No Longer Omar: Actor Michael K. Williams On Lucky Breaks And Letting Go
Actor Michael K. Williams is known for playing morally ambiguous, sometimes violent characters. As Omar Little on The Wire, Williams was a fearless stick-up man who stole money from drug dealers. In Boardwalk Empire, he played Chalky White, a bootlegger in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Now, in the new HBO series The Night Of, he's a powerful inmate in New York's notorious Rikers Island Prison.
Williams tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that playing such intense characters sometimes takes a psychic toll. "When I wear these characters to the extent that I wear them to, that [energy's] gotta go somewhere," he says. The dark energy of Omar Little, for example, "was a little too close to home." Williams struggled with addiction while he worked on The Wire and eventually sought help at a church in New Jersey.
Now the actor practices prayer and meditation, which help him separate from his work. "One of the main things that's changed from when I was first on The Wire and to now — in, particularly, The Night Of — is I know how to differentiate myself from the character. ... I still go in just as deep, but now I have the tools ... to pull myself out of that."
Williams is also the host of the new Viceland series Black Market, which explores underground economies in America and around the world.
- Fresh Air