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Michael K. Williams on Playing Omar on ‘The Wire,’ Discovering Snoop, and How Janet Jackson Changed His Life

Courtesy of HBO

Glory be! HBO’s The Wire returns this Sunday! To kick off Vulture’s wall-to-wall coverage of every media outlet’s favorite TV show, we’ve got an interview with Michael K. Williams, better known to regular viewers as gay, shotgun-toting stickup artist Omar Little. Slightly intimidated but completely excited, Vulture recently sat down to lunch with Williams — he’s actually pretty jovial offscreen — to try and dig out some secrets to The Wire’s final season.

You were a professional dancer and choreographer before you started acting. How did you initially get into dance?
I was always dancing. I came out the womb dancing. But before I became a professional dancer, I was 23 years old, working for Pfizer pharmaceuticals and going to BMCC — a.k.a. the thirteenth grade. I had a very turbulent teenage life — drugs, rehab, all that crap — and that was my way of getting my life together, going to school, getting a job. And then here comes Janet Jackson flashing her ass across the screen, talking about Rhythm Nation — I went crazy. I set off to become a Janet Jackson dancer. I wore the tour jacket, the Doc Marten boots, all that. She inspired the shit out of me.

…at which point you started appearing in dance videos, and now you’re on The Wire. Is the cast a close-knit bunch?
We are family. I think that how we connected and respond to each other as co-workers — I seriously doubt that happens on other shows. Maybe because we were thrust into Baltimore and no one really knew the town, so that kind of brought us closer together. But yeah, I always say I’m not going to, but I cry every fuckin’ season finale — every time a season wraps.

I can’t really imagine Omar crying. Of the actors on the show, who’s the most similar to his or her character?
Felicia Pearson [who plays Snoop]. She is Baltimore. She’ll put a bullet through your eyes no quicker than you can bat ’em. But she’ll come in here, smile, and light up the whole room. She has the heart and the spirit of an angel.

I read that you discovered her — how did that happen?
We met in a local bar in Baltimore; she had just come home from prison [for attempted murder]. And, man, I just had this feeling. Something told me to get in on her life — God told me to be a part of her life. I was like, “Jesus Christ, they dumped you on the streets of Baltimore as a little girl to fend for yourself? And you are still alive?!” I was like, “Baby girl, whatever you want, if I can help you get it, you gon’ get it.”

Do you think The Wire’s helped to shed light on the darker side of Baltimore?
What I really hope the show’s done is struck a chord with all the hoods in all the cities of this country. Because, really, what The Wire is, is an American story, an American social problem. There’s a Wire in every fuckin’ city.

I hear that Season Five is even more intense than the last one. How would you describe the new season?
It’s really dark and explosive. Everyone’s off the hook; no one trusts anyone. Everyone questions the way things are operating on the street level, in the police department, in the newsroom. Like McNulty, he’s way off the hook this year. He’s doing things that are totally outrageous, questioning authority, and trying to find the truth. He goes way off the deep end this year.

Can we expect any big surprises to come our way?
Oh yeah, a lot of big surprises. My hint towards that question is to keep your eyes on the children. Watch those kids. They’re gonna really take it to another level this year. But all I can really say is, brace yourself.
—Joe Colly

Related: Jamie Hector on Playing Marlo on ‘The Wire’ — and Keeping Secrets About ‘Heroes’

Earlier: David Simon Deification: A Season-by-Season History

Michael K. Williams on Playing Omar on ‘The Wire,’ Discovering Snoop, and How Janet Jackson Changed His Life