For him, this job is tailored to perfection

Da'Juan Prince's job with `Wire' came by hanging around

July 31, 2002|By Faith Hayden | Faith Hayden,SUN STAFF

The difference between the actors and the onlookers was indistinguishable - Da'Juan Prince had done his job well.

On the Baltimore set of HBO's original drama series, The Wire, which is scheduled to complete filming here next week, the costume department's job is to make the clothing and atmosphere as realistic as possible.

Much of its work is done before the cameras roll, but throughout filming, members can be seen on the sidelines, ready to grab a new shirt - and oftentimes a dirty one, depending on the requirements of the scene - if necessary, ensuring that everyone is dressed appropriately.

Most of the costumers have been doing this for years. But one guy is noticeably younger than the rest. That would be 21-year-old Prince, who came to The Wire with no resume and no experience, just loads of persistence.

Prince's road to The Wire began in 1995. Homicide: Life of the Street was filming in the Lexington Terrace neighborhood, right in his back yard. Academy Award winner Kathy Bates was directing an episode entitled "Scene of the Crime" which focused on a murder case in the housing projects.

"I just walked onto the set," Prince explains. "Kathy Bates was directing that episode and let me change words in the script. It was exciting to me."

Bates' easygoing nature was no surprise to anyone who had worked with her before. "Kathy made friends with everyone. She sorta took the kids in," said David Simon, producer-writer-director on both Homicide and The Wire. "You're filming in people's back yard, so you let them see the video, call `Cut' and `Role.' She would say to the older kids, `Did that look real to you?' The kids knew what it was supposed to look like."

Alone among the crowd, Du'Juan, then 15, hung around when the shoot was over. He asked where filming would take place the next day, then showed up to continue what he'd started.

"Every time they wrapped, I asked what time they were coming back the next day, and I'd be there," Prince recalled. "I started calling them and hanging around for so many years that they just got used to me."

Da'Juan's "hanging around" landed him his first job on a film set, as a production assistant on The Corner, Simon's miniseries, also filmed in Baltimore.

"Before, he had been a kind of a mascot," Simon said. "We enjoyed having him around. But this was a real job now."

Now, the hard part began. Prince may have been a fun guy to have around the set, but was he ready to hold down a real job, complete with responsibilities and a schedule?

"A lot of kids have the desire to work in the industry," Simon explained, "and then the work ethic just isn't there. It's something you have to develop. We wanted him to succeed, but this is not a job that you can call in two hours late. The production runs on a clock, and you can't be waiting for people."

By all accounts, no one has ever stood around waiting for Prince to show.

"Don't worry, he'll be here," one woman on The Wire set said recently, standing outside the costume trailer. "Da'Juan is never late."

True to her word, on this July afternoon, Prince arrives exactly on time. Life as a production assistant, working primarily with camera equipment, didn't exactly pan out. But he has since succeeded in a department perfectly tailored to his talent - wardrobe. Someone on the set noticed his unique, hand-made clothing and figured he'd be perfect for dressing extras on The Wire.

"My grandmother taught me how to sew," Prince says. "The first pair of pants I made had to be hand-sewn. I had to know how to put it together without relying on the machine. "I make bandanas, pants, shirts, handbag. I can make anything out of a piece of cloth."

Prince fit in immediately. "He became responsible and creative," Simon said, "so we put him in wardrobe as assistant for The Wire."

"Da'Juan is actually busier than I am on the set," says actor Larry Gilliard Jr., who plays D'Angelo Barksdale, a drug dealer who is the prime target of the police investigation on The Wire. "He's always dealing with the actors, always ready and on the go."

A typical day for Prince begins with the extras, who will remain his main focus throughout filming. He'll look at what they brought to wear and compare it with what is needed for the scene.

"You can't wear certain colors," says Prince, who hopes this stint on The Wire will lead to a career in costume design. "White and red are too bright and make the background stand out too much. We [also] keep a pile of dirty clothes just in case it's needed."

A car pulls up while Prince is walking to the set. He shakes hands with the man inside and accepts a flyer. "He's one of our regular extras," Prince says.

The man is only one of many extras Prince greets over the course of the afternoon, smiling and speaking to almost everyone as he walks around the set, checking costumes and fitting actors with the appropriate shirts.

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