Thursday, May 23, 2024

Michael K. Williams Inspired By Imprisoned Nephew For ‘The Night Of’

Michael K. Williams*Michael K. Williams is best known for his portrayal of Omar Little on the HBO drama series “The Wire,” and Albert “Chalky” White on the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.”

The acclaimed and award-winning actor can currently be seen in “The Night Of.” The series chronicles the story of young a Pakistani American (Naz) who is accused of killing the a drugged-up broken girl he had sex with after picking her up in his father’s cab. Williams plays a power broker who takes a liking to the imprisoned Naz and wants to protect him as he awaits trial.

The eight-episode series, co-starring John Turturro and based on the BBC’s “Criminal Justice,” offered Williams, 49, a chance to model a character on one of his nephews who is serving time. “He is literally a model prisoner. He inspires me. He does service, he’s got a degree,” Williams told L.A. Times.

Michael is also host of “Black Market With Michael K. Williams,” which he executive produces for Viceland, and airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays. The six episode series highlights the practice of illicit trade, “and includes interviews and interactions with New Jersey carjackers and poachers of abalone off the coast of South Africa.”

Williams told the Times that he feels “blessed” to have two shows airing, and he also revealed that he can identify with some of the participants featured in “Black Market.” When he was growing up, his family, including his mother, a first-generation Bahamian, was struggling:

The things my parents had to do just to get by, to make ends meet. It wasn’t sex, drugs, trafficking and creepy stuff. It was about people trying to survive.

Michael K. Williams

“When I got bitten by the bug of show business, I was so broken and so shattered,” said Williams. “I’ve been spared so many times in my life. Whatever you want to call the higher power — God, Buddha, Allah, whatever — I believe that a higher power has spared my life because there’s a bigger purpose for me.”

The Times notes that before “The Wire,” Williams was a professional dancer, appearing in videos and on concert tours for such artists as Madonna and George Michael. He was discovered by the late rapper Tupac, and made his feature debut in Pac’s 1996 film “Bullet.”

READ RELATED STORY: EUR Exclusive: ‘The Gambler’s’ Michael K. Williams Wants the Killing to Stop

Williams says playing Omar on “The Wire,” which debuted in 2002, was a life-changer for him both professionally and personally.

“He was an alter ego for me in a sense,” Williams said. “Omar was everything I couldn’t be in my hood — me coming up with low self-esteem and a deep need to be accepted. When people were telling me they loved Omar, more than likely, nine out of 10 of those people would be the same ones that called me soft-ass, punk-ass Mike when I was growing up.”

Michael K. Williams

The role bought him fame and stature, but it also plunged him into a bleak tailspin: “That job was the most money I made in my life,” said Williams. “But the darkness of the character weighed on my psyche so much that when the show ended, I was completely unequipped [to cope with that darkness]. I was hurting myself in every possible way you could imagine.”

He continued, “And it wasn’t always about doing drugs. It was negative company, negative places. I was dark-minded, bad decisions one after another. But someone was looking out for me because I never stopped working. I stay blessed to be continuously working. Otherwise I would have had no place to escape from the (negativity). I would have slit my throat. The ability to put all of this into characters was a lifesaver.”

You can read Williams’ full L.A. Times interview here.

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