For he’s a jolly good Othello

Clarke Peters. Picture: Marc Brenner

Clarke Peters. Picture: Marc Brenner

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IT might be long way from the mean streets of Baltimore to the story of Othello but Sheffield’s Crucible is far from alien for Clarke Peters.

Although known to millions for his role as Detective Lester Freamon in HBO ratings winner The Wire, he credits some of his seminal stage experiences with Tudor Square and late artistic director Clare Venables.

The owner of an impossibly deep voice and a disarming smile, the American-born, British-based actor appeared in the award-winning musical Carmen Jones in Sheffield 20 years ago.

“I was extremely young then, child protege and all that,” grins the 50-something. “I was also at the Lyceum doing Unforgettable.

“Prior to that I was here when Clare Venables was around. She was like my mentor for directing, a real wonderful force in my life.

“I would come up just to see what she was doing and talk theatre and acting. So it’s nice to be back here for sure.” Clarke went on to direct Blues For Mister Charlie in Sheffield ahead of a career that has taken in everything from developing the show Five Guys Named Moe to his current screen success in post-flood HBO drama Treme, also penned by Wire creator David Simon .

He has appeared in films such as Mona Lisa, Marley & Me, Notting Hill and Gulliver’s Travels as well as TV shows Jonathan Creek, Life On Mars, Damages and Holby City. On stage he has ranged from Kiss Of The Spiderwoman and Porgy And Bess to Chicago.

He’s not tackled much Shakespeare, but Clarke returns to the Crucible to take the lead in the Bard’s story of betrayal, jealousy, love and racism, previewing from Thursday.

He seems to relish reviving his acting ‘partnership’ with fellow Wire star Dominic West, even if the Sheffield-born actor betrays him in his latest role as Iago.

“It was actually time for me to see Dominic’s serious side because he’s a rogue,” quips Clarke in earshot of West. “If we can go out and get nuts he’ll do that and I’ll be dragged along, but I’m the older partner in this so I have to ground him and be his barometer as he gets older and knows it’s time to calm down.”

The pair clearly forged a strong friendship during their time on The Wire, which concluded its run in 2008, but left a legacy of cult fans.

Peters is still in awe of the show’s gritty, sometimes unfashionable portrayal of life either side of the law in a tough neighbourhood.

“Most shows like showing you it as a backdrop without telling you how it got that way. “The Wire gives you some answers, it doesn’t solve the problem but it says ‘because of this, this is your condition’. Whether it’s industry leaving or corrupt local government or a breakdown of the education system. All of those elements contribute.”

While the show wasn’t an instant success, the actors were confident they were working in something worthwhile, even if they underestimated its eventual impact.

“You knew it was good because it was good reading. From episode to episode just reading it you wanted to see what happened next.

“But as far as being able to engage the public’s intellect in a way that it promoted debate and made people look at their own lives, not only in America but here and other parts of the world, I don’t think any of us had any idea of how much people really wanted their minds exercised and not dumbed down. That’s what The Wire did; you had to think about it.”

Even three years since it ended there’s talk of more, at the highest levels. “We’ve both been pretty busy since then, but it might come to that,” says Peters.

“About two months ago some of the people from The Wire were over at The White House. The Secretary of State came in and said as an edict on high they want to see another Wire.”

Both West and Peters seem to agree they would like to re-connect The Wire, West maybe slightly differently.

“I wanted to do a movie, but we never got round to it,” he chips in, another smile forming, “like the Sex In The City movies, with frocks and everything”.