Michael K. Williams at 'The Gambler' press conference in New York City.

Michael K. Williams at ‘The Gambler’ press conference in New York City.

*Michael K. Williams, discovered by Tupac, is one of Hollywood’s hottest properties. So much so, that he didn’t  even have to read for his role in “The Gambler” with Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jessica Lang, and Alvin Ing.

His character, Omar Little, in “The Wire” is one of President Barack Obama’s favorites. In the award winning, critically acclaimed HBO “Boardwalk Empire” series, Williams plays Chalky White. Williams also  has an extensive big screen repertoire, that includes one of this year’s best films, “Kill the Messenger.”

In an exclusive interview at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City, Williams [wearing a “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt] talked about “The Gambler” and many other things that concern the current state of affairs.

Can you break down the new changes in “The Gambler,” especially one change in particular?

My role and Mr. Lee’s show more diversity. My character, Neville, is a businessman. He’s someone who has made a good life for himself in the underground world of Los Angeles, but he’s at a crossroads and tired of the BS. He does his job but he’s guarded. Then, here comes Jim (Wahlberg), who allows him to drop his guard and kind of restore hope to him. Another difference with this film is that the original version deals with gambling as an addiction. That’s not the case here. Our version is about escapism

Any particular message you want audiences to walk away with?

I love Neville’s last line: ‘A man can change his sh*t.’ It’s about not getting caught up in the rat race of material trappings and trying to obtain the spoils of what a seemingly good life can bring you because none of that stuff truly makes you happy.

You talked about addiction at the press conference earlier. But at a junket several weeks ago Ben Vereen said, ‘The thing about addiction is that it’s a choice in life. We can choose.’

See, when you’re dealing with addiction, for me, you do have the choice to walk away from the drug, the drink, the plate of food, the department store, the casino, the sexual antics. You have the choice to walk away from those things but what I’ve learned is that when you’re dealing with addiction, the work begins. You ever heard the term dry drunk? Just because you put the drink down doesn’t mean you’re healthy mentally. You can still be just as screwed up as you was. Some people prefer them when they’re drinking because they’re miserable sober.

So the work begins when you walk away from the thing that you were using as a distraction from doing the real work, which is working on one’s self. Addiction is the inability to deal with life on life’s terms. It has nothing to do with the drug of your choice. You’re self-medicating at that point.

You’re putting a band-aid on the gun wound. Once you admit to yourself that you are powerless and letting it control you, then the real work begins, which is working on oneself, learning about self and adapting skills and tools that you need to deal with life on life’s terms. Just because you put the drink or drug down, doesn’t mean sh*t ain’t gonna happen. Life still shows up. But regular people, normal people don’t drink themselves into a stupor. Don’t overdose on heroin or go on cocaine binges because they got divorced or because their spouse or a loved one died. Whatever life throws at you, normal people take it, deal with it and you move on. Addicts will self medicate if they can’t deal. That’s what addiction, what I found addiction to be about.

(L-R) Mark Wahlberg and Michael K. Williams in 'The Gambler'

(L-R) Mark Wahlberg and Michael K. Williams in ‘The Gambler’

Your T-shirt is very apropos, you’re in ‘12 Years a Slave,’ SONY execs denigrate a black president—which speak volumes about some PR firms and studios that marginalize black moviegoers—so why are we still dealing with this despicable issue of racism?

Because humanity has left the building. Humanity and mutual respect have left the building. Those things and communication must be restored. Those three things have to be restored especially when you’re dealing with the police and the community. It just doesn’t stop there for me. I want to see my children stop dying on the street. I don’t care who is pulling the trigger. I don’t care if Rayshawn up the block in building 3, on the sixth floor [becomes agitated and raises his voice] killed him. I don’t care if the police killed him. I don’t care if a drunk driver killed him. I just want my kids to stop dying on the streets.

And it’s going to take humanity, respect and communication. We have to restore those three things. We have to start talking to each other, speaking up for ourselves, which is the reason why I am wearing this T-shirt. We need to demand, like Aretha Franklin said, ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T.’ We need to demand our respect as a community and I believe we’re doing that now by having all these peaceful protests, marches, rallies and Town Hall meetings because change has got to come.

Can you talk a little about your community organization?

I love my community. I love my ‘hood, I love it. There’s nothing wrong with living in the ‘hood when people are respectful of each other. You know I grew up entirely in that it takes a village to raise a child’ mindset. I like that.  [Imitating women in the community] ‘Miss Brown, can I borrow some sugar. Mama said I could borrow some sugar.’ Or Miss Jones saying, ‘Come over and sit and have something to eat. Your Mama’s at work so you’re eating dinner at my house tonight.’ I miss those days.

And your organization?

The organization is called MKW, which stands for Making Kids Win. Our goal is to build community centers in under serviced communities. Whether it be Compton, South Side, Chicago; Brownsville, Brooklyn, West Baltimore—those are the first locations where I would love to have these community centers built that basically provide a safe haven for youth after school.

What were the circumstances that lead to Tupac being responsible for you becoming an actor?

Tupac—God bless his soul—was shooting a film in New York with Mickey Rourke called ‘Bullet’ and he saw a Polaroid picture of me and he. He thought that I looked, in his words, ‘thugged out’ enough to play his little brother because I had this scar on my face. He had the director scour New York and find me. I auditioned and got the part.

“The Gambler” opens December 25. For more info: www.TheGamblerMovie.com.

Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]


(‘The Gambler’s’ Michael K. Williams Wants the Killing to Stop)