From Omar Little to Chalky White, a Young Actor Reflects


As season four of the critically acclaimed HBO series Boardwalk Empire rolled into its ninth episode, the AFRO sat down with actor Michael K. Williams and talks life, past present, and future.

AFRO: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Williams: Well I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I was raised by my mother. My mother is the reason I am here. She kept me in line. I feared and respected my mother more than anyone. But I was far from a tough guy. I was not known for fighting or being a “gangster” of any sort. In fact the kids around my way used to call [explicit] Mike. That was my nickname all through my youth. I was known for dancing, that was how I made friends.

AFRO: Interesting. You would never guess that by your portrayal of Omar Little.
Williams: Playing that character I was getting all my frustrations out. All the pain I went through I used in order to deliver an accurate depiction of how I thought Omar was, but I am not that character.

AFRO: Who is Chalky White in {Boardwalk Empire} and how did you get the part?| Williams: Chalkie White is the unofficial mayor of the black community in Atlantic City which back in the 1920s was known as Chicken Bone Beach. He is a businessman and a gangster. He wants a slice of the American Pie.

AFRO: Did you have trouble with law as a youth?
Williams: It wasn’t too many major things because, again, I told you how much I feared my mother so I wouldn’t do anything to serious to hurt her. But I did start using drugs at that age and drinking. This would be something I battled with up until nine months ago. Actually this is the anniversary of my sobriety.

AFRO: Why did you start using?
Williams: Low self-esteem. I had a huge need to be accepted.

AFRO: How did you get your start in the entertainment industry?
Williams: Well I started off doing music videos for a few artist and background dancing. And as my face started to get out there, I started to get more recognition for playing certain characters in the videos. One thing led to another and I caught the attention of Tupac Shakur. He saw my picture and decided he wanted me to play his brother in this movie he was doing with Mickey Rouke called Bullet. After that I started getting into Broadway theatre to sort hone my skills and it took off from there.

AFRO: So, you got recognition after receiving the scar on your face?
Williams: Yes.

AFRO: Can you tell me about how you got the scar or is that a sensitive issue?
Williams: Sure. It happened on my 25th birthday. I was acting immaturely because I was on that “liquid courage” [alcohol], and some words were exchanged between me and a group of gentlemen. I was drunk so I fought and ended up getting jumped. They cut me with a razor from the top of my head to my neck. I nearly lost my life that night. That was my first wake-up call.

AFRO: You quit your job with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and left for Hollywood?
Williams: Yes. I was working there when I was 22 and I was working there for like a year. This was around the time that Janet Jackson released her video “Rhythm Nation,” The video spoke to something inside of me. It told a story of this little black boy, who is lost in this dark, dreary factory. Janet Jackson helped the boy through dancing. The little black boy reminded me of me, and it inspired me to go on a quest to find Janet Jackson. Although I never found her, I did get the opportunity to travel around the world, and meet a lot of good people.

AFRO: How did you get the Omar Little role?
Williams: One day I was watching TV and saw one of my friends dancing. I was working in my mother’s day care center. I told my mom that I had to give Hollywood one last shot. I left New York and landed in L.A with $10 in my pocket and auditioned to do this music video. I didn’t get the part for the video but someone sent me a fax that said “Male actor wanted for new TV series; 30 years old, black robber, and openly gay.” I went to the audition and got it.

AFRO: How was it like to work on The Wire?
Williams: Well the first season was great. I was at an all-time high, getting more money than I ever seen. But I was careless. I blew all my money. See, I am from Brooklyn and when we get money we love to spread it around. I even bought me a crib on Baltimore Hill. I was out in the streets getting into a lot of trouble. I ended up getting evicted from my crib and having to stay with my baby mother until the next season. You only got paid for the episodes you were in and there wasn’t any Omar in season two, so I was basically broke until season three. But I loved playing Omar.

AFRO: Do characters like Omar only glorify violence in the Black community? Williams: Everybody is entitled to their own opinion and I respect them but I do my work and I go home. If they only see Omar as a one-dimensional character then they don’t understand The Wire as a whole. What I will say about Omar is he helped the Black community by breaking this stereotype we have about homosexuals. I’m actually proud about that.

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From Omar Little to Chalky White, a Young Actor Reflects

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