Dominic West - From 'The Wire' to 'The Hour' and beyond
There is certainly no shortage of outstanding leading men working in American TV drama these days. Jon Hamm, Damian Lewis and Michael C. Hall to name a few.

But it would be hard to find any whose proven range is greater than that of Dominic West, star of BBC America's "The Hour."

It extends from Detective Jimmy McNulty raging drunk in a grimy Baltimore train yard late at night in HBO's "The Wire," to Professor Henry Higgins prancing across the stage in tweeds with Eliza Doolittle in an English revival of "My Fair Lady" that opened last week.

Or, how about the distance between the Iago he played onstage alongside Clarke Peters' Othello, and the role he is signed next to deliver as Richard Burton opposite Rachel Weisz's Elizabeth Taylor in a BBC production set to film in New York?

This Wednesday, the 43-year-old West winds up a critically acclaimed second season in "The Hour" as Hector Madden, a 1950s-era BBC anchorman with an upper-class background, a noveau riche wife and a war veteran's knowledge of how dark and tenuous life can be.

One of the season's strongest arcs in this ensemble drama set backstage at a TV newsmagazine finds Madden's onscreen popularity on the rise even as his personal life takes a turn to the sordid thanks to alcohol and a relationship with a chorus girl at El Paradis, a gangster-run nightclub in Soho.

For all his triumphs onstage, "The Hour" is West's first TV series since "The Wire" ended production in Baltimore in 2007.

"'The Wire' created a lot of wonderful opportunities for me, and I stupidly turned them all down and did theater instead," West said jokingly in a telephone interview last week between performances of "My Fair Lady," which has received glowing reviews.

"Seriously, 'The Wire' is what I'm known for," he quickly added. "It was an amazing piece of good fortune that I'm associated with it, because certainly in this country, and I know in America as well, it's hugely well regarded. And so, I have an audience and a profile here and in America that I never would have had without it. It is still the thing I'm known most for, which I'm delighted about."

The feeling is mutual, according to David Simon, creator of "The Wire," who explained in an email last week how much West contributed to his landmark series.

"Beginning with a self-made audition tape that Dom sent across the Atlantic, our sense of what Jimmy McNulty could and should be was altered," Simon said. "He gave the character colors and facets that we were able to utilize for five seasons, creating a main protagonist that was highly intelligent, very angry, dryly comic and humanly flawed."

The result, Simon said, is a character that the audience came to care about in all his contradictions.

"At some points, the audience desperately wanted McNulty to be a better man than he was, and at other key moments, that same audience came to love him for being so bluntly honest and indifferent to the rules," Simon said. "Dom provided room for all of that, and he found the core of every scene we threw at him. He's a pro and among the best I've worked with."

West delivers the same kind of nuanced, complicated and even contradictory performance as Hector in "The Hour." It starts with the actor understanding not only the character but the sociology of the times in which the character would have lived.

"Hector had been at D-Day, he'd been in the war [World War II], he'd had a traumatic war record. And like that generation of people, he lived life to the fullest upon coming home -- having witnessed such horror. Very much in Season 2, that's what drives Hector. He's into wine, women and song, because he's faced death," West said.

"At the end of the '50s and beginning of the '60s in Britain, a new guard was coming in and replacing the old. And people who had not fought in the war did not have the same reverence for pre-war values. And so, Hector is bridging those two generations and trying valiantly to adapt to the new generation, although he is very much, I suppose, part of the older one."

There's also a compelling physical dimension to West's performance

As I said in my preview of Season 2, I can think of no actor outside of James Gandolfini who can use his body to capture the movement and aura of a man surrendering to physical desire like West. You could see some of it in his performance as McNulty as the detective started to feel the effects of the booze in his blood after a couple of drinks.

But what viewers of "The Hour" see as Madden takes his seat at El Paradis and loses himself in the slinky, sultry movements of the female singers and chorus-line dancers is even more dramatic. The transformation West executes is stunning as Madden goes from polished, in-control TV celebrity upon entering the club to heavy-lidded, dissolute sexual consumer rapaciously staring at the dancers.