One on One with Michael K. Williams
When HoboTrashcan launched in August of 2005, the first celebrity we interviewed was Michael K. Williams from The Wire. More than a year later, the interview continues to be one of the most popular on the site, which is no surprise given the fact that Omar Little is one of the best characters on television and Williams himself is such an engaging personality.
As season four of the critically-acclaimed HBO show comes to an end, we decided to check back in with Williams to talk about his current projects, the Baltimore nightlife and his idea of Omar’s storybook ending.
It’s been over a year since the last time we spoke – how have you been since the last time we caught up with you?
Can’t complain. It’s a roller coaster ride, you know how it is. I’m trying to ride the wave right now – work out future projects, get everything lined up.
How happy were you to hear that The Wire was picked up for a fifth season?
To me, it was a no-brainer. I don’t know what they went through all that paperwork and stress for. I felt it. They said it was based on what the critics were going to say. I was like, “Well, the critics have always given us rave reviews. If that’s what you base it on, you might as well go ahead and cut the check now.” But, I was very happy that it did work out.
Do you worry about what the critics say about the show?
Seeing that Hollywood has not recognized the show, at least the critics do. What the critics do say about us does matter because they’re our only voice. I’m very grateful that the critics love the show, it’s a good feeling.
That is one thing that’s really unique about the show – you are outside of Hollywood. The show films in Baltimore and it’s definitely not your typical Hollywood production. Do you think that makes a huge difference in the show overall?
I don’t know. That’s a tall question. But I do know that The Wire could not have been The Wire had it been shot anywhere else but Baltimore.
What is it like working on such a complex show? Is it ever difficult for you to keep track of all of the intersecting storylines and different characters when you are reading the scripts and filming scenes? Is it tough to visualize how all of these different storylines will end up connecting when you are just getting the scripts week to week?
The Wire is an ensemble. Everyone’s storyline is interwoven. I don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, but I’m very concerned with all of the storylines. I love all of them. For me, when I prepare for The Wire, I just tap into what’s mine. I see what I’m dealing with. Omar deals with life as it comes. He’s a calculated, strategic moving kind of person, but he lives day to day. You feel me?
In episode 40, we got to see a completely different side of Omar. At the beginning of the episode, Omar ventures to the store unarmed in a pair of silk pajamas and is incredibly disappointed to learn that the store is out of Honey Nut Cheerios. What was it like doing that opening sequence? Was it fun to get to branch out and do something new with the character?
You’ve seen those sides of Omar, it’s just in different lights. Omar’s always shown you his vulnerable side, that’s what makes him so volatile at times. Like I said, he lives moment by moment and at that moment, he felt like just walking to the store. I love the fact that they show him as a whole person. This is his world, its Omar’s world. Even in Omar’s crazy, dark warped and insane world, he still, like everybody else, wants to get up in the morning and go to the store and get a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and a pack of Newports.
It’s like a six degree of separation kind of thing, everybody’s connected. We all want the same things at the end of the day no matter what your occupation is. Omar goes and robs drug dealers, you are a teller at a bank, but everybody wants to get up in the morning and have a little breakfast and some coffee and read the paper, you dig?
It’s funny too because in the scene he’s standing outside smoking a cigarette and some drug dealers just drop their package next to him because he’s Omar. And he seems disappointed. It’s almost like he’s off that day and just doesn’t want to deal with it.
(Laughs.) That’s exactly what it is. “I’m off today. I know I could have gotten that. Now I’ve got to lug this home.”
This season has been a rough one for Omar. He was framed for an armed robbery and ended up in prison where half the inmates wanted to be the one to kill the legendary Omar. What do you think of the direction the character has taken and what was it like filming the prison scenes?
That prison scene was surreal. It was a whole other side of the game. I’ve never had to venture into those types of situations as Omar before. Just going down that road with him, it’s a scary place. Me, as Michael, you got to just close your eyes, you know what I mean? It’s really dark. There were people in that scene that were the real deal – the truth. I’m going to leave it at that. My people out there, they know what I’m talking about. There were a lot of dudes in there that were the truth and just that energy in the room, it was crazy.
I love that Omar going to jail humanized him. Those scenes made Omar realize that he could get it too. It showed what he’s made of. When them two dudes came in his cell before they let him know who they were, he put his hands up. He was ready to go out. At the end of the day, that’s why people love him and respect him. That’s what pulls people to the character.
At the end of episode 49, Omar robs Proposition Joe’s truck and ends up with a shipment of drugs meant for the co-op. We know you aren’t going to answer this, but we have to ask anyway – what is going to happen with Omar in the season finale?
(Laughs.) Yeah, you’re right, I can’t answer that. I’ll tell you this much, Omar’s going to have a lot of angry men out of that co-op. A lot of upset ganstas.
Obviously you don’t know what the writers have planned for Omar in season five, but where would you like to see the character go in the final season? How would you like Omar’s story to end?
I would like to see Omar maybe get out the game, go out on the outer islands on the Bahamas, snatch up Renaldo, build a house down there and never, ever look back.
We like that. It’s really nice actually. But somehow, we doubt that’s what the writers will go with.
(Laughs.) Yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
After spending so many years working on this show, what will it be like to see it come to an end? How much will you miss it once it’s gone and do you think you’ll ever be a part of another show as complex and well-done as The Wire?
No, to me The Wire is to television what Tupac Shakur is to music. They’re going to get it long after it’s gone.
An ESPN columnist recently wrote an article talking about how some pro athletes love The Wire and especially love the character Omar, even though they are uncomfortable with the idea of having a gay teammate. His belief is that a strong gay character like Omar could help athletes be more accepting of homosexuals in the locker room. Are you a sports fan and what are your thoughts on all of this?
I love sports. I’ve got a lot of athletes who are friends of mine – Antonio Freeman, Sam Cassell, Carmelo Anthony, Keion Carpenter. These are very good friends of mine, I’ve known them for a couple of years now because ironically all of them are from the city of Baltimore and since I’ve been down there the past four years going on five years, I’ve gained a rapport with all of them.
At the end of the day, the reality of the fact is Omar is not going to be remembered for who he slept with. If Omar did end up on an NBA team, they’re going to be cool with it because they already know this dude, he don’t rock like that. He doesn’t come in looking for that. He doesn’t go to gay bars. His mindset ain’t even there, I think everybody really realizes that Omar is not the kind of dude who’s going to be walking around and looking at your ass. Who he sleeps with is just that – who he sleeps with. What’s in the bedroom is in the bedroom and that’s just a small part of who and what he is.
In reality, since I’ve played this character, I’ve had a lot of gay men come to me and say thank you for breaking the stereotype. I felt honored. Who’d have thunk it? I recognized the fact that when I took Omar with the sexual content like that, I was taking a huge gamble. I don’t know what clicked in me or what triggered, but something just told me to embrace that about him. Something told me that if I even dare run from that or even dare flinch, I will fucking lose.
The response I’ve gotten from the character – I hoped at best it would help me get another gig. This character and this show and the part that I play in this beautiful American story has far surpassed any of my wildest dreams. I feel so honored to be a part of this puzzle. There’s no money that could ever make me feel as good after having that feeling. The people I’ve met, the other actors, the coworkers. I doubt in my lifetime I’ll ever get another feeling like that.
I feel honored to have been put in a position to bridge a segue in my community. I just feel grateful that I have something to do with what you talked about. It came up before in a conversation with a brother from the Ravens, we had a roundtable conversation at the Raven’s house out there in Owings Mills and that topic came up. They said that and it made me feel good.
What do you think you’ll miss most about the show once it’s over?
All my coworkers, just seeing them and knowing that no matter what, I’m going to see them for six months out in Baltimore. We run around that city getting in trouble. We’ve had a great time. I’ve had a great time working with all of them. Every year, you get a new shipment, a new breed of actors that come to the show for the new storyline and there’s a bunch of us that have been around for a while and we get introduced to our new family. I’m just so blessed to be a part of that process.
From everybody from Chris Bauer to Pablo Schreiber and all of them in season two, season one with Wood Harris and Idris Elba and Larry Gilliard Jr., Michael Jordan Jr. All of these characters are gone now. In a sense, it’s kind of sad because I know where this road leads you to, but at the same time, I’ve built relationships with these people. When characters get killed off, it’s like, “That’s one I’m not going to see next year.” It really hit me this year. We lose another character this year; you’ll see it in the finale.
Every year, I feel a little saddened when we wrap. Although we say, “Oh God, it’s killing me. I can’t wait for this shit to be over. I want to go home.” When that shit is over, we’re like, “Oh my God, I’m going to miss you.”
You mentioned you all like to go out in Baltimore and get into trouble. Any stories you want to share?
Man, I could be here all night. We really did the city of Baltimore. I’m going to leave it at that. Andre Royo, Sonja Sohn, Seth Gilliam, those are my brothers, yo. In case y’all didn’t know, we’re the brat pack. Me and my brothers at The Wire, we are definitely the new brat pack. Dominic West, Domenick Lombardozzi, I’m going to miss all of them.
We have to admit, we were surprised to see you pop up in R Kelly’s “Trapped in a Closet” video. How did you get involved in that project and what was it like working on such a unique endeavor?
I got hooked up with that through Shelby Stone. She was one of the producers on Lackawanna Blues and was working on that project at the time. I don’t know if everybody knows this, but in the original 1-5 that he first released, the cop was a different guy. When he went to go back filming 6-12, the gentleman who did the cop was doing a Broadway show down in Chicago and couldn’t get out of his obligations. That’s when Shelby was like, “I’ve got a friend. He might could do it.” Then, she was like, “Mike, get your ass down to Chicago now.”
I went down there. Me and Robert, we hit it off instantly. That’s a good brother right there. We had a ball. We had a lot of fun shooting that. Just as stupid as it looks, when I say stupid, I mean that in a funny way, that’s how much we acted up off camera making that damn thing. We’d have to call cut just from laughter. I’m hearing rumors that we’re supposed to go back and do some more chapters. I think he’s going to 18 or something like that.
Last time we talked, you mentioned that you got your start as a dancer. Do you think you’ll do more music videos down the line or are you done with that at this point in your career?
Oh hell yeah, you’re going to see a music video coming from me real soon. But I ain’t gonna be dancing no more. I’ll be rhyming.
You have your own music coming out?
I got permission from HBO to put Omar on wax. Look out for that real soon. I’ve got a whole team working for me. Basically, it all started when Jam Master Jay, his business partner, whose is a good friend of mine and I got in a three-way phone call back around the first season of The Wire.
They said, “We’ve got this concept. We’re going to put Omar on wax. We think it will be crazy.”
I was like, “Oh shit, that does sound kind of interesting.”
In the process of us working on that, he got taken from us. But we fell back with it for a minute and started picking it up a little bit and I started getting all this response from the hip hop world. There’s a connection here that I don’t see with other actors with the hip hop community. I know the hip hop community has love for all our brothers that be doing it, but I was feeling this surge. We started getting back in it and going hard at it and I caught the attention of Jimmy Henchman over there at Czar Entertainment and I’m in the studio.
I’m not signed yet, but I’m on some mixed tapes right now and we’re definitely in the recording process. We’ll see what happens, but I’m having fun right now recording it. Its interesting going into character in the mic booth as apposed to being on set. I use a lot of the same tools to get into character. When they hear the music, people get the same chill as when they see him on screen and that’s what I want to do.
You’re involved in a movie called I Think I Love My Wife, directed by Chris Rock. Tell us a little bit about the movie and your role as Teddy. Also, what’s it like working with someone as funny as Chris Rock?
Chris is one of the people I respect. Coming from Brooklyn, like myself, where he’s taken his career and himself is very inspiring for me. It was an honor to be in his presence, actually. He’s a hard working brother. I had a great time working with him. He knows what he wants as a director. He wrote and directed and produced this and he wears all three hats extremely well.
He had the lovely Kerry Washington there, we had a great scene. It was really just one scene where he and his wife were on the outs and Kerry Washington plays his little hottie girlfriend and her character left my character, but she was saying, “Let’s sneak back to the house. Let me pick up some more of my things and move out and I’ll get the rest of my stuff later.” She comes into my character’s house with her new boyfriend, Chris’ character. While she’s getting her stuff, my character comes in and it’s a huge fight and Chris and my characters get into an altercation, we start fighting. While my character is like stomping on him, literally, police come in and it’s just crazy. It’s extremely funny, but it’s crazy funny.
He’s cool to work with. I’d really like to work with him again; I’d actually like to really work with him. Possibly play brothers or some crazy shit. I don’t know.
If working on a Chris Rock movie isn’t random enough, you’re also in Gone, Baby, Gone, which is directed by Ben Affleck. Can you tell us a little bit about that movie?
Ben was a whole other type of entity to work with. It’s a serious piece. A dramatic piece. He is really hands on. I love how he will come and work with you. You’ll have a scene down, ready to come in and lay your scene down and right there, he’ll just change it all up. He likes to keep a certain freshness. It just works, but you’ve got to stay with him. I think he has a big future as a director. He’s excelled at everything else, why not directing, right?
Where would you like to see your career headed? What sort of films would you like to do in the future and what actors or directors would you like to work with?
I’m on a five-year plan. I’m ready to pull back a little bit. I’m going to turn the lights on y’all now, turn the cameras around. I’ve got a production company, Freedome Productions, and I’ve got a bunch of things in development right now. I want to create some opportunities for some young, up and coming talent I’ve got my eye on. One being Felicia Pearson, who plays Snoop on The Wire. I’ve got a big hand in her career. I want to stay hands on with her. There’s another young brother from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, by the name of Fly Williams, he’s been in a bunch of stuff, his first film was Finding Forrester with Sean Connery and he was in Freedomland with Samuel Jackson. He’s like my little nephew from my hood. I’ve got a lot of little up and coming youth that I want to help develop some projects for them. Let the young kids do it, I’m getting old.
What actors out there today impress you? Who would you pay money to see in the theater?
I pay money to see Denzel, he still gets my dollar. Sam, I love Sam. I’ll still go to see a Sam movie. Those two right now, I definitely go out and catch their movies.
What would you be doing for a living if you never got into acting?
I don’t know. It’s even bigger than acting. I don’t know what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for the business of entertainment. But, we ain’t going to focus on that.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, December 2006. The season four finale of The Wire airs Sunday on HBO and the fifth and final season begins filming next spring. For more information on Michael K. Williams, visit his official website. To read our original interview with him, click here.