The Wire Week: Michael K. Williams (Omar Little)

At first glance, Michael K. Williams’ stoic, unflinching gaze can make you think twice about approaching him. Despite any possible intimidation, ardent fans of the character Omar Little on The Wire can’t help but to express their excitement when Michael walks into a room. His ‘round-the-way appeal makes him more relatable to the streets than […]

At first glance, Michael K. Williams’ stoic, unflinching gaze can make you think twice about approaching him. Despite any possible intimidation, ardent fans of the character Omar Little on The Wire can’t help but to express their excitement when Michael walks into a room. His ‘round-the-way appeal makes him more relatable to the streets than many of his thespian peers could ever dream to be, and his formidable performance talent garners him respect in the industry that few will ever attain.

The infamous scar, you ask? Michael admits to a bar-room brawl in Queens that graced his countenance with that menacing, yet ruggedly sexy memory from his 25th birthday. No matter what anyone’s initial thoughts of him might be, it is ultimately Michael’s warm smile and energetic demeanor that asserts comfort with his abilities and position in life. The once nightclub-hopping New Yorker has come a long way, with over a decade of performance credits on stage, television, music videos and film.

Michael took some time out from a usual hectic day to talk to us about his successes in Hollywood, the development and intricacies of Omar Little and a few other topics between politics and show business. Looking back on the past four seasons, your character has developed a lot. We’ve seen different sides of Omar, from the sensitive side to the more gangster side, if you will, all the way to him being in prison knowing that he might just die. How has it been for you as an actor to look at the development of the character?

Michael K. Williams: When I first got The Wire, I was just happy to get the job. My only hope was for somebody to see my face and I get another gig, happily ever after. Once I realized that wasn’t the reason I was called to do that show, I got over the whole thing of not being nominated for the Emmys as a show, and I realized why I was a part of the show that was calling me. We were chosen to do this show to tell an emerging story and get it out there. So I look at it like that and I see how my character has evolved.

When I first got the gig, I was only supposed to be reoccurring for seven episodes. Here we are four or five years later and I’m talking to you. I’m very grateful for them letting my character evolve. I never in my wildest imagination would think I’d be playing a openly gay h### thug. I took a lot of gambles with the character with content and everything, but I’m very happy with the turnout. Have there been points with the writing where you might have said, “I feel like Omar might have done this a little differently?”

Michael: Never. You gotta understand this show didn’t create these characters out of a hat. This came from a code of living that is lived on the streets. People say, “Oh, how did they kill Stringer Bell?” If you watch the storyline you’ll know very easily how Stringer Bell had to go. It’s a code, that’s how David [Simon] writes. It’s safe to call it a street code, it is what it is – but that’s what it is. Omar always whistles “Farmer In The Dell.” Why is that?

Michael: I chose to take it there. Technically it is the tune to “Farmer In The Dell” but there are certain lyrics in there. For instance, “The cheese stands alone” is very reminiscent of Omar’s character, he’s like a lone gun. But me personally, as Michael Kenneth Williams, when I get into character – especially when I have to use that whistle in a scene – I like to think of a Looney Tunes character by the name of Elmer Fudd. He used to [sing] “A hunting we will go.” At the end of the day Omar’s just going to work. He ain’t doing nothing spectacular, he’s just having fun. He enjoys his work, but he’s going to work. I like the fact that Omar is highly intelligent. You’ve mentioned in interviews how different Omar’s life could have been had he had the higher education, and not had to make the choices he did to be a criminal.

Michael: That, in a nutshell, is all David Simon, Ed Burns and Nina Noble wanna put out there. They want to show the story – it’s about lack of opportunities to not enough people. It could have been any race, and that’s what the second season dealt with. It’s not just Blacks out there, it’s lower income and poorly educated White people out there too. So it’s an American story and problem. Omar is the bottom line and total of a lot of things that society doesn’t wanna deal with. The majority of society would rather ignore the fact that he even exists. He represents all of the things we don’t wanna deal with as a society, as America. The central character in The Wire is the city of Baltimore, the rest of the characters are a supporting cast to the city. Aside from Bodie and his moderate interaction with McNulty, they never really show the feelings of how the guys on the street are dealing with the politics of the city.

Michael: In reality let’s face it: The majority of the Black community does not pay attention to politics. We vote, but you go to your average hood and ask, “Who’s running?” or “Who are your council people?” and we don’t know. We don’t care, because we always felt like we never really mattered, we were always just numbers and statistics to them anyway. There’s the basic feeling of, “What’s the use? I could be doing something else with that time. We’re gonna get screwed with our pants on [by] whoever’s in that office, what is the use? I gotta braid my daughter’s hair and get her ready for school the next morning.” That’s why you don’t see too much of a reaction from the hood. Young people in general don’t seem to care.

Michael: What Puffy did with the whole “Vote or Die”, what Russell [Simmons] has been doing with his campaign of making young Black youth more politically conscious, has made a great dent. It’s become sexy to be political a little bit and be a little savvy about what’s going on in your community. Let’s get into some of the things that you have coming up, because you’ve done a lot of bit acting in various television shows and whatnot…

Michael: This year we turned it up, I definitely have The Wire to thank for that. I got a couple of films coming up that I’m very happy with. One is Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, a film called Gone, Baby, Gone starring Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Casey Affleck and the boy MKW. [Laughs] I’m in very good company with that, I played a homicide detective from Boston. I got another project coming out with Chris Rock called I Think I Love My Wife, I had a real crazy scene with me, him and Kerry Washington.

Then I just wrapped on an independent film I’m very proud of called Ego starring Eve and myself. She and I are husband and wife, I do a car robbery, this police officer catches me in the mix and I kill him. He goes to jail, does his time, comes home and is definitely remorseful for his actions. He wants to be a husband to his wife and a father to his son, but the cop had a son who’s also a cop now and can’t let that go. So he pushes the guy’s buttons, the guys decides to revert and ends up getting murdered when he goes backwards. So it’s a really nice piece, I can’t wait to see when it comes out. Have you ever worried about being stereotyped?

Michael: No, I worry about not eating. I have no Plan B, as long as the checks are cutting I’m gonna put in my work. As long as I’m enjoying the work I love my thug character, I do it well so as long as the writing is talented like the way Dave and them wrote Omar, I’m gonna always do it. My newest project, which is my pride and joy, is I’ve got permission from HBO to put Omar on wax. That’s going very nicely. A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine and his good friend Jam Master Jay, God bless the dead, came up with an idea of putting Omar in the studio, and a couple of years later, we got some real nice quality sounding stuff. I ain’t gonna speak too much on it, but you can definitely in ’07 expect to hear something. But what does Omar rap about? Omar doesn’t swear…

Michael: No, it ain’t gonna be none of that, just what you see and feel from him on the screen is exactly what’s on wax, nothing more nothing less. I ain’t got no bunch of crazy flows, I can’t slow it up then speed it and slow it down. Omar talks to you, he got somethin’ to tell you, and he speaks from his heart. I’m scared for Season Five…

Michael: Yeah, and you have good cause to be. [Laughs] It’s hot on them Wire streets. It’s gonna be an explosiful fifth season. Explosive… Explosiful. [Laughs]

Michael: Yeah, let’s rock with that. An explosiful fifth season. [Laughs] The Wire is coming on BET, so a lot of people who missed the HBO show [will get to see it]. Now that you’re going to find a lot of new fans, how are you gonna deal with all of this?

Michael: I’m gonna sin – put that on my record. [Laughs] Let the record show. What movie did you see when you were a kid that made you say, “I wanna be an actor because of this movie”?

Michael: One of the first ones that sparked me for different reasons was The Wiz, Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta. Shaft in particular inspired me. I know for a fact those three vividly stick out in my mind. I remember them just impacting me for whatever reasons. Especially The Wiz I remember that just blowed my mind. People don’t know this about me, but I’m a triple threat – I dance, act and I can sing a little, I can carry a note if I had to. The whole thing in The Wiz with the singing, dancing and acting I knew I had the desire to do those things. Saturday Night Fever also had those same energies. If there’s any movie that you could go back and cast yourself in a role, what would it be?

Michael: Purple Rain [Laughs] [Laughs] You’d be Prince?

Michael: Yeah, if I could go back in time and do a film, just because. You’ve mentioned that your mom gave you the same spiel that a lot of us got in the entertainment industry – that you’re gonna waste your life away going that direction. Obviously you’ve had to have made her proud at this point in your life. What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Michael: I would say three basic things, and if you follow these things you should do well in any career. Always be on time, always be prepared, and never give up. You mix those three things in any pot, you should come with a good little appetizer or something to eat. Anything else we can expect from you in ’07?

Michael: A couple of films I got coming out, the music is definitely coming out, the fifth season of The Wire. I can chill for a minute. [Laughs] Let me knock out this fifth season, get that up on tape and get this album out. That should pretty much keep my hands full. I’m definitely producing – I’m producing a film right now. I’m definitely doing the behind the scenes thing, but everything is a process.