Chew Played "Proposition Joe" on HBO's "The Wire"
Tommy Taylor Jr., a Washington D.C. born actor and comedian, remembers all too well the first time he walked onto the set of HBO's hit drama, "The Wire," and meeting the cast.
"[Robert Chew], stood out," Taylor said. "He was down to earth and he was genuine."
For three seasons, Taylor, 31, was regularly cast as an extra opposite Chew on the set of the show. Chew played drug lord, "Proposition Joe," on the series and won praise for how he delivered on the set of what many critics called one of the most authentic dramas to have ever aired on television.
There's also little argument about the authenticity of one of its central characters.
"Proposition Joe," was no ordinary gangster. He was a negotiator when he had to be, a politician when called for, and a cold-hearted killer when a rival infringed on his turf. Chew, a character actor and teacher from Baltimore, it seemed was born to play that role.
"Robert's depiction of 'Proposition Joe' was so fixed and complete, from the very earliest scenes, that the writers took for granted that anything we sent him would be finely executed," show creator and D.C. native, David Simon told the Baltimore Sun.
Chew's skills were never more evident than when he, seemingly with ease, delivered his lines that kept many viewers eagerly anticipating "The Wire" each week.
"Businessmen, such as myself, does not believe in bad blood with a man such as yourself. Disturbs the sleep," Joe deadpans in one of the many lines that made the character so unforgettable.
The character, perhaps had more versatility than any, and could also be political.
"Gotta say, I'm proud of y'all for putting aside petty grievances and putting this thing together," Joe tells his crew during a meeting of a Democratic association of drug dealers in which he runs the meeting using the government's standard Robert's Rules of Order. "For a cold ... crew of gangsters, y'all carried it like Republicans ...," he tells cartel members.
Chew's character was noted for often saying, "I've got a proposition for you." A signature phrase that endeared viewers to the imposing character.
When Chew, 52, died Jan. 17 of apparent heart failure, Taylor and others heaped praise on the late actor and the show, which aired from 2004 to 2008.
"I was addicted and what captured me was probably the fact that the show peeled back a lot of different layers of society," said Timothy Linden, 31, an avowed "Wire" fan, who lives in Northwest.
Washington D.C. resident and aspiring actor Craig Montgomery said the show ultimately gave him a different view of Hollywood and filmmaking.
"It let me know that things could be depicted on television the right way," Montgomery, 44, said. "The way the writers and producers did this, there was no fake set or no back lot studio."
Chew, a Baltimore native, broke into television in 1997 by appearing in the police drama, "Homicide: Life on the Streets," as drug dealer Wilkie Collins. Chew also appeared as a shoe salesman on, "The Corner," a 2000 HBO miniseries based on the book, "The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood."
Four years later, Chew played a janitor in another HBO and Baltimore-based drama, "Something the Lord Made."
However, it was "The Wire" that brought Chew critical acclaim and the fame that never seemed to affect his love for his hometown. His portrayal of "Proposition Joe," garnered rave reviews inside and outside of the TV and film industries.
"The feeling is, it ain't right for you to be at the head of our table, when you can't call off your dog. Call it a crisis of leadership," Joe sternly tells fellow gangster Stringer Bell, portrayed by Idris Elba, in one episode.
One writer described the show's Emmy snub this way: "The Emmys said goodbye to "The Wire" with the same lack of respect that it showed the HBO drama during its acclaimed five-season run. Call it the final nail in the row house."
"It's like them never giving a Nobel Prize to Tolstoy," said Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the Slate Group and a correspondent for Slate.com. "It doesn't make Tolstoy look bad, it makes the Nobel Prize look bad."
Meanwhile, Chew's co-stars and many in the acting community filled social media with expressions of sadness as they paid tribute to the fallen star earlier this month.
"I don't want to believe this #RIP Robert F. Chew," Jamie Hector, Chew's "Wire" co-star, who portrayed the ruthless kingpin Marlo Stanfield, wrote on Twitter. "'Prop Joe' will always be remembered. Robert Chew will always be loved and missed," Hector wrote.