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'The Wire' star still killing the game

By Gavin Godfrey, CNN
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Thu June 14, 2012
Actor Michael Kenneth Williams is taking on a new role: executive producer.
Actor Michael Kenneth Williams is taking on a new role: executive producer.
  • Michael Kenneth Williams is stepping behind the camera as producer of a new film
  • He is best known for his iconic portrayal of Omar Little on "The Wire"
  • His new project, "Snow on tha Bluff," is " 'The Blair Witch Project' meets the hood"
  • Williams will next appear as rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard in a forthcoming film

(CNN) -- Despite what his past and current on-screen personas might suggest, in person, actor Michael Kenneth Williams is extremely cordial and not at all criminal-minded.

Williams is probably best known for his role as gay stick-up boy Omar Little on HBO's "The Wire" and currently plays bootlegger Chalky White on "Boardwalk Empire." And while the actor is set to play Wu-Tang Clan member Ol' Dirty Bastard in a forthcoming film about the rapper, Williams is most excited about his new role as an executive producer.

"When I saw this on YouTube, I had no idea what I was watching. I was like, are the feds going to run up in here and ask me what I know?! It was that eerie," the Brooklyn-born Williams said of his latest project, the independent film "Snow on tha Bluff," which will be released on DVD June 19.

In what Williams calls " 'The Blair Witch Project' meets the hood," "Snow on tha Bluff" documents real-life stick-up boy Curtis Snow.

Snow's robberies of rival dealers, gunfights and life in the West Atlanta neighborhood known as "tha Bluff" are all documented via handheld camera footage, leaving viewers to guess what is and isn't real.

Williams caught wind of the film via a trailer that leaked on Twitter. From there, Williams reached out the director, asked to be an executive producer and offered to do what he could to promote the film and tell Snow's story, which he got to know more of when they met in tha Bluff. The film is being released via Williams' new production company, Freedome Productions.

While Snow was quick to get caught up in the hype of Williams' characters, the latter made clear it's not his fictional accounts that deserve credit; it's the real-life people who inspire them. "I said, 'I commend you. I get paid to be you, what you really are,' " Williams said. "He didn't make excuses for who and what he was, and it kind of reminded me in a weird sense of Omar."

Among fans (counted among that group is President Barack Obama), Omar Little has been dubbed the best character on "The Wire" and is the role Williams is probably best known for. Williams also said playing the fearless, drug-dealer-robbing and seemingly invincible Omar actually put him in a dark place.

"Everybody loved Omar. Everybody respected him. I didn't have that growing up. I had issues," Williams admitted. "When I got this unconditional love from everybody and people perceived me as not caring what you thought about me, that felt good even though it was not real. It cost me."

Williams said he also dealt with his own "racism" with "The Wire," especially when the first season with a predominantly black cast was followed with a second season with more white characters. He took his concerns to the show's creator, David Simon.

"I got real bitter and angry," he said of his initial response. "I was like, 'Yo, what's up with that? That's kind of corny.' He was like, 'Trust me, if we would have went right back into the hood in season two, it would have made your world seem so small.' "

After his chat with Simon, Williams said, he realized the show was more of a portrait of America's social breakdown, not just black America. From there, Williams knew he wanted to tell more stories like those in and around West Baltimore, where the "The Wire" was filmed.

Williams does believe race may have played into why neither he nor the show ever won a Primetime Emmy during his five successful seasons.

"I don't think Hollywood was ready to have that many young black actors running around with statues in the town," he said, noting that the lack of a statue can't come close to the career opportunities he's been provided, thanks to the show's success.

With that success has been the ability to help bring awareness to the real people behind "Snow on tha Bluff" and the chance to bring a real human element to the story of Ol' Dirty Bastard in film "Dirty White Boy."

One of the most successful and notorious personalities of the legendary hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan, Ol' Dirty Bastard lived a story of music, drugs and violence, which came to a sad conclusion with the rapper's death from an accidental drug overdose in November 2004.

In his first leading role in a major film, Williams is set to play the iconic artist in the last two years of his life, as seen through the eyes of his manager, Jarred Weisfeld, a former VH1 intern. Like the man himself, the movie about Ol' Dirty Bastard's life has been fodder for debate over everything from the title to the subject matter.

Williams' focus is portraying the truth about the man behind the music.

"He wasn't held up in no crack house. He wasn't on no bender. He died in a recording studio. It was just a very unfortunate accident how he lost his life," said Williams, who did most of his research for the role by spending time with the late rapper's mother.

"She didn't make any excuses for 'Rusty,' as she calls him. But she let you know, when he died, he wasn't on a suicide mission. He was very excited about his future. The things he struggled with personally -- outside of the business -- that could've been anybody. I want people to walk away with an identity to his story."

From Snow to Omar to Ol' Dirty Bastard, Williams believes he has found his calling.

"I feel like I've been given an opportunity to paint people that society would deem as 'the gangster,' 'the thug,' as a human being with raw emotions," he said. "I'm being given chance to be a voice for a people that don't get a voice."