LAWRENCE GILLIARD JR. I do play chess — I learned when I was young, growing up in Baltimore at my neighborhood Boys & Girls Club, and I was pretty good. I remember getting the script and being excited, because I thought the way [David Simon] crafted the scene was just super clever.
I remember also walking out into the Pit on the day that we shot the scene and seeing the chess board set up. It was hilarious — it just played so real. I grew up in a rowhouse about six blocks from the projects that the show was written about. This is something that some of the guys that I grew up with would do, play checkers on a chess set. So it just felt really natural.
I didn’t know the impact that scene would have, really — I was just thinking it’s going to be fun. And then, many years later, people still walk up to me on the street and they’re like, “The king stay the king.”
J.D. WILLIAMS All three of us — and this speaks to the presence of mind that was on set — we talked about how metaphorically it was a great scene. We broke down everything: how Wallace didn’t understand that there is no winning, it’s always war; how Bodie is trying to say he wants to survive; and how D’Angelo is trying to explain the rules, the way this person moves and that person moves.
GILLIARD D’Angelo’s a smart cat. He’s like, “This is how I can connect with these guys.” And that’s what he did.
WILLIAMS He’s trying to give them some knowledge so they can understand what’s really happening to them. But at the same time, they have to think: “Well, what piece would D’Angelo be? He’s kind of a pawn like us.”
There’s a simplicity in that scene that’s always going to resonate. Wherever you live, whether you play chess, whether you hustle drugs or you’re Black or white — anyone can understand that scene right away. The best things and the most relatable things are usually the simplest things.
GILLIARD Those stories had never been told in that way before. What do we know about drug dealers from watching television at that time? That they stand on the corner, they deal drugs, and they get busted by the cops. You’re the bad guy, and you’re going to go to jail, right?
But David Simon said: “No, these guys are human. They have lives. They do things like play chess in the middle of the Pit.” So it’s stuff like that — the little details, taking those characters and humanizing them, making them real people — that’s the genius of it for me.