Pierce was born in New Orleans and raised in a neighborhood next to Lake Pontchartrain. His mother was a teacher and his father, a WWII veteran, worked as a maintenance engineer. He attended the New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts high school where he graduated as a Presidential Scholar. Pierce attended the Juilliard School and began appearing in small film roles by 1985. He has made his living as a full time actor since 1985. He continues to work as a stage and TV actor. Pierce is best known to TV audiences as Detective William "Bunk" Moreland in the highly acclaimed series The Wire. Prior to The Wire, he is most recognized from his role in Waiting to Exhale.