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03/22/2012

Good news for fans of The Wire & Omar: Michael K. Williams to play Russell White

7733347Had to share this because it involves one of my favorite interview subjects:

Actor Michael K. Williams, who played the gay killing machine Omar on "The Wire" and is Chalky White on "Boardwalk Empire", has been cast to play the troubled rapper Russell Jones, a.k.a Ol' Dirty Bastard of Wu-Tang Clan. This story is from Entertainment Weekly.

This is a good chance to re-print this chat that I had with Williams a while back:

The Big Mac Blog: How has your career changed since you landed the role on The Wire, and left the show?
Michael K. Williams: The first and foremost thing I’ve been concerned with since leaving The Wire is to consistently work. I’ve been blssed with that so far. As far as the versatility of the roles I have no complaints. I’ve been given opportunities to stretch.

The Big Mac Blog: Your bio sounds as if you struggled like a lot of actors – did you ever have a “screw it” moment and try something else?
Michael K. Williams: Yeah I did. It was 1998 and after having had a role in a movie Nic Cage and working with Marty Scorsese I had a guest role on the Sopranos and Law and Order, and then things went dead fish in the water. That was in 2000 and I decided to leave the business. I thought, 'That's it - those were my 15 minutes.' 
I was working with my mother in Brooklyn at her daycare center. I did that for two years. Then one day I was sitting with my friends watching an episode of the Sopranos and I had this out-of-body experience. I was like, 'I'm here, but I should be over there.' That was November of 2001, and by March I was back.

6a00e54f7fc4c58833015435df036f970c-250wiThe Big Mac Blog: When you were offered the role as Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire, were you relieved that you landed a key part that wasn’t as a killer?
Michael K. Williams: When I booked the role of Chalky there was very little I knew about it. I was in Cape Town working on a project. I sent in my audition tape and the audition piece was a mock script. I had no idea who the dude was. It wasn’t until after I booked it. I was briefed and given a bunch of information to read. That’s when I found out who he was. I found out he was a lot different from Omar.
I was happy to have a job, but there were some cherries on the cake, too. It was the fact it was HBO, and it was Martin Scorsese. And it was going to be shot in Brooklyn, which is home. 
As far as it not being another Omar type, there will never be another Omar. Never.

The Big Mac Blog: The Wire was obviously a legitimizing series, but to land a role on a series that is produced by Martin Scorsese is that an “arrived” moment for you?
Michael K. Williams: Working with Marty is a landmark in my career. When I walked on the set of Boardwalk the most shocking thing for me is that he remembered me from all those years back in 1998, when I did "Bringing Out the Dead". He was the same person. He didn’t treat me like an extra or anything. This is Hollywood royalty. He gave me my direction and made a joke about working with me in 1998. I was like, 'This is a real dude', and made me feel good. 

6a00e54f7fc4c58833015435df0501970c-250wiThe Big Mac Blog: As a black actor on The Wire, did ever have to negotiate any internal feelings about being on a show that may have re-inforced some negative stereotypes after the African-American community?
Michael K. Williams: First of all, I don’t dabble in African-American Hollywood. It’s all Hollwyood. The whole Hollwyood black thing is a myth. You have to make it. You can't section it off. In the big picture no one compartamentalizes it. I'll play anything. If it's well written, I can play any role. As far as perputuating any negative stereotypes, the only time I struggled with that was the confrontation Omar had with Stringer Bell and Brother Mouzone. I struggled with the black on black violence of that.

My job is to create emotion, and conversation, and get people stimulated in whatever was the script calls for. If you don't like what you are watching on The Wire, then fix it. It's not like it's fiction. Go talk about it. Go get your kid and mentor them so they don't become another Omar. These stories are not fiction. They came from the Baltimore police files. 

OmarlittleThe Big Mac Blog: Omar is one of the most, if not the most, important bad guy character in the last 20 years (he cuts me off).
Michael K. Williams: Go with the most important ... (laughing)

The Big Mac Blog: Right - what were your expectations of him after landing that role and how did he become such a crucial part to this show?
Michael K. Williams: It’s a combination of things. First and foremost the writing. ... The main thing that resonated with Omar was the underdog concept. He was the guy you wanted to root for and make it because he wasn't fixed. He didn't pretend and he didn't hide. There was no gossip about him; you could set your clock by what he would do and what he would say. He lived in a way most people don't. He had come to grips with who he was and made no apologies; whether you agree or disagree, you have to respect that. I didn't agree with everything that he did, but I got it because he stands up for what he believes in. No excuses. Heart on his sleeve. He was totally out there.

The Big Mac Blog: As an actor, is it great to have a role like Omar, or is tough to shed that persona?Michael K. Williams: I don't know if I would want another role like Omar. I try to stay removed from the whole larger than life persona this business can put you in. It's like what Thriller did to Michael Jackson; can you do another Thriller? Who cares? He did it. You grow up and you evolve. I want to pay my bills, feed my family, and take a vacation with my mom every now and then. That is that life I choose. My goal is to put out good work, do the best that I can and stay consistent. I want to enjoy what I do. It's like Marty Scorsese - the man still loves what he does. 

The Big Mac Blog: Now, I have read you are a sports fan is that true?
Michael K. Williams: Lies. Lies. Lies. All lies. I am the most sports illeterate black person from the projects you will ever meet. I can race, and play a little handball. I love music I’ve always been musically driven. I play the trumpet. Or I did. I watch TV … movies. I can easily put on music and fill my day. I read to music.

The Big Mac Blog: Michael, this has truly been my pleasure and I wish you all the success ...
Michael K. Williams: Any time. Be sure to mention to your readers they can follow me on Twitter 
@BKBMG. Stands for Brooklyn Boy Makes Good. 

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