A leftover from the Vice Interviews Issue. Omar!
This Man Robs Drug Dealers
Ohkay, ohkay, so everyone got over The Wire ages ago. We know. That said, now that it’s all over we miss it a bunch and you can’t really argue with Brooker: it is easily the best thing that’s come out of a small screen in ever. It had all the stuff that makes TV fun: drugs, guns, gangsters, police brutality and more drugs. Plus Omar. It’s not every day a gay, homicidal thug who makes a living robbing drug dealers with humungous shotgun while whistling “The Farmer in The Dell” is taken to the hearts of every conscious couch potato. But Omar went one better than that by being named some guy called Obama’s favourite character in his favourite TV show of all time. Not bad for a former dancer who turns up as a camp cop in Trapped In The Closet.
Vice: Hi Michael, let’s just get one thing straight: you aren’t a gay, homicidal thug who makes a living robbing drug dealers with humungous shotgun while whistling “The Farmer in The Dell”?
Michael K Williams: No sir, you’d be surprised how many people come and talk to me as if I am that guy though.
I’m not gonna lie: I’m glad this is happening over the phone and not in person. Is it true that you used to be a dancer in music videos?
Yep, I did a whole bunch of ‘em. Worked with an artist by the name of George Michael, G then people saw my press shot around and I read for some parts and I started acting and that was that.
One of your early gigs was a role in Bullet. Did you get to hang out with Tupac and Mikey Rourke much?
Yeah, you know we'd hang around set a bit, and he Pac was a real sweet-heart, very professional, real passionate about everything he did. I learned so much from just watching him on set, about what to accept, what not to accept, what to pick up on, what to just let slide. I learned a lot just being around him. Rourke I just spent one day on the set with. He was quiet and laid back. He was the opposite of Pac. Pac was animated, energetic but Mikey: he was a watcher. Both beautiful people, just different energies.
I heard you got the part of Omar after one reading?
The casting director got in touch with me direct so I knew maybe the part was right and then I met the director and producers and it was all pretty easy but there was a lot of research involved. I had to learn to speak like a Baltimorian. I had to find out how to walk and dress like one. I had to learn to bust a gun because I'd never ever shot one before Omar.
I don’t believe you.
Truth man. I gotta thank David Simon and Ed Burns, really. They were adamant about keeping the details about Omar consistent and accurate. They wouldn’t let anyone come in and change the dynamic of the character. Like they'd never have someone come in and say: “we want Omar to come out through the open doors and come into the middle of the room and stand in the light” or whatever ‘cos they know if he did that he'd have his head blown off. He’s the kind of guy who stands in the shadows and scopes the joint out you feel?
Wasn’t the character based on a hodge podge of people who actually went around holding up drug dealers and stash houses in Baltimore in the ‘80s and ‘90s?
Yeah, the main guy is called Donnie Anderson. You see him with Omar if you watch when Omar’s in jail. The Musilim brother who hands him the knife, that’s the 'real' Omar, that’s Donnie Anderson.
Were you cacking your draws when you met him?
Oh man. I call him my brother now. We're very close. Him opening up to me made it so much easier for me to be Omar. He was involved from that very first day. Back then he was consulting from his prison cell but he got out and from then you can see how intense the character gets,
Were you familiar with Baltimore previous to The Wire?
Nah, being from New York, you pass through Baltimore on your way down south. You know maybe you gas up, but you never say: “Hey let's go to Baltimore for the weekend!” but it has got to be one of the most intense cities I've ever spent time in. Before going there I had never really spent time in a chocolate city' you feel? Black folk living together, living good and just chillin. It has some of the best food in the country too. There is a grill called the Upper Deck and a Steakhouse called Deans. Things they can do with a steak in there man… make you smack your mama!
Was it tough playing a black, gay gangster?
I had to allow myself toto love. Because he loved his dudes. It's two dudes who love each other. In terms of the more physical side: just close your eyes and pucker up, you know? Ain’t no thing.
Looking back at the five seasons, which do you think were your favourite scenes?
That's a tough question, man. I'd have to say probably the scene in the courtroom.
Yeah that's my favourite too.
And a close second is the scene in the alley way having the talk with Brother. It's close. But I don't have any scenes that are my 'un-favourite', you know.