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Actor Michael K. Williams has been in the business for a long time, but he’s probably still best known for his breakthrough role on The Wire, playing Omar Little, a stick-up man from the streets who gains increasing prominence as the series goes on. Despite opening avenues for the actor, The Wire role became a stressor when Williams became unable to separate his TV show role from reality.
Michael K. Williams recently spoke out about his time shooting The Wire. The actor revealed that he was having trouble separating himself from the character he was portraying on television. According to The Guardian he was experimenting with drugs and spending all of the money that came in from the hit series. It didn’t help that people in everyday life tended to only recognize him as “Omar” from The Wire. He had to learn not to behave like the character he was portraying on TV.
“I was in a different place in life. I was using Omar as a means of escape. Now I don’t use my job as a way to define me: it’s what I do, not who I am. I have that understanding now.”
Actors have trouble separating themselves from their work frequently. Playing the iconic Batman villain the Joker caused Heath Ledger to start taking the dangerous drug cocktail that eventually killed him. Immersing himself in a role caused the world to collectively believe that Joaquin Phoenix had gone off the deep end for a while. Art doesn’t always imitate life; it can, in fact have an effect on life, and that’s a lesson Williams had to learn.
Luckily, it’s not a problem the actor has now. The man is offered enough gigs at this point that it is doubtful anyone would accuse him of being defined by one role. In the past year or so, Williams had roles in the RoboCop reboot, The Purge: Anarchy, Inherent Vice, The Gambler and Kill The Messenger in gigs as varied as a detective, an activist, a loan shark and an anti-purge resistance fighter. On the small screen, Williams spent five seasons playing Chalky White on the period drama Boardwalk Empire; the series ended its run in October of 2014. None of the aforementioned roles may be as iconic as the memorable Omar Little, but they also have afforded the actor a wealth of opportunities to try out new characters without the burden of having to be inside those character's heads 24/7.
It's not often people really come into their own at such a late age, but it's nice to see Michael K Williams has finally made it. He's a brilliant actor, and it'll be wonderful to watch him work for the next few decades.