The Hollywood industry and the Black community have suffered a hugeloss after the passing of Michael K. Williams. The Emmy-nominated actor left behind a legacy of work over the years stretching from television to films. Even though he is gone, Williams has proven time and again that he has incredible range as an actor with his many memorable roles. With so much of his work in his name, we picked some that made him stand out as one of the most prolific actors of our generation.
Michael K. Williams became a household name after his performance as a hitman and thief Omar Little in the HBO series The Wire. He became a fan-favorite character throughout the series’ run playing a morally corrupt character who has shades of personality to him whether he comes off as a dangerous individual but also can be witty with his sense of humor. He has many dimensions to his character, which makes him an intriguing individual to watch on screen. Williams has mentioned how much of a delight it was playing the character, saying in an interview that viewers enjoy Omar because of his righteousness, lack of desire, personality, and his moral code.
HBO continued its relationship with Williams when he took on the role of notorious gangster Albert “Chalky” White in the period drama Boardwalk Empire. Taking place during the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, Chalky served as a partner to Steve Buscemi’s character Nucky Thompson in his criminal activities. Similar to his other character in The Wire, Williams got to tackle another character with different shades as he helped Nucky with his criminal empire while also helping out his Black community. We also see the family life he has while living his double life. Williams gained some accolades alongside the cast, showcasing more of what Williams can do on the small screen.
Williams made the transition from TV to film when he starred opposite Queen Latifah in the biopic, Bessie. In the TV feature, Williams played Jack Gee, Bessie’s husband. This was the second time the actor got to play in a different time period like in Boardwalk Empire. We got to see a different side to Williams's acting potential as he played the greedy and dangerous figure in Bessie’s life. His performance earned him an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the character, cementing Williams as one of the most destructive and powerful performances in his career.
The Night Of
Williams brings crime to a whole other level when he was cast as Rikers Island inmate Freddy Knight in the miniseries The Night Of. For his character, we see the effects that prison has made him become, as other inmates fear him. However, he does take a liking to the main character Naz, played by Emmy winner Riz Ahmed. We see the relationship between these two men unfold as Naz learns the ins and outs of prison as Freddy becomes more of a mentor to him. Williams’ performance helped earned him another Emmy nomination, further demonstrating how well Williams can bring out different dimensions to every character he plays.
When They See Us
Moving from one platform to another, Williams tackled his next role as a father in Netflix’s original miniseries When They See Us. This was among Williams’ most powerful performances as he brought in a different character playing a concerned father who tries to tell his son who gets accused of a crime to confess even though he hasn’t done it. Based on the Central Park jogger case, viewers got to see firsthand how it has impacted the lives of five Black men and their families after what transpired as one of New York’s most notorious cases in the 21st Century. Seeing Williams take on the difficult task of a parent was incredible and shows how mature he has grown as an actor. Acting among his peers shows how much he has changed for this generation.
In what is Williams’ final performance on television, he takes on another period piece that also delves into the horror genre in Lovecraft Country. Adapted from the book by Matt Ruff, the series blended 1950s America with the famous horror stories by H.P. Lovecraft. This is Williams’ second time getting to play a father on screen, portraying one who is more hard-headed than his previous roles with some secrets of his own. Much of the series revolved around his disappearance as his son tries to uncover what happened to him while also seeing how much of a toll it has put on their relationship. We get to see the trauma and anger that his character goes through passing it on to his son. He also makes an acceptance of his own sexual identity during the series. Despite this being his final performance in his lifetime, Williams truly found a way to stand out with his vulnerability and understanding of the character he plays.
This article was written by TANTV Entertainment Journalist, Mufsin Mahbub. Follow him on Twitter @MufsinM.