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'The Wire's' Crawford on Helping Real-Life 'Dukies'

Jermaine Crawford (left) and Tristan Wilds who plays Michael on 'The Wire.'
/ Getty Images
Getty Images
Jermaine Crawford (left) and Tristan Wilds who plays Michael on 'The Wire.'

Actor Jermaine Crawford, who plays lovable outcast "Dukie" Weems on HBO's critically acclaimed show, The Wire has gone through some serious changes since he first joined the cast. For one, he grew eight inches.

"I started off as 5'5" and now I'm 6'1,"" he tells Madeleine Brand.

Equally dramatic is the change in worldview that he experienced while playing an abused street kid. Crawford's character is a quiet young man, who gets picked on all the time for smelling bad. He has trouble staying clean because he lives without running water, in a house full of addicts who sell his clothing for drug money. He rarely speaks, choosing more often to communicate through gestures and nods.

"I tried to make the character realistic. I wanted him to be a regular 12- or 13-year-old, not just this character that you see on TV," he says.

The people judging just how real his performance is are often the sorts of young men for whom The Wire plot line is reality.

"It's not filmed on a set. It's filmed right on the streets of Baltimore. As it's filmed, they [street kids and drug dealers] are on the streets watching," he says. "You just try to reflect what you see. Not mimicking, but envisioning what you see and trying to do your best."

While filming in the school, where much of the action takes place, Crawford says he encountered kids who were going through a similar situation as his character.

"They have such great hearts and you would never know unless they told you. It was kind of painful for me as well," he says.

The experience left him wanting to do something to help, beyond just reflecting a tortured reality on a fictional series. With the conviction that it's his duty to be an advocate for these people, he says, he began working on a documentary on teenage homelessness

"We have got to give a wake-up call to America. We need to do something about it, to show what's going on."

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