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Sonja Sohn ReWires Baltimore

The actress famed for portraying an ass-kicking cop in The Wire hustles to fight street violence in real life.

| Thu Mar. 15, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

MJ: You've stayed connected to Baltimore through your nonprofit. What changes have you noticed in the city in the decade since The Wire began?

SS: As much as certain people in Baltimore hated The Wire, I believe that they owe the city's transformation to The Wire to a great degree. [Cocreator] David [Simon] always made it very clear that Baltimore was the star of the show; it wasn't the characters, it was the city and the people. I think some things hit a little too close to home for certain folks. The Wire was a mirror to the city. It gave the city an opportunity to take a look at what wasn't working well and say, "We've got to change this." Even if it's our vendetta: We're going to show that we're better than what was illustrated in that show. We're better than The Wire. Then the show did its job.

Running a nonprofit is a lot like acting: "You need an agent and manager so you can get a job to get resources, but you can't get an agent and a manager unless people see your work."

When I was shooting in the low rises, when I was shooting in the West Side, I felt like crap. I'm making a good paycheck and we're depicting these poor kids who are right beside me where I'm pulling out this fake gun. And when I leave, a guy with a real gun is going to come around the corner, and there are kids running around on the street right here that don't seem to have all the support that they need. I felt like nobody gave a damn. I felt like I was walking through ghost towns—there was this glistening, gorgeous harbor and all these tourists and this bright, shining Baltimore, and I just felt like, "Oh, wow, the glory's over here, the sun's over here, the resources are over here." And I'm going, "What about all these neighborhoods where I'm shooting? Why don't I see any sort of transfer of resources into these communities? Why is everything boarded up? "What is going on in this town?" It made me angry.

MJ: Running a nonprofit is its own hustle. How do you juggle your role as CEO of ReWired for Change with your acting career?

SS: Wow, that's been a huge learning curve. How do I get from this place where we're operating off of a hope and a dream to an entity that actually has resources to offer folks? It's hard to get money to support your organization if you have no evidence. It's very much like the acting business: You need an agent and manager so you can get a job to get resources, but you can't get an agent and a manager unless people see your work. So basically, I transferred the acting hustle. I said, "Okay, we've got to produce something first." 

MJ: Last year, when you testified before a Justice Department task force on children's exposure to violence, you shared some very personal experiences with the public. What was that like?

SS: On one level, I did that years ago on the poetry stage. But when you make statements like that at a task force hearing, certainly it reaches many more people. I feel that there's a value in the human experience and sharing that with others. If I didn't have those experiences growing up, the good ones and the ones that seemed so horrible and awful, I wouldn't be having an impact. So I'm grateful for the challenge, and even for the pain. I don't want any other children to have to suffer those kinds of pain, but I also know what builds character and that some of the brightest light tends to come from some of the darkest places.

MJ: HBO, ABC, C-SPAN: Compare and contrast.

SS: HBO has an internal integrity that comes from what seems like a desire to tell the truth. What seems to move that network is truth—rawness, let's just tell it like it is, whether it's some man-eating show like The Wire or something lighter, like Curb Your Enthusiasm. HBO has had a grand effect on entertainment television over the last 10 to 15 years. As far as ABC is concerned, I've liked working on a network show more than I had anticipated I would. I have not found it stifling, I have not found it cold, I have not found it too Hollywood. But ABC has to answer to its advertisers, and there are certain things they have to acquiesce to. What's cool about C-SPAN is that it's no frills. Someone tapes the task force hearing and it just goes up. No one's trying to manipulate me, no one's making it entertaining, no one's trying to manipulate the message. It's raw and unadulterated, and I have respect for that.

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