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.”
No Longer Omar: Actor Michael K. Williams On Lucky Breaks And Letting Go (Fresh Air podcast)
Literally the night of the day that I listened to this podcast, we decided to watch the first episode of the crime series “Hap and Leonard.” And who shows up as a co-star but Williams?
“Hap and Leonard” looks good so far; we’ve only seen one episode but it’s good enough to get us watching the second. It starts with a car chase like something out of a 70s Burt Reynolds movie, and doesn’t slow down from there. I got the recommendation from a panelist on The Incomparable podcast, who said rightly that if you liked “Justified,” you’ll like “Hap and Leonard.”