Appearing as Malik "Poot" Carr for five seasons on "The Wire," Tray Chaney enjoyed one of the longest lives any drug dealer has ever had in prime time.
"I was so lucky in my very first acting role," says Chaney, now living in La Plata, Charles County. "You can't be any more blessed than that starting out." He's intent on sharing some of that blessed feeling. The father of two runs a production company and has a new film coming out in December. He's promoting HIV testing for the Prince George's County Health Department and making appearances and a music video for United Way of Maryland. And he's touring schools for the Maryland State Education Association's anti-bullying campaign.
"I was bullied because I was considered the shortest kid in school," recalls Chaney, who, at 32, is decades removed from the experience. "Kids would beat me, so I know what it's like."
Like other "Wire" alums, you're involved in community service. Why is that?
"The Wire" was such a historic show that had such a huge impact on America. ... I feel like I have an obligation to do something with that: Go out and touch someone else's life in a positive way, like being with that show touched mine. When I do these anti-bullying assemblies or when I go speak to people about getting tested for HIV, it's like ... maybe I can use their attraction to Poot to turn them on to some of the positive messages of my reality…
How about commercial endeavors? What are you involved in?
I just finished a family film I co-produced with a good friend of mine, Frank Jackson, called "6 Hearts 1 Beat." I play the character Davarius White, and we shot that in D.C., Baltimore and Virginia. It's definitely a different role for me. It doesn't contain any profanity, no vulgar language or anything. It's a film for people to bring their families to.
How about your music? I see music videos at mrtraychaney.com deal with community service messages. I'm thinking of "Radical Reading," which encourages kids to read.
You know, our youth love hip-hop music. So, with the many negativities on the radio right now promoting our young people to rob, steal, kill and downgrade women, I feel like I can use the same music to give young people a different reality of life. So, I'm just trying to use music to give off that whole aspect of "Hey, it's cool to be positive. It's cool to say we're going to stand up against bullying. It's cool to say: If you're sleeping around, you need to be tested. And it's definitely cool to read and get a education."
Why do you stay in the area to work? Why not New York or Los Angeles?
I'm from Forestville, Maryland, Prince George's County. You cross over two lights, you're right there in the heart of southeast Washington, D.C. So, I grew up pretty much in a rough part of the DMV [D.C.-Maryland-Virginia]. Forestville wasn't always safe. It wasn't always peachy-creamy. … But it's where I was raised. It's home.
Is that working out for you?
Well, it didn't always. But the game has changed. With social media, you have young people and adults sitting right here, literally in the projects, creating different content that's getting national recognition off of just being made in the basement of your home. People used to say, "L.A." People used to say, "New York." But now, people are saying, "Hey, why can't I do the same thing here?"
Any message for younger performers as to what you've learned during your years in show business?
It's a struggle just being in this business. But the one thing I've figured is that if you keep putting out content, if you keep pursuing dreams, things will just begin to fall into place. Things will fall into place if you're being consistent and persistent.