Tray Chaney is best known for playing ‘Poot’ on the HBO drama The Wire. After the show ended in 2008, the 30-year old actor found himself at what could have been the end of his career.
“My state of mind was ‘I don’t know what else I’m going to do,” he said. “ I got a (mailroom) job but at the same time, there was just something fighting me inside saying ‘This is not your dream.’”
The Forestville, Md. native - who has since written a book, created his own production company, and starred in three independent movies this year. His new album, due out on Jan. 13, is entitled, ‘Jack of Trays.’
“I had to take advantage of my own destiny and my own career,” he said. Chaney spoke with the The Root DC about stereotypical typecasting, reaching for goals and fatherhood.
Are you planning to get back into television anytime soon?
Right now, I’ve got three movies coming out in 2012. I got a movie coming out Jan. 13 locally, in theaters, called “Dead Money,” featuring me, Clifton Powell, Sole’, and Anwan ‘Big G’ Glover.
“Dead Money” focuses on organ trafficking. We’re getting these body parts overseas and we’re selling them in the United States. It’s a different role for me ‘cause I play a surgeon that’s an assistant to Clifton Powell.
As far as television, I’ve just been auditioning for different pilots.
Do you feel that being typecast in gritty roles is a problem for you?
I’m not even going to say it’s a problem. The Wire was definitely a groundbreaking show that introduced me to the world as playing a low-level drug dealer. As far as these different casting agencies and these casting directors that I go to to audition for, of course they’re looking at me like, “Oh, this is the guy from The Wire, so we’re trying to typecast him in that type of role.” But, it’s some [directors] on the other hand, from [the work] I did on The Wire that can possibly picture me - like how Frank Jackson is doing now, as far as me playing the surgeon.
It seems that some of your other castmates have struggled to find work post-Wire. How are you pushing against that?
I stated my own production company - Chaney Vision. I’ve got my own LLC. And what we’re doing right now - it’s just reaching out to directors and producers, auditioning for these different roles and just staying on my daily grind.
Once I got out there and just started auditioning for different roles - the “Streets” movie came along. Charlie Mack, who’s from Philadelphia, reached out to me. I auditioned for that - and I landed that. That was four months worth of work, and while I was shooting, the “Mastermind” movie came along. With all that being the case, that really took up my time as far as pursuing this dream that I had with being an actor full-time. [In between] shooting these films, I wrote a book, “The Truth You Can’t beTray.”
What is your book about?
It talks about how I grew up here in Forestville, MD, and it jumps to how I got on The Wire. But in between that [it talks about] different trials and tribulations that our young people have to face.
What does your son know about the work you did on The Wire?
When [the show] was on BET, all of the bad words were edited out. I did give my son a chance to see his daddy on screen, because he reminds me so much of me when I was younger. He wants to be in the entertainment business. He wants to sing and dance.
I guess [with] him being five years old - he can’t really grasp it yet. All he know is [that] his daddy’s on TV. I remember when I did the Bow Wow video some years back [it] still comes on and that’s all he can grasp right now, that his dad’s on TV. He knows about The Wire.
It’s so funny, ‘cause my wife had him out the other day and some of our family members were talking about some of the stuff that I was doing, and his first thing was ‘My daddy’s on The Wire!” It was funny to hear him say that, but that’s all he can get right now.
So you’ve got music projects that you are working on as well?
I’ve got an album coming out January 13 entitled “Jack of All Trades,” but I’m releasing this “Fatherhood” record as a single. This is like a whole movement that I’m trying to start- with this whole “Fatherhood” song about the importance of a father being in their child’s life.
I wanted to put this album out ‘cause I’m a hip-hop artist and it serves as the soundtrack to my book. Once you read it you’ll see some of the stuff that I went through growing up as a teenager, and coming from a background of a family that’s Jehovah’s Witnesses - [Experiences like] different holidays that came around that we definitely couldn’t celebrate - but some of the stuff that I talk about in the book, I wanted to turn it into an album.
Do you keep in touch with your other castmates?
The ten year anniversary of The Wire is coming up in January. We actually just did a couple of different photo shoots with some of the different castmembers. Definitely I keep in touch with JD Williams, who played Bodie, and Michael B. Jordan, he’s out in L.A. right now. Mostly, all of the castmembers, we all keep in touch. That show brought all of us together. We were just starting out and we became family. Every time we see each other - we’re always doing events together - and even on a personal level, the majority of us have kids. Anytime we’re able to get together and get our kids together to socialize, we always do that, too.
Do you feel your role put out any negative connotations about black people?
The Wire was a show that gave people raw reality. What David Simon and those writers did by telling the story, that’s the reason why it made the impact. I think that’s why it can be up there to be one of the greatest shows in television because we told the truth. You hear people sometimes say “Well, I don’t think your show should have put out that type of negative image about the drug war and the different politics and the school system.” But at the same time, it was reality, and I think that’s what stands our whole cast and our show out from any other show. If you watched it - if you had been through stuff like that before, or even if you haven’t - you might have known somebody who’s been through it. I just think - it was just a masterpiece to me.
What do you want other people to remember about you and your journey?
Whatever dreams that you have, just go for your dreams. Put God first, understand that your values in this life are about serving God and honoring your family and all this other stuff will come. This entertainment business is real cutthroat and it’s not for everybody. But if you’re strong and you really can endure the struggle, you’re good, and I think that’s what I did.
Set your goals, and try your best to accomplish them, and don’t let anybody get in your way that’s negative. The negative energy is played out, you know?
Follow Tray Chaney on Twitter @traychaney.
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