Ahead of season three of Boardwalk Empire, Michael K. Williams — the man behind two of television’s most recent iconic characters, Omar Little and Chalky White — confessed in an lengthy interview with the Newark Star Ledger that he did a lot of cocaine while he was on The Wire, living a “double life as a doper” and a respected actor.
On camera, millions are mesmerized by Williams, the actor who has played the baddest badass on The Wire, a mean-streets series thick with badasses. But off camera, starting around 2004, that badass was begging lines in out-of-the-way places from dead-enders who could’ve beat him senseless or snuffed him out at any time.
“I was playing with fire,” Williams says. “It was just a matter of time before I got caught and my business ended up on the cover of a tabloid or I went to jail or, worse, I ended up dead. When I look back on it now, I don’t know how I didn’t end up in a body bag.
Thanks to religion, Williams eventually cleaned up, and somehow managed during the period in which he was abusing cocaine never to miss a table read or acting call. Williams — who grew up a largely straight-laced kid in Brooklyn — used drugs as an entry point into the in-crowd, and to help him better fit in. During that time, it turns out, he was much more comfortable as Omar than he was as Michael Williams. In fact, on the streets, dealers only knew him by the name of his The Wire character:
“People didn’t even call me Mike, they called me Omar. But that wasn’t unusual because everybody had an alias,” Williams says. “No one was called their government (name) on the block, so they called me Omar or ‘O.’ That mixed with my identity crisis and my addiction — and it was not a good mix. I had to stop trying to be Omar and just be Mike.”
How tough is Mike Williams, though? Tough enough that, to him, cocaine is lightweight stuff. “He swears it was just cocaine and pot for him — ‘nothing stronger.’” Nothing stronger than cocaine? I didn’t realize that cocaine was a sissy drug.
In addition to the help from a Newark reverend, Williams — who made “off-Broadway money” playing Omar– got the help of four strangers in Jersey, who allowed him live in their home rent-free, and in order to repay the debt, Williams worked construction. Now, years later and clean, Williams is comfortable enough to be known as Williams instead of Omar.
He returns as Chalky White in season four of Boardwalk Empire on September 14th.
(Source: NJ Star Ledger)
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