Omari Hardwick as Ghost in the Starz series Power 
Starz

In the last two years, former NFL hopeful Omari Hardwick’s Hollywood backup plan has been going especially well. He’s made a huge impact, from playing Mary Jane’s married lover on BET’s Being Mary Jane to starring as lead character Ghost on Starz’s Power. The Root caught up with Hardwick in his hometown of Atlanta to talk about showing skin, the women who have helped mold his career and the two women in Ghost’s life.

The Root: Black women have been central to your career.

Omari Hardwick: The first job I got in the business [as a TV series regular] was from a woman, a black woman. I worked with Darnell Martin [director-writer of I Like It Like That and Cadillac Records] on my first TV turn. I went out for Saved to be a crystal meth addict and was only supposed to be in the pilot. [But] I played [series regular John “Sack” Hallon], a paramedic who was an ex-ball player, [who on] the call sheet read [as a] “6 foot 3, redhead, John Goodman type.” [But] Darnell Martin said, “No, he needs to be the John Goodman, 6-foot-3 character.”

Ava DuVernay found me, and I worked with her twice [in I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere]. [Being Mary Jane creator] Mara [Brock Akil], I knew before all those women I named, but we just couldn’t figure out when and how to work together … and then, finally, when Sparkle came along, she and Salim, her husband, called and said, “You’re going to do this, no ifs, ands or buts.”

TR: So, with Mara, how did Being Mary Jane happen?

OH: After Whitney [Houston, who starred in Sparkle] passed away, she came at me about Being Mary Jane, and I was really not necessarily wanting to do it because I felt the character was kind of just meat. When you think about it, they didn’t really have the guy at a job. Seemingly he had a job, but we didn’t see him in his workplace, and as a man, you want to do something as an actor that is about work, that’s about actually doing something. I didn’t feel like he was, but she convinced me that [Andre Daniels] would be an interesting character, and with me playing him and [her] creating the project, we could do something good.

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TR: In Being Mary Jane and Power, you’ve shown more skin than you’ve ever shown in your entire career. In Power, you’ve probably done more sex scenes in one season than people do in entire careers. Has that been more comfortable because of the women being at the helm?

OH: It became not comfortable for Being Mary Jane. I started talking to Mara. For me, because I am so brave—I mean, I’ve played homosexual characters, I’ve done a lot of things that a lot of black actors haven’t really done, and I’ve done it with no apologies. The sex scenes are not a problem, but it is if there’s not a story to the sex scenes. I think [Power creator] Courtney [Kemp Agboh] has done a great job with Power.

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What was happening with Being Mary Jane [is it wasn’t being] juxtaposed or leveraged with showing me at least in the workplace [to] show at least the value of a man. There was nothing I could play with enough [to justify] how much shirt was coming off. So I felt the female fan base, at times, was just locking in on that. And it was very nice and comforting when a woman would say, “No, I saw the journey of Andre in Being Mary Jane. I didn’t just see sex.” That was comforting for me because I started feeling like that’s all [the female fans] were into.

TR: So what’s the difference on Power?

OH: Well, he’s a million things, so you just can’t focus on the fact that he is in sex scenes. So it’s easier to do those because, as much as there’s a story to my character pulling out a gun, there’s [also] a story to my character having sex. He’s in a dual relationship. He’s in a wife relationship, he’s in a mistress relationship, so taking off my clothes in that is easier because he’s so freaking complex.

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TR: How do you see the women in Ghost’s life?

OH: I see both as strong. With Tasha (Naturi Naughton), it is [a] ride-or-die nature; it is her ability to hide a gun in her purse; it’s her ability to be Bonnie to somebody’s Clyde, and that takes a level of strength. Tasha can cut with her mouth.

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Angela (Lela Loren) [cuts] with her brain. Hers is a lot more cerebral, but it’s also street. I think the way I decided to play Ghost was to play this guy that sent a representative to Angela reminding her of what we were, which was Angie and Jamie. But at times, I don’t mind Ghost’s voice reminding her that you’re still an Angie from the block.

And with Naturi’s Tasha, he’s simply saddened. I don’t even know if “frustrated” is the word. He’s saddened that she can’t see, after being so ride or die, what [Angela] can see, which is more of what Ghost really wants to be. He loves them both, [but] he can’t figure out how to love them together.

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Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.