Life is funny. In setting out to write about the coming adaptation of The Road, I wound up getting in touch with Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little on The Wire. Those last five words alone are enough to send tons of people into a slobbering fan-panic, so it's no surprise I wound up devoting the entire column to Williams' take on his two upcoming movies, both adaptations from scary-as-hell literature. Even so, you'll find the bulk of our chat right here.
The character of Omar was something of a brick heaved into the hornet's nest that was The Wire. A grim highwayman who robbed drug dealers and dealt violent retribution according to his own strict moral code--while shattering gay stereotypes left and right-- Omar was someone that most of us can relate to. (Well, I certainly can.) Williams' fearless portrayal is a huge part of why people are always obnoxiously telling you to watch this show. Including me-- watch it!!
TB: What sort of environment were you in while filming The Road?
MKW: We filmed on location at Lake Erie in the state park over there. While it was very beautiful, in the context of our scene it could have been a very scary place. It was no joke, we were in the elements, and it was freezing.
TB: Did you find it difficult to shake the apocalyptic frame of mind that you had to adopt while acting in this film?
MKW: It was a good scare, because it could happen—it could actually happen! And it makes you pray that it doesn’t. This has made me very grateful, and it’s made me reassess the little things we take for granted, like shelter, food, water and even companionship and human contact. It’s crazy that we were scrounging and killing for the things we take for granted in everyday life.
TB: Considering which character you played, you must not have had much contact with other actors, right?
MKW: All my scenes were with Viggo and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is an amazing young man-- he’ll be doing huge things once this movie gets out.
TB: Do you think it's even possible for a filmed version of this story to live up to the book?
MKW: There’s a lot of graphic stuff that you’ll see; to read and imagine it is better, but to actually see those things portrayed with actors and human faces is going to be pretty dark and pretty scary. Within the ugliness, like cannibalism and all that craziness, you see all these levels of humanity. You can't kill the human spirit! No matter what happens, that will to love and be compassionate is ever there in the darkness.
TB: Did you meet Cormac McCarthy?
MKW: No, he wasn’t there the days I worked. He was very much involved though, in fact one day he had notes for me.
TB: Wow, you got notes from Cormac Mccarthy?
MKW: Yes I did! Via the director of course, but yes, I had notes from him on how he saw the character.
TB: It must be weird to appear in an adaptation, knowing that if you ever go back and read the book again, that’s YOU in there.
MKW: I especially got that feeling from The Road. Right after I was cast, Tyson Beckford and I were hanging out in a club, and this young lady and I started talking. We talked about The Wire and so forth, and then she asked me, “So what’s new?” And honestly I hadn’t read the book yet, so I said, “This Cormac McCarthy book called The Road, actually.” And she went “OH MY GOD!”—you know, her voice went up in pitch. And then she asked what role I’d be playing-- I guess she assumed I’d be one of the road-gang members, right? But I said, "No, I’ve got this weird thing with Viggo over a shopping cart." And she went fucking ballistic. “No fucking way. You’re cart-man??” So she sat me down and explained what that scene means in the story, and how pivotal that part of the book was to her, and it really opened my eyes. It made me rush to go pick up the book and read it.
TB: When the movie comes out, I wonder if you’ll get notes from her.
MKW: You know something? I would actually welcome that, because of her knowledge of the character in the book. I hadn’t even read the script at that point, but she was dead on. Everything she told me that night at the club was accurate, down to the level of intensity that John [Hillcoat] was telling me he wanted in that scene. So if I ever see her, I’d love to get her opinion on how I did.
TB: Okay, now tell me a little bit about Tell-Tale. What would you like horror fans to know about this film?
MKW: First of all, Josh Lucas is an amazing actor, I really enjoyed watching his work. The Tell-Tale Heart is my favorite of Poe’s stories, and as for writing an adaptation, it’s set in modern times, but the story and the emotion are the exact same.
TB: Fair enough. Is it safe to say you've had a really dark and creepy acting career so far? Why is that?
MKW: It’s definitely a painful place to go, but for some reason I’m drawn to it. I guess I've gotten used to equating my good work with dark traumatic stories, but that’s just where I’m at. It's a cross between what’s out there and what I find interesting. I’ve gotta go with that until I feel something different-- maybe I need to go through a nice funny love story in Hawaii in order to balance things out. [Laughs]
TB: After bedding down with one role for so long on The Wire, is it strange to be in movies and jump from role to role?
MKW: It’s not really weird. I kind of always had that vision for myself, and I knew The Wire would end one day. What’s interesting is that it’s pretty much like starting from scratch again—like you earn credits, but when you go to another school, you have to start at the freshman level at that school. That’s where I’m at now, I’m at the beginning of a new phase of my career, but I’m starting at that level and working my way up, hopefully.
TB: Well if you don’t mind my saying so, if you have to pick a level to start from, that’s a pretty good one.
MKW: Yes, I guess it is!
TB: Is there anything out there that you'd really love to see get adapted or remade into a new film?
MKW: It’s funny you should say that— there’s this old film with James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor called The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. I love that movie, and I'd love to see it get another chance!
TB: That sounds great. You’ve got to get on that!
MKW: Yeah, I guess I do, right?
TB: So do you consider yourself a horror fan?
MKW: I grew up watching horror movies. To this day, I can’t go camping-- I’m a grown man, and I still cannot go camping. I'm fine in the daytime, but when that sun drops and I can’t see my hand in front of my face anymore, that’s a wrap! As I get older, I’ve started to shy away from the bloodier movies. A good murder mystery scares the shit out of me, but I can’t take the gore anymore. When I was growing up, I was scared by like, Jason, and the early Freddy Kruegers-- and those characters scared the living hell out of me. Michael Myers was my all time favorite, though; even the last one they just released, where they showed him as a kid... I thought it was amazing, I flipped! It still frightens the shit out of me.
TB: Yeah, I still have bad dreams about some of those movies, and it seems so ridiculous afterward when I wake up.
MKW: No it doesn’t, man! Those are good old-fashioned horror movies.
TB: So it doesn't bother you that they're remaking all those older horror movies now, like Nightmare on Elm Street?
MKW: Why should a new generation be deprived of all that horror, and years of trauma and nightmares? It shouldn’t be limited to us.