There aren’t many actors as busy as Michael Kenneth Williams. Probably still best known as Omar on HBO’s classic “The Wire,” these days he’s all over the place: Playing Leonard Pine, opposite James Purefoy, in SundanceTV’s “Hap and Leonard”; as Ken Jones in the ABC limited series “When We Rise,” about the gay rights movement; or as Freddy Knight in HBO’s “The Night Of,” playing a Rikers inmate who befriends Naz (Riz Ahmed).
All of those roles are Emmy-eligible. But possibly the most personal work Williams has done recently wasn’t an acting gig at all. On Viceland’s “Black Market,” the actor served as a real-world journalist – entering the dangerous world of illicit trade, such as gambling underworld in New York, car thieves in New Jersey and gun runners in the south.
“‘Black Market’ definitely left an emotional void in me,'” Williams said. “I met so many bright spirits and so many broken people, so many people I wish I had the resources to help them on their quest. I struggled with that for a long while after we wrapped that show.”
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IndieWire’s TURN IT ON sat down with Williams to discuss all of those shows, along with what he has coming up next (including the “Han Solo” movie). Listen below!
Williams said “Black Market” was a whole new challenge for him. “I had no clue of what this world was,” he said. “I come from knowing my lines and the perfect scene, and none of those tools worked in the ‘Black Market’ world. I had to let go of all of that and be Mike. Mike is not the most educated person in the world. When I let that go, that fear of looking ignorant in this world, I got to learn.”
If the subjects of his interviews had anything in common, it was a desire to get out of this illicit lifestyle, Williams said. “If I came in there with some sort of magic wand and offered them a better way of life, they all would have taken it without batting an eyelash,” he said. “None of them were happy with their way of life, none of them were proud of it.”
The experience inspired Williams in creating a non-profit organization, among other things. He’s also working on a documentary for HBO as well.
It’s unlikely there will be a second season of “Black Market,” however. “[Viceland creative director] Spike Jonze and I have decided we’re not going to put ‘Black Market’ into a cookie cutter format. If something else moves us as producers of that show to move forward we’ll go with it. Right now Spike and I and people at Viceland working on a ton of new projects, some that fall under the umbrella and some that don’t.”
As for his other shows, Williams seems much less sanguine about a second season of “The Night Of”: “I think it’s good just the way it is,” he said. “What I would rather see done is to see us as a society tackle the issues in real life.” And as for “Hap and Leonard,” which he calls “a nice, stable job,” Williams hears that Season 3 will deal with the Ku Klux Klan.
On the film side, Williams just shot his role for the young Han Solo “Star Wars” movie – but under previous directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, so it’s unclear how (or if) that will change. And he’s next off to South Africa to film “Red Sea Diving Resort,” a true story based on Ethiopian Jewish refugees, along with Chris Evans and Sir Ben Kingsley.
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now in TV – no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.