How Michael K. Williams Made Omar Little His Own on ‘The Wire’

The first time the casting director Alexa Fogel noticed the actor Michael Ok. Wiliams, he was auditioning for a small position within the HBO drama “Oz.” He didn’t get the half.

But his picture caught along with her. And years later, when she started casting a brand new HBO present, “The Wire,” she discovered herself considering of him, recalling the actor with the lengthy scar operating down his face, the remnants of a razor blade assault. She had made a word of it.

“He made an impression,” Fogel as soon as advised me. “I knew I wanted to see him again.”

Fogel had Williams in thoughts to play Omar Little, a personality that David Simon and Ed Burns, the present’s creators, had conceived of as a composite of a number of real-life stickup artists inside Baltimore’s felony underbelly. At first they envisioned Omar as a robber of robbers, a personality who would have a six- or seven-episode arc and would then rapidly meet his demise.

Burns, a longtime Baltimore murder detective, initially questioned whether or not Williams was up for the position after watching him awkwardly deal with a prop shotgun. Williams as soon as confessed to me that he had felt intimidated by all the nice actors on the present, and generally questioned if he might maintain his personal amongst them.

HBO executives initially requested for the scene introducing Williams as Omar to be minimize. To them, it appeared irrelevant to the present’s higher arc. But the scene stayed in, and Williams, who died at 54 on Monday, gave a efficiency that helped make Omar one of the memorable characters on a present that was filled with them, presenting his huge array of complexities and contradictions.

He ended up showing in all 5 seasons.

Williams did maintain his personal, and managed to face out in an ensemble present filled with breakout performances by actors together with Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, Wendell Pierce and Dominic West. Omar advanced into certainly one of tv’s most dynamic characters — former President Barack Obama as soon as referred to as him his favourite — constructed from the life that Williams breathed into him.

Omar carried a sawed-off shotgun the way in which others may carry a pockets and maintained a dying, but unyielding, code — he might strike worry whereas fetching cereal in his bathrobe. (His beloved Honey Nut Cheerios, after all.) But the character had depths: He accompanied his grandmother to church, possessed an enviable data of Greek mythology and will outwit a seasoned lawyer on the stand.

And Williams, who might deftly toggle between light tenderness and steely menace from scene to scene, gave his strains authenticity and depth, making certain that a few of Omar Little’s catchphrases would enter the pop-culture canon.

“You come at the king, you best not miss.”

“All in the game, yo. All in the game.”

“A man got to have a code.”

It was Williams who learn the scripts and picked up the refined clues that hinted at Omar’s homosexuality, and who determined that it mustn’t stay a subtext or hidden element of his character.

“They kept writing,” Williams advised me. “I knew that dude was gay. All they kept doing: Omar rubs the boy’s lips. Omar rubs the boy’s hair. Omar holds the boy’s hand.”

In one first-season scene, Williams and Michael Kevin Darnall, who performed certainly one of Omar’s early stickup companions and love curiosity, determined that the 2 ought to share an unscripted passionate kiss.

It caught the director off guard. But the scene stayed in, including a brand new layer of complexity and realism to an early 2000s present that was initially centered on pitting cops in opposition to drug sellers. And it match seamlessly into “The Wire,” and Omar’s story.

Williams additionally put his stamp on “The Wire” in one other method: He found Felicia (Snoop) Pearson at a Baltimore nightclub, introduced her to the set and insisted the present discover a position for her.

Pearson had by no means acted earlier than. Her character — a ruthless foot soldier — shared her actual title. And her capacity to depict a killer with a indifferent character as soon as led the horror author Stephen King to explain her as “perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series.”

Finding Pearson, and altering the trajectory of her life, Williams later advised me, was one of the fulfilling issues he ever did on “The Wire.”

“When I looked at her, I instantly knew that she was the quintessential Baltimore,” he stated.

Williams introduced the identical degree of depth and expansiveness to lots of his subsequent characters. Most not too long ago, he acquired his fifth Emmy nomination for his position as Montrose Freeman, a conflicted patriarch in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”

But it was Omar Little who supplied Williams together with his breakthrough, and it could be the position that he might be greatest remembered for. Williams handled private habit all through his life, even all through his time on “The Wire.”

(What follows might be a spoiler for many who have by no means watched “The Wire.”)

Omar was at all times destined to die in “The Wire.” The character’s rising reputation by no means altered that trajectory.

Williams was pragmatic about taping his remaining scene.

“No one wants to talk about the elephant in the room, which in my opinion, was no one wanted to deal with the reality that it felt like mourning a fictitious character,” Williams later advised me. “I don’t think no one was able to go there that day.”

On Monday, his colleagues on “The Wire,” who had been a close-knit group on and off the set, discovered themselves mourning the true Williams.

Jonathan Abrams, a sports activities reporter for The New York Times, is the writer of “All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire,” an oral historical past of the collection.