Before his death, the late actor Michael K. Williams wrote about his role as Omar Little in HBO’s The Wire in his memoir Scenes From My Life, discussing how he prepared heavily for it despite his fears and how he pushed for more intimacy with his character’s lover.
“As for Omar’s homosexuality, it was groundbreaking 20 years ago, and I admit that at first I was scared to play a gay character,” Williams said.
But Williams put in the work to prepare for auditioning for the role on The Wire. In the memoir, he talked about how he did all of his research and training for the part, from what Omar would wear to how he’d hold a gun–he worked to embody Omar.
Amid his preparation, Williams feared how people would view him. He finally found the courage to tell his mother about the role, and she responded in a way he never expected.
“‘Well, baby,’ she said, ‘that’s the life you chose, and I support it.’ She hadn’t embraced the arts or my interest in them, but to me, that was her version of encouragement,” Williams wrote. “I took it for what it was worth. I think my initial fear of Omar’s sexuality came from my upbringing, the community that raised me, and the stubborn stereotypes of gay characters. Once I realized that Omar was non-effeminate, that I didn’t have to talk or walk in a flamboyant way, a lot of that fear drained away. I made Omar my own. He wasn’t written as a type, and I wouldn’t play him as one.”
Williams later addressed in the memoir how he felt The Wire production crew was “dancing around” Omar and lover Brandon (Michael Kevin Darnall).
“There was lots of touching hair and rubbing lips and things like that,” he said. “I felt like if we were going to do this, we should go all in. I think the directors were scared, and I said to one of them, ‘You know gay people f**k, right?”
Williams addressed Darnall about stepping up the intimacy level and doing a kissing scene. Darnall suggested going to the director, Clark Johnson, to see what he thought, but Williams said the element of surprise was better.
“They called us for rehearsal, and the crew was still putting the set together, getting the lights and camera up while we ran through it,” Williams recalled. “When I went in and kissed Michael on the lips, everyone stopped what they were doing and went slack-jawed. Twenty years ago, men—especially men of color— were not kissing on television. I don’t mean it was rare; I mean it did not happen.”
Williams succeeded in his mission in surprising Johnson because he told the two to do it again. Afterward, he called Williams and Darnall “some brave motherf**kers.”
Williams unexpectedly died in 2021 due to combined drug intoxication.
Williams’ willingness to embrace Omar and portray gay love on television was one of the most impactful moments needed to get the gay representation seen on TV shows today. P-Valley is one of the current shows that display gay intimacy the same way other shows and movies would show intimacy with heterosexual couples. And it’s because Williams showed that it was harmless for a straight male to portray a gay character. As previously reported by Sis2Sis, P-Valley actor Alphonse Nicholson is a straight male who was hesitant on playing a gay character (not because of the sexuality but more about the emotional aspect of the character), but he still prepared for the role and excelled.