Live By the Code

2.25.2008

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

[Contains spoilers through the February 24 episode of The Wire, "Clarifications."]

In the last five years, Michael Kenneth Williams has built the character of Omar Little from a minor recurring role to the heart of The Wire, HBO's dramatic series about life in Baltimore. Omar was a lone ranger stick-up artist content to rob drug dealers, Robin Hood-style, until his boyfriend was murdered, setting into motion years of vengeance and power plays.

Three episodes before the end of the series, which critics have widely praised as the best show ever made for television, Omar met his end in a corner shop killing at the hands of a young kid. Now the actor behind Bodymore's most feared cowboy tells Out how he fell in love with Omar, what Barack Obama can learn from The Wire and how you move on after playing the role of a lifetime.

Out: Take us through the life of Omar.
Michael Kenneth Williams: The way I see him from the way he started to the way he ended this past Sunday -- I think it should be a testimony to the view of Omar's world. Although it was well-received, it was a very ugly world, a very dark world filled with a lot of pain. We got to watch him grow up a little bit. We got to watch him fall in love, and then toward the end of this last season we got to really see what he's about. In the beginning, he was avenging his first lover's death, and then it became about robbing dudes and making money. Then he fell in love again with Renaldo last season, and he seemed like he was happy. He made that big score and left for Puerto Rico. If they didn't want to bring Omar back this season, I would have been fine, because I was happy that he would have lived to grow old. But then when he came back to Baltimore, we got to see what he wanted from Marlo and them. He didn't want to rob them. He didn't want to have no big shoot outs and stuff. He wanted Marlo to come out into the street, put his guns down, and have an old fashioned fight. We just really got to see what that OG code was about. I think that was his legacy.

What has been the legacy for you?
It meant a lot to me that the gay community felt I did the character justice. It meant just as much to me that when I went home to my hood in Brooklyn that my dudes, my people felt like, 'Hey Michael, you're looking good.' It meant just as much that the gay community received Omar and respected him and loved him just as much. I've got nothing but love and admiration.

Even before his death, it was so heartbreaking to watch Omar literally hobbled, limping down the street and begging for a challenge that he clearly wasn't going to get.
It was like back in those old Westerns -- 'Showdown at Noon,' no gang members, no tricks up the sleeve. Just take it back to the old school. He was the last of a dying breed, and that's what that really represented. It was ironic that he did get killed by the younger generation, because that's what it's about -- the next generation and where they're at and where they stand and how cheap life is to them. I hope that the viewers and the fans of the show -- especially the youth -- really walk away with a clear view of Omar's life as nothing to want to aspire to be like. I think we all fell in love with him, because he was honest, he was open, he made no excuses, no apologies for who or what he was. And he told you where he stood with things, and never crossed those lines for nothing or nobody. But by the same token, those are some really dark situations to have to live with. I hope that's what the kids walk away with -- knowing that we don't need no more Omars. Let's mourn his kind, put him to rest, and let's try and fix what's wrong in our communities so that doesn't have to happen again.

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