Can Michael Kenneth Williams bring ODB back to life?
Like his indelible character Omar Little, Michael Kenneth Williams “don’t scare.”
The 45-year-old actor, who taught the world to run with the wolves in HBO’s The Wire, has kept his gangster-dom alive as Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire, and now aims to broaden his scope in entertainment with the release of Snow On Tha Bluff, an independent film he executive-produced about a ravaged Atlanta ghetto. Additionally, he recently announced news he will portray the late rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard on the big screen, marking the first major lead role of his film career.
“I’m game for anything,” Williams told theGrio.“I’m not one of those actors who worries about getting typecast; I don’t plug into that. I enjoy the roles I’ve been called to play…I love Omar. I love Chalky. I’m in love with opportunity of portraying ODB.”
While Wu-Tang Clan’s most sensational affiliate may seem like a break from Williams’ typically brooding characters, the star suggests the real story behind the hip-hop act (born Russell Jones) will come as a surprise to even the most devoted fans of The Wu.
“The irony of it, ODB is right in the vein of what I’m used to doing,” Williams observes. “I thought what I saw was what I got, but that was just one dimension. In actuality, that was a public persona. He had many faces. He was extremely intelligent and there was also a darker side. Drugs were a part of it, but not all of it. He dealt with a lot of different things, business-wise, family-wise. His life at home was nothing like what you saw, and that’s the side I want to explore and show.”
Still in development, the film, titled Dirty White Boy, will chronicle the final years of ODB’s life. To prepare, Williams has been spending time with the rapper’s mother – he calls her “Miss Cherry” – exploring parts of ODB’s existence, including his classic rock and R&B music collections, and his extensive library of books.
Notes Williams, “He liked astrology, a lot of history. He studied a lot of American history, and wanted full working knowledge of who and what he was to the Native American community…I will be reading key books to get the knowledge that shaped the way he spoke to people.”
Williams was also intrigued by ODB’s connection to the Godbody culture, a sect of Islam and black empowerment movement, which seeks freedom of the mind.
“In the larger public eye, he came across as being ‘clownish,’ if you will, but he was a very smart man,” he observes. “If you got to talk to him, you realized he came from a calculated place.”
Though various reports have stated some of ODB’s counterparts in the Wu-Tang Clan were against the idea, Williams insists he wouldn’t have accepted the role without the blessing of ODB’s mother and RZA, the group’s leader. As far as the others are concerned, Williams’ feeling is that, because the movie is not about the group, it would be ideal to have everyone’s support, but beyond his control.
Yet there is one “iconic” scene towards the end of the picture, reliving the group’s last performance as a whole, which he aims to replicate authentically.
“I’m personally hoping they won’t cast any actors in that, barring me of course, and just get all hands on deck to recreate that moment with the original members,” Williams comments. “I haven’t spoken to them. We’ll let the dust settle and see what happens.”