FEATURE: Michael K. Williams, Changing Lanes
You might recognize Michael K. Williams from his critically acclaimed role as the whistling, shotgun-toting, trench coat sporting, stick-up kid, Omar Little on HBO’s hit T.V series, The Wire. Little immediately became a favorite among the hip-hop set—resulting in Williams making cameo or two in hip-hop videos. He's also made noteworthy appearances in movies like 2007's Gone Baby Gone and I Think I Love My Wife as well as television shows like Law & Order and CSI: NY.
Having recently starred in Sticky Fingaz’s Hip-Hop musical, A Day in the Life, XXLMag.com caught up with Williams to discuss his latest gig, how the late great Tupac Shakur influenced his career, what he thinks about rappers-turned-actors and whether or not he himself will ever put an album out.
XXLMag.com: Sticky Fingaz recently made his directorial debut with A Day in the Life starring you Omar Epps, Mekhi Phifer and Michael Rapaport. How did you get to be apart of that?
Michael K. Williams: Actually, Sticky is a good friend of mines first of all and we were working on another film called Doing Hard Time and when we was filming that, he was filming, directing his movie A Day in the Life, so I was already there. We have a great relationship. We go back to [the] New York days, so it kind of just happened. I didn’t have to audition or nothing like that, he was like Mike get in my movie, bruh.
XXL: Being that A Day in The Life was a hip-hop musical, how was it rapping your lines? Did it come natural?
Michael K. Williasm: Sticky wrote everything [so I just had to] learn the lyrics and it was a challenge because I am not a rapper but I have been in the studio before. But you know you got to still find it, so it was weird. It was different just trying to rap and act like you're not rapping. It was weird because it wasn’t just a regular going in the studio and laying it, you know what I mean?
XXL: The thirteenth anniversary of Tupac’s death is coming up in September. You got your start alongside him in the movie Bullet. How was it working with him and what did you learn from him?
Michael K. Williams: I didn’t say much around him, because I just felt like I should just shut up and just listen to what this man would say. It was an amazing thing to be in his presence and watch his energy and he was very passionate. What you saw is what you got, and that was just very humbling for me to see that so early in my career. But what I got from him, I learned how to speak up, I learned how to know what I want, how to make decisions. One of the things I take from him, I like things to move when I get to the set. Sometimes directors would call you to the set before they’re actually ready to get the shot and they still be setting up the shot while you were waiting to call you down and he was one that clearly didn’t like that and I didn’t understand back then but he was actually, he was clearly a young and budding method actor, a character actor which is what I aspire to be now today myself. When Tupac would come to the set he would already be in character, he didn’t have to go through any ritual, he was already there, so for you to call him to the set and you weren’t ready to get the shot, you might get cursed out [laughs].
XXL: What did you think about Nia Long’s comment that she made in Pride magazine about how in the acting world, “It isn’t about how talented you are anymore but about box-office revenue,” do you find that to be true?
Michael K. Williams: I mean that’s always been true, you know? I don’t knock anybody who’s doing them. We all to have a start from somewhere, but lets face it, a studio will put you in a movie based on the fact [that] you have a hit record out. That doesn’t say you can’t act or that you can, it just says that the studios don’t really care about the talent sometimes. They just want to make sure at the end of the day it has to make dollars so that it can make cents. That’s their main motivation, they operate first from that perspective of making money so whether a person is really talented or not is not really high up on their list of priorities when making movies. I only focus on what’s meant for me, like Jigga said, “What you eat don’t make me shit.” Shout out to Nia Long. We need to see her in more shit!
XXL: You have pretty much answered my next question; I was going to ask you how you feel about rappers jumping into the acting world without studying the craft first?
Michael K. Williams: I don’t stress none of that. I stay in my lane. Like I said before everybody came from somewhere, I didn’t come out my mothers womb wanting to be an actor, I came from the world of dancing—I used to be a background dancer. When Tupac saw my picture and put me in a movie with him, a rapper gave me my first shot. [laughs] So you know I’m not going there.
XXL: I was on your web site and I noticed a video about Omar Coming, the album based off of your character on The Wire. Are you set on putting out an album soon?
Michael K. Williams: Yeah, I have been saying this now for the like the last three, four, maybe even five years but I really got something tangible now. It’s grown over the years. It’s going to be more like what Jigga did with The Streets Is Watching [DVD], where scene meets music and together they push story. So that’s where I want to take it and I got a really, really great wish list of actors and a very hot music director that’s top on the list that I think would be a sure, sure candidate for this project. I’ll give you a hint. mMe and him got the same last name. [laughs] But I’m really proud to where it has come to this point now.
XXL: How has hip-hop influenced your career overall?
Michael K. Williams: Oh man. You know music period influenced my career. Music is one of the main ingredients I take into the lab when I’m building a character or when I’m getting into character there is always...music has always been an extreme part of who I am and what I do and as far as hip-hop is concerned. If you want to know where I’m at when I come out of my dressing room it’s usually something that Tupac said, or Nas said, or Jigga said, or Biggie said, or Mary sang, so I could be in that state of mind when I come out of my chair as Omar. I just sit there and listen and I just get into character, so you know hip-hop it was and still is a big part of what I do in my career.—Patresha Williams