Michael K. Williams on Playing Stand-Up Dudes

From The Wire's Omar to Boardwalk Empire's Chalky, he's played dark characters with high morals.

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MKW: The thing I wanted people to come away with is not to see an angry black man. I wanted you to see a black man not fighting for his due, not feeling like anything is owed to him per se. I want you to see a black man who's taken some bumps and some bruises but has seen some hardships, but made a promise that no one is going to take advantage of him ever in life. He set up a better way of life for his children; all men share that. I don't want people to look at Chalky like, oh that's a black man's plight. Anybody who's been oppressed, anybody who's had issues coming to America making their way can look at Chalky and say, I like that dude, he's a stand-up dude. He's like an American underdog, who speaks to all men.

I always tell people between Chalky and Omar: Omar was into the thrill of the hunt, whereas Chalky will always recognize a good business opportunity … get a come-up for himself. But they're both very loyal. And both march to a moral code.

Editor's note: A previous version of this interview said Boardwalk Empire is in its second season. This is the show's third season. We regret the error.

Brett Johnson is The Root's associate editor.

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