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The Surprising Comedic Actor Who Almost Played The Lead In The Wire

Back when it premiered, "The Wire" may not have made the initial ratings or culture splash that HBO's juggernaut drama "The Sopranos" did, but the critically-acclaimed show has only grown in stature since leaving the airwaves in 2008. BBC Culture named "The Wire" the best series of the 21st century last year, and it's an accolade the David Simon-created series is not exactly unfamiliar with. Rolling Stone dubbed it the second best show of all time (second only to "The Sopranos"), and in an Empire poll, the series hit fourth on a list of 100 best shows ever. 

One aspect that "The Wire" can credit for its success is the show's cast. Numerous stars got their start on "The Wire" with dark, complex roles. From Michael B. Jordan to Idris Elba to Amy Ryan, the cast was always popping with talent. And although undeniably an ensemble series, the de facto protagonist and lead character for the series often fell on the shoulders of Detective Jimmy McNulty, a Baltimore cop who reaches some fairly high highs and some pretty low lows during "The Wire." 

Dominic West managed to cover his English accent and disappear into the role of a flawed, but committed cop often teetering on personal and professional cliffs. Shockingly, though, West almost didn't get the role ... because a famous comedic actor was almost cast instead. 

John C. Reilly was almost Jimmy McNulty

"The Wire" almost went in a completely different direction from Dominic West by casting John C. Reilly ("Step Brothers") in the role as the boozing Detective Jimmy McNulty. "The Wire" creator David Simon recalled in an interview that he received a callback from Reilly while he was making his way through a corn maze with his son, leading Simon to tell Reilly he'd need to call him back about the role (via GQ).

West and Reilly are opposite in just about every way, but Simon told GQ he was a fan of Reilly. In his words, "I thought John C. Reilly could be a different McNulty, certainly not the same, but I thought he could carry all of the excesses and vices of McNulty in a different way. I've loved his work in a lot of stuff."

It certainly would have been a different show with Reilly — mainly known then for smaller parts in comedies like "Anger Management" or for providing similar comic relief in films like "The Perfect Storm" — as McNulty, but Reilly could have definitely pulled off an intriguing performance. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, as Simon recalls Reilly stopped taking calls. 

Reilly later explained to Dominic West — his eventual co-star in "Chicago," where he also plays a character sleeping with Reilly's wife — that his wife was not ready to up and move to Baltimore. Simon chalked it all up to just part of the casting process. "That's kind of how casting is sometimes. You go in one direction. You find out you're on the wrong track or circumstance thwarts you, and you end up going in a different direction."