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The Insider: Great Role Model, Good Role

Jan 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Jermaine Crawford is a charming and affirming antidote to the steady media diet of stars who are 15 going on lifelong, life-threatening tragedy.
He’s merely 15 going on 16 with a few privileges that result from having been “born to entertain,” says his mother, Wanda. “I used to entertain everybody during, in the middle of, after church,” Jermaine said. So it almost seemed ordained that he would begin to land singing and then stage roles in the Washington, D.C., area, where he still lives and stays busy professionally. “I love this. This is what I was born to do.”
Since he was 12 he has played the taciturn and vulnerable Dukie Weems, one of a handful of multiply disadvantaged Baltimore teens who add heart-rending new facets to HBO’s “The Wire,” which just started its final season.
He stood 5-foot-5 at the beginning of Season 4. At the HBO party following the season-premiere screening in New York recently, The Insider got a crick in her neck looking up to a self-possessed young man who now stands a lanky 6-foot-2.
The conversation continued by phone during a break from schooling at home. Mom is an event planner. Dad Milton’s background is gospel-flavored, R&B singing in local clubs. Jermaine is quick to say his creativity and ability to entertain flows from his parents. Then there’s older brother Demetruis, an aspiring music producer who “makes the beats. I write to the beats,” said Jermaine, who aims for a soulful pop sound.
The home schooling began at the same time to accommodate the strenuous shooting schedule of “The Wire,” the profanely, violently glorious series many consider the best ever on TV. Jermaine said it was a very “loving” work environment.
But it required its uniformly excellent young actors to say and do some beyond-R-rated things that are so not part of Jermaine’s everyday life—“not at all,” he said, citing his “strong Christian background”—but he didn’t consider “The Wire’s” requirements that different from the putting on of a character, Shakespearean or otherwise, that he’s done all his life. “Whatever you are portraying, it has to be opposite of what you are. But then you have to find yourself in the character.”
Jermaine was particularly drawn to the haunting character of Dukie “because he wasn’t as, you know, wordy.” In a potent scene in the first episode this season, Dukie is caught between acknowledging he’s not built for the drug thug life and accepting a protected and protective role as a caretaker. The scene is freighted with portent, but Jermaine would give nothing away except to say there will be no “Sopranos”-style blackout ending. “I think we’re definitely going to bring closure,” he said, “but we’re also going to leave you wanting more.”
The role of Dukie has expanded Jermaine’s career options. Due out this year is “Boys of Pigs,” an independent film set in the 1950s in which he has a co-starring role. That era appeals to the young actor, as is reflected in his personal wardrobe choices.
Oh, yes, while he has wisely salted away much of his earnings, he’s also into vintage-look clothes and technology. “I don’t have it all, but I want it all,” he said with a laugh that signaled he knew that was not likely to happen any time soon.
He’s determined to produce and write a documentary on homeless children, a situation he considers “a catastrophic event.” He’s having talks with potential partners and planning to get a letter to every presidential candidate, but “I really want to send this to Barack Obama,” he said.
Also on his mind is his Oct. 28 birthday. “I’m trying to put together a super Sweet 16. We’re working on how big it can be and where is it going to be and can we get MTV involved. Even if MTV is involved and even if it’s at a restaurant, I just want do something for my 16th birthday party. It’s going to be pretty big.”

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