Wendell Pierce

Macalester College has had its fair share of show-biz alums, including director Peter Berg, musician Bob Mould and super-agent Ari Emanuel.

Turns out the St. Paul school came close to nabbing another future success story.

I was chatting Thursday night with Wendell Pierce, who plays Clarence Thomas in an upcoming HBO film focusing on the judge's very public battle with Anita Hill, about the changing food scene in his beloved New Orleans, the joy of listening to the late Allen Toussiant and how there are viewers just now discovering his role as Det. Bunk Moreland in "The Wire," TV's greatest American drama.

I had tucked away my notebook, but Pierce wasn't quite done.

"Since you're from the Star, I'll give you a scoop," he said. "I almost went to Macalester."

Pierce seriously considered committing to the Twin Cities instituftion after some dogged encouragement from a recruiter and the tantalizing possibility of learning from the Guthrie.

PIerce ultimately decided to attend Julliard's School of Drama, which, we hear, has a fairly decent theatrical department.

Before chatting with Pierce, I caught up with Ray Romano who is prepared to re-invent himself all over again through a very dramatic turn in "Vinyl," the upcoming drama produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, set in the 1970s music industry.

Despite being one of the most successful sitcom stars of the past 20 years, Romano said he had to audition via tape for his latest role, which was fine with him.

"I wasn't going to do another sitcom," said Romano who has brandished his resume with impressive turns in "Men of a Certain Age" and "Parenthood." "I'll do comedy again, but I won't do another sitcom. 'Everybody Loves Raymond' was my legacy in sitcoms."

Also mingling with TV critics Thursday: Bryan Cranston, Olivia Wilde, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee and Ellen Barkin.