Roughness Part 2 — Character and the Genius of Michael K. Williams

Michael K. Williams.  Image via .

Michael K. Williams.  Image via


Those lucky enough to have seen the series The Wire will never forget the character Omar, brought to life by the brilliant Michael K. Williams

Omar stood outside of the cops-and-robbers dynamic of the main storyline because he robbed drug dealers.  His alliances shifted constantly, and the sense that he lived by a strict, if unorthodox, moral code of his own allowed his character to lay bare the sham moralities of the everyone else on the landscape, as he does in the following scene.

In a cast filled with some of the most talented character actors of a generation, Williams stood out for various reasons—the restraint of his portrayal and the truth of his performance (likely informed by his youth on the streets of East Flatbush), a surprising combination of warmth, humor, and cold-blooded clarity. 

He might also be recognized by the low, resonant rasp of his voice and the scar that slices down his beautiful face.  Though show-biz culture might reduce such traits either to disqualifiers (“I can’t cast anyone with a scar”) or the be-all of his on-screen presence (“Get me the guy with the scar!”), for Williams, these traits are merely elements of who he is as an actor.  His work neither dwells on nor eschews these traits; they are elements of his physical beauty and the larger truth of his artistry.  His acting thus exemplifies what a creator in any medium might aim to produce—work that accommodates one's whole self.  This is how Williams creates characters who feel complete and thus more lifelike.

And pulling back the lens, The Wire at large felt whole, more alive, because viewers felt they had seen all of the story.  The heroes of the show, Omar among them, were not the shallow, airbrushed fantasies of the street found on lesser dramas.  The intersection of their rough edges and beauty revealed something profound, something that felt complete and alive.  The truth is never the whole truth without all of its surprising detail.

Thank you for reading.