Somewhere in my mind I have a list of people I need to interview in my career, and Michael Kenneth Williams was on that list from the moment he walked on screen in HBO’s The Wire in the Summer of 2002. So I got that interview in 2007. In the feature, he explained that his iconic character Omar Little on The Wire was never even supposed to appear for more than a few episodes. Can you imagine that?? Williams’ portrayal of the openly gay, emotionally intelligent Robin Hood-ish stick-up kid was not only memorable, it left a mark on an entire generation.
In that interview, Williams told me about how Jam Master Jay of Run DMC had an idea to put “Omar” in the studio to make a record, but the untimely death of the legendary DJ and producer stunted the plan. I inquired about influences that led him to acting (The Wiz, Saturday Night Fever and Shaft), and asked him if he could go back in time and pick any role to play, what would it be. His answer? Purple Rain.
Then in 2008 I interviewed the Brooklyn native again… this time getting more in-depth about The Wire as the series entered its final season. We talked about Michael’s history dancing for House Music princess Crystal Waters, and how he was giving back to the community locally.
Now in 2015, I’m still excited to catch up with this brilliant actor and all-around good guy. From his work on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Community, to recent films like Inherent Vice and The Gambler, Williams is one of the most consistent and intriguing actors of our time – and he’s just catching his stride.
In this UrbLife.com exclusive, Michael K. Williams tells us about some of his upcoming projects, and how he and his castmates from The Wire enjoyed the remastered HD re-release and recent marathon of the series on HBO. We also find out who his Hollywood idol is, and (once again) what movie he’d like to have been in if he could go back in time… and it’s not Purple Rain.
What would you say is your favorite show or movie that you’ve participated in but didn’t star in?
Michael Kenneth Williams: That would probably be The Road [with Viggo Mortenson]. That’s one of my favorites.
Tell us a little about your upcoming role in 179th Street, and what’s great about working with Michael Pitt [Boardwalk Empire] and Anwan Glover [The Wire] again.
MKW: Actually, I was apart of this movie way before Michael Pitt and Anwan Glover. The project came to me by way of one of the producers, Alex Mosquera aka A.L. [formerly of MTV’s Lyricist Lounge]. When he came to me then, it was just to shoot a trailer, and I had the opportunity of meeting Elvis Nolasco. This brother is Dominican, from Washington Heights, and is starring in ABC’s one hour drama American Crime opposite Timothy Hutton. So Elvis and I met when we shot the teaser for the 179th film a few years back and we connected. It was really some serendipity shit.
Through my relationship with A.L. he asked if Michael Pitt would be interested. I reached out to a couple of my friends and they bit. We got in contact with Anwan, and now it looks like it’s gonna happen.
What else are you working on next?
MKW: There is a movie that will be out in the Spring of this year from HBO called Bessie. It’s starring myself and Queen Latifah who plays Bessie Smith, a popular blues singer in the 1920s and ’30s.
You have a photo with Morris Chestnut on your instagram – what project are you working on with him?
MKW: I am currently shooting a movie for Sony [Screen Gems] called When the Bough Breaks. In the film, he and Regina Hall get pregnant [with]a surrogate mother. Basically the film is The Hand That Rocks the Cradle meets Fatal Attraction. Romany Malco is also in it. I play a private eye detective who’s a good friend of Morris’ character John, and he asks me to find out a few things about a few things. I’ll leave it at that.
You’ve been really supportive of FOX’s Empire on your social media. Are there any TV shows currently that you’d like to step in on for a guest spot?
MKW: Empire is definitely at the top of my list. I’m also a huge fan of Don Cheadle and what he’s doing on Showtime’s House of Lies. I would love to be on Game of Thrones and Shameless. I’m a Gladiator, I wouldn’t be mad at getting a little love and having the opportunity to be on Scandal, let’s keep it real. [laughs]
You show love to your fans and their talents openly. What’s the coolest thing a fan has done for you so far?
MKW: I’m really impressed when I see people take the time and what goes into drawing or painting someone. I’m moved by people’s artwork and their perception of Omar through their art. That’s what it’s all about, inspiring people and inspiring art and embracing it. Something I did as an artist inspired someone else artistically, and it’s a blessing to be a part of that process.
I find it flattering and humbling when artists paint or draw my image. Out of all of those, I would say one that really touched me was this six-year old white girl from London. Her mother posted a picture of a stick figure of Omar, and I thought that was mad cool.
MKW: As far as actors, number one on my list would be Denzel Washington. I would love to work with him in any capacity, whether it is him directing me or me starring beside him. It would truly be an honor to be in that brother’s presence. As far as directors, there’s the Coen Brothers, the Hughes Brothers, there’s Spike Jonze, my list goes on and on but that’s just a few.
What was it like to re-watch The Wire when HBO aired the remastered seasons? Were there any nuances you missed before, or things you enjoyed about it that you didn’t enjoy before?
MKW: You know The Wire is weird. No matter how many times you watch shows like that, there’s always going to be something that you missed. There is always going to be something you’re going to look at or respond to differently. A lot of things made me laugh, and I remembered what it was like to shoot certain things. I remember where I was mentally and personally when I was doing certain scenes, and to see my coworkers’ work brought back a lot of memories.
What people don’t know is aside from social media, we called each other like crazy. We were saying stuff like “You just killed that shit! That was crazy!” It was a lot of fun. During those five days all of us spoke to each other verbally or through group text, and everybody would just chime in.
If you can go back in time and make any movie, as the director or star, what movie would it be? What role would you play?
MKW: I wouldn’t redo anything, but would have loved to be in Dead Presidents. Not because I would have re-done anything, but because I would have loved to be a part of that cast. I really loved that movie.
What do you want people to know most about you as a man and an artist at this stage of your career?
MKW: What I want people to know about me, mainly, is that I love the process of what it takes for me to get the part, and everything in between. Getting into character, preparing the character, and creating the character. I enjoy that process so much and that’s what keeps me grounded and humbled at the same time. I love the audition process…having to go into the room to meet the writers and producers, that’s like my five-minute play. I have the stage to myself and I make it work. It’s nerve wrecking, but I enjoy it!