Casting director knows how to pick 'em

HBO’s “The Wire” is strictly for grown-ups, but the cast boasts some of the finest young actors on television. Thank Alexa Fogel for the discovery. With two Emmy Awards on her mantel, casting director Fogel says few thesps resonated with her as much as the Corner Boys, four virtually unknown African-American teens who became the emotional centerpiece of the latest season.

Child actors have a reputation — often well-deserved — of being pouty, stiff and unable to deliver a range of emotions. But discoveries Julito McCullum, Tristan Wilds, Maestro Harrell and Jermaine Crawford proved the antithesis to most of Fogel’s experiences with kids.

New York-based Fogel, along with Baltimore casting director Pat Moran, delivered to “Wire” creator David Simon the four actors he needed, capable of keeping up with both the cast and the multifaceted script.

During the audition process, Fogel and Simon discussed the characters in depth and what acting skills would be key when seeking the right boy for each.

“The tricky thing was that first they read for me, then for David and then with each other in front of David,” Fogel explains. “We worked entirely from the script, and it was my job to honor that script in some way.”

Once each boy was cast, they were sent to work with Baltimore actor Robert Chew, who plays Prop Joe in the series and runs a local theater. There, under Chew’s tutelage, they bonded and learned to work with one another, to the point where their lifelong onscreen friendship seemed completely genuine. (Chew also suggested local talent for smaller parts.)

Fogel says she cast these lead teens out of a pool of approximately 120 kids — from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — in about six weeks. After seeing them read for the first time, she knew these would be her corner boys.

“These were really four special boys,” says Fogel, who’s also the founder of Beach Hill Films. “They had incredible instincts and listened well. These aren’t your typical kids.”

Recent breakthrough: HBO’s “The Wire” called for dozens of strong African-American teen actors. Fogel delivered.

Role model: “(Casting director) Juliet Taylor, because she has great taste, loves actors and is a gracious human being.”

What’s next: Fogel just completed working on Simon’s “Generation Kill,” a seven-hour miniseries for HBO on the Iraq War.

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