Michael K. Williams

The Emmy-nominated actor, who played Omar on HBO’s “The Wire,” talks about how he came into his latest role in the action thriller “SuperFly” with Salon’s D. Watkins. In the film, Williams plays Scatter, the wise mentor of the street game, not unlike the old school teachers he’s played on-screen—Omar, Chalky White in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and Freddie Knight in HBO’s “The Night Of.” “I grew up idolizing brothers like that. I saw a lot of OGs and a lot of potential that got wasted," he said.

No matter the character's circumstances, Williams' strategy is bringing humanity. “All my characters are a sum of all my experiences growing up in Brooklyn,” Williams said. “The main ingredient I bring in is compassion and empathy and the human being aspect… because I grew [up] in the hood, I got to see the other side of those people than how they were made to be depicted on the news in their cases.”

Williams also opens up about another recent role, Leonard, the gay, cowboy hat-wearing Republican he plays in SundanceTV’s series “Hap and Leonard.” “For Leonard, all I saw was a black man who’s been oppressed. A black man who was bucking against tradition,” Williams said. The role speaks to Williams’ greater life’s goal as an actor. “I believe underneath all the prettiness, this nice suit, the nice haircut, and all that shit, I’m a fucking mess inside. I believe we’re all just one big mess underneath. It’s the messiness, it’s the ugliness that I’m most interested in because that’s where, hopefully through my work, I can give somebody freedom.”

Watch the full episode above to hear about the project that’s near and dear to Williams, which he calls “my message to young people from my heart.” His VICE documentary on HBO “Raised in the System” explores America’s prisons through the lens of the systemic problems within the juvenile system’s school to prison pipeline. Tune in for SalonTV's live shows, "Salon Talks" and "Salon Stage", daily at noon ET / 9 a.m. PT and 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT, streaming live on Salon, Facebook and Periscope.

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