David Simon — creator of “The Wire,” “Generation Kill” and “Treme” — was the toast of the evening at Tuesday’s New York premiere of HBO’s miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which he exec produced and co-wrote with journalist William F. Zorzi. All eyes were on the filmmaker who many credited for revolutionizing TV over the last 20 years.
“David is one of the most important voices out there in the world,” Winona Ryder attested to Variety on the red carpet at the New York Times Building. “His storytelling is unlike anything else, and I really do believe he has changed television. He’s not afraid to tell the brutally honest injustices that are happening in the world. Because of his storytelling, he has changed my life and has opened my eyes to new things. I’m now more informed on issues because of him.”
It took Simon 14 years to bring “Show Me a Hero” to the screen; the miniseries tells the true story of Nick Wasicsko — mayor of Yonkers, New York, in the late 1980s — who was embroiled in a public housing desegregation battle that divided the city along class lines.
“I read the book and found the story to be a perfect metaphor for American race and class pathologies that are still enduring today,” said Simon. “The story of Yonkers is an incredible argument that supports our inability to share. The American people no longer have the same notion of sharing the same geographic space or culture or society, and all of us must have the same ideas for America to have a future.”
Simon, a former Baltimore Sun journalist, hopes audiences will stick with the debate-provoking series and understand the message.
“What I hope viewers will realize is that there has to be one America,” said Simon. “Regardless whether we are black, white or Asian, and whether we are poor or rich, ultimately everybody has to have some stake in the same national experience and share the power and space or this country is going to be a very brutish and chaotic place.”
For Oscar Isaac, taking on the complex role of Mayor Nick Wasicsko was a challenge, but a part he couldn’t turn down.
“The moment I saw his face and listened to him speak, I immediately fell in love with him,” Isaac told Variety. “At the same time, it broke my heart to see someone like him. He had ambitious reasons. He was someone trying to do the right thing and sometimes doing the right thing means losing everything. He paid the ultimate price. His story is so powerful, and portraying someone like Nick is an actor’s dream. I am very proud to have been a part of this project.”
To bring his passion project to life, Simon teamed up with “Crash” director Paul Haggis to shoot the film. “This is the first time I’ve directed something that I didn’t write,” said Haggis. “If I was going to do that, I wanted to direct David’s work. He is someone who I admire.”
Although Haggis was solely responsible for directing the film, he worked just as hard to make sure the movie felt real and honest. “David gave me a script that was based on a lot of research, so the truth was there, and I had to make sure that the truth was felt and that every frame told the truth,” he said. “That’s not easy, but I purposely created a lot of flaws in order to make it feel human.” He also noted, “When you shoot a movie, it’s usually two to three pages a day, but when I was shooting this it was 6 to 10 pages a day. But I had amazing actors.”
“Show Me a Hero” boasts a topnotch ensemble cast that includes James Belushi, Alfred Molina, Catherine Keener, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Bob Balaban and Ryder, who returns to the screen after a two-year absence to play Yonkers councilwoman Vinni Restiano.
“I’m 43 now, and it’s been 30 years since I started acting and I still love it,” said Ryder. “I really do enjoy it. I don’t think it’s a job that you can do well if you don’t love it, because you have to give it your all every time and depend on other people. It can be challenging, but I still feel the same way as when I first started. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
Following the two-episode screening, the cast gathered with guests in a banquet room located on the lower level of the New York Times Building for some drinks and a buffet of salmon, chicken kabobs and steak enchiladas. Ryder was spotted sharing a laugh with Wasicsko’s widow, Nay Wasicsko-McLaughlin, who was onset during the film’s production and who ended the conversation with a long hug. Samuel L. Jackson, who came out to support his wife LaTanya, chatted with Frances McDormand while her husband, director Joel Coen, sat at a table with Isaac. (The two had worked together on “Inside Llewyn Davis.”) Meanwhile, Balaban socialized with Spike Lee, and Marisa Tomei mingled with friends near the bar. Katie Couric and her husband John Molner also attended the shindig.
“Show Me a Hero” premieres on HBO on Aug. 16.