Just cast in the new ‘Star Wars,’ Michael K. Williams has a jam-packed year ahead
‘The Wire’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ star on what he binge-watches, soulful music, and the best advice Halle Berry ever gave him
It’s soooo tempting to holla, “Omar’s coming, yo!” when taking an early morning call from actor Michael K. Williams. Best known for playing stick-up man Omar Little on HBO’s influential The Wire, Williams has excelled at playing bad guys with a hair-trigger violent streak, including gangster Chalky White of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and prisoner Freddy Knight in HBO’s The Night Of. Williams, recently cast in the still untitled Han Solo movie, which hits theaters May 2018, is currently starring in season 2 of Sundance TV’s Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo. Co-starring Tiffany Mack, James Purefoy, Irma P. Hall, Christina Hendricks, and Dohn Norwood, and based on the ’80s “swamp noir” novels of Joe R. Lansdale, Hap and Leonard, brims with “bright performances and the mischievous genre-bending,” according to A.V. Club.
What’s the last book you read?
Conversations with God [An Uncommon Dialogue, Book] 1. The last book that I read that got me was The Four Agreements.
Sounds like you’re on a spiritual quest.
Yeah. I got work to do. [Laughs.]
What is it about your current character, Leonard Pine, that draws you in?
He breaks a lot of rules, and I like breaking rules. He’s an openly gay, ex-Marine, Republican cowboy from East Texas, and for an actor, that’s a breeding ground to go into and have fun. You mix that with his counterpart, Hap, who is played by James Purefoy, and who is my good friend from when we co-starred on the NBC show The Philanthropist.
What is your favorite sport — to watch, and to play?
I suck at sports. The only sport I ever excelled in was track and field — to this day I still run. The sport I most love to watch is basketball. And football is a close second. I’m from New York, so of course I’m a diehard New York City all-the-way guy. I bleed blue. I bleed green. That’s what we do in NYC. I’ve got a lot of respect for the Spurs, and for my brothers in San Fran, the Golden State Warriors. I’ve got a lot of respect for my brothers in L.A., the Clippers. I have to give it up to LeBron out there [in Cleveland] and the Cavaliers. But at the end of the day, I’m gonna rep home first. Always.
How do you find out about new music?
I get my music from all over, and to be honest, I still watch a lot of music videos. I watch the BET channel that used to be called VH1 Soul — they play a lot of music that you will not hear anywhere else. Like Corinne Bailey Rae or The Internet or Sampha. Michael Kiwanuka. You don’t get that on the radio, so when I go to the videos, I get to Shazamming. I’m just a lover of music. Right now, I’m bumping that Anderson .Paak real hard, the Malibu album. I’m still banging Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book over and over. Still banging the Childish Gambino album. Those three are still in heavy rotation on my headphones right now.
What are you looking forward to in 2017?
To having a lot of breakthroughs. 2016 was a big year. A very painful year with some messages that I want to see manifested now. One is my service to the community — I’ll be elaborating on that once those things become more concrete. Next is my production company, Freedome Productions Inc. The goal for this year is to have something on TV, in the theater, something on film. Black Market on Viceland is still very much in full effect. So much goes into getting those stories on the air. It isn’t a reality show — these are real people in serious pain and you have to let the universe guide those stories.
What’s the last show you binge-watched?
The Get Down. I watched that series all the way through about four or five times. I’m obsessed with The Get Down. The show is my childhood — I’m dressed today like I’m an extra from Cooley High. I could be on that [show] based on what I have on right now!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
It came from Halle Berry, in an interview she did. Three rules she always practiced was: never give up, be on time and be prepared. Another piece of wonderful advice I live by came from a co-worker of mine, Wendell Pierce. He told me — over a few drinks in The Wire days — ‘Michael, this business is about the work you do, the people you meet and the relationships you build.’ And I stick with that.
Once you leave a set, how do you all remain close once filming is over?
Sometimes it’s not meant to be for long periods of time. My mom always said, ‘Some are for a reason, some are for a season.’ You know what’s what when it’s effortless. I don’t go into any project looking to make lifelong friends. I do go into every situation looking to be respectful, respected, looking to make connections, and to learn from everyone I come in contact with.