heart and that he’s a kid inside he’s not just no hood guy. So how is Namand compared to Julito?

Julito: We’re different. I mean, we’re similar because we both live in the hood and we both have a very strict mother. You think Namand has a strict mother?

Julito: Yeah, his mother is strict! Just the wrong kind of way. But me and Namand are different because I’m not that crazy in school. I don’t act up. And when you meet me I’m not out there like that. Like Namand you could just see him and you’re like, ‘Oh that’s Namand.’ He’s loud and I’m not like that. I’m very laid back and very humble and people meet me and it’s like, You sure you Namand? And I’m like, “Yea, I’ma good actor baby!” So in terms of other things you’re doing outside of The Wire is acting your main focus?

Julito: Yes, acting is my main focus. Hands down. Outside of The Wire I’m just pretty much out there promoting myself and putting my face out there. Because right now when people see me they know me as Namand from The Wire they don’t know me as Julito. I’m working on getting people to say that’s Julito. There’s a role I’m tryin to get [in a film] called, Live to Tell. Tupac wrote it and I feel like if I get that role I’ll break that wall down. I’m definitely going to show that I can hold something by myself. I don’t need a whole cast to support. I’m also tryin to get started on my music career. You rhyme? [Stunned]

Julito: Yeah, something like that. You’re lucky we ain’t in front of a track board, because I would definitely throw a beat on and have you spit a 16!

Julito: That’s easy for me! But I’m definitely getting started on my music career. I’m trying to hit that. I’m tryin to hit everything, all these aspects of everything. I’m also the spokesperson for The Apollo Theater right now so I’m going around to all the different schools and giving them inspirational talks. What do you tell the kids is them most important thing they need to know?

Julito: Stay in school and listen to your parents. That’s it mainly. Me, I ain’t even gonna lie. How I got this far was from listening to my mom. My mother would tell me something and I would be like, “Nah I don’t think that’s gonna be hot.” But then I’ll do it and it pops. But I’m also telling them to just stay focused because right now in the world we live in, if you don’t stay focused and you fall prey to people peer pressuring, you to do things that’s negative, you’ll get messed up. So you said that the teenagers are who everybody should be focusing on right now and you yourself are a teenager. So music wise who are you feeling?

Julito: I’ma Hov [Jay-Z] fanatic. Of course I’m from Brooklyn, so I’m a Hov fanatic. I mean, Hov is my favorite, but I also love Kanye West. I’m loving Jim Jones. I’m loving Jadakiss. I’m loving the whole Hip-Hop right now because they say Hip-Hop is dead, but I don’t think so. Hip-Hop is growing and I think it needs a lil’ help. It just needs lil’ boost. Well how will you help with your music? What are you gonna bring to the table?

Julito: I’ma bring that fun music. You know that when you hear it you ain’t stressed out, you don’t wanna cry music. I mean sometimes you gotta give’ em that. But my album is gonna be album a lotta fun. Who would be your dream collabo?

Julito: Me and Hov. Julito and Hovito?

Julito: Ooooh that’s nice! That’s the name of the song. If me and Hov could do something together it’d be crazy. So where do yourself in five years.

Julito: I see myself getting that big role and moving my mother out the ‘hood. Like I told you people don’t know me as Julito yet but they will.