- Name: Michael Kenneth Williams
- DOB: 22 November 1966 (age 48), in Brooklyn, New York City, USA
- Years active: 1995 – present
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Williams began his passion for the arts when he enrolled at the National Black Theatre in New York City. After dropping out to pursue a career in dancing (citing Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 as an influence), he was intermittently homeless for a year.
Williams visited record labels and dance studios during that time, seeking work. His first job in the arts as was a background dancer for Kym Sims’ song Too Blind To See It. This led to more opportunities to perform as a dancer in music videos and tours, as well as modelling. The biggest artists he worked with were George Michael and Madonna.
After a bar fight on his 25th birthday where his face was slashed with a razor blade, Williams is since often characterised by the resulting deep facial scar. It has become his signature, and led to him being offered roles as a “thug” in music video clips.
He made his debut into acting when he was discovered by Tupac Shakur, and was cast in Shakur’s 1995 film Bullet as a henchman to Shakur’s drug kingpin.
Williams has appeared in 76 film and television titles from 1995 to the present. Below are six of his most memorable works:
- The Wire (2002 – 2008)
A character based on the real-life crime figure Donnie Andrews, Williams played the character of Omar Little in what would become the standout role of his career. With the show itself having been described as one of the greatest TV dramas of all-time (The Wire was considered by many to be the best modern drama prior to the arrival of Breaking Bad), so brilliant was Williams’ portrayal that he landed the role in a single audition. Even U.S. President Barack Obama has stated that The Wire is his favourite television program, and Omar his favourite character.
- Gone Baby Gone (2007)
In a career heavily focused on television, Gone Baby Gone is Williams’ sixteenth venture into the world of film. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel (of Shutter Island fame) and directed by Ben Affleck, Williams stars alongside Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris to play a police officer in this film.
- Boardwalk Empire (2010 – 2014)
Second to his role as Omar Little in The Wire, this is another standout role that has brought Williams to the attention of modern audiences. He plays Albert “Chalky” White, the gangster leader of Atlantic City’s black community in the 1920’s, and the acting chops Williams brings to the fore are a true testament to the love he has for this character. The visual style of the show and it’s depiction of historical figures has led to Boardwalk Empire becoming the recipient of forty Emmy Award nominations, and the winner of seventeen.
- 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Based on Solomon Northup’s memoir, this important film retells the true story of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. With Chiwetel Ejiofor playing the lead, his character first meets Williams – another free man also sold into slavery – on a slave ship. Williams has since described his extremely emotional experience portraying a slave as surreal. 12 Years a Slave received widespread critical acclaim, winning a multitude of awards and nominations.
- Inherent Vice (2014)
2014 was a big year for Williams: after finishing off his stint in Boardwalk Empire, he made time to star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film Inherent Vice. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, Williams relishes the role as a member of a Black Panther-style group. As is typical of films directed by Anderson, the film’s charm lies in its lack of absolute coherence.
- The Gambler (2015)
In the role he was born to play, Williams excels as an intimidating loan shark to whom Wahlberg’s character owes a sizable debt. He is quite playful in his portrayal of his gangster persona, demonstrating the humanity of this character from the wrong side of the tracks. Also starring John Goodman, Brie Larson and Jessica Lange, the film hits the casting jackpot. See The Gambler in Australian cinemas February 5.