Michael K. Williams has amassed quite an array of memorable characters over time, most notably as Omar Little on HBO’s The Wire, and his most recent turn as an uprising leader in The Purge: Anarchy is no different. Creating a commanding presence on screen that harkens back to early blaxploitation films of the 70s, Williams brings a hypnotizing intensity to every speech and entrance his character Carmello is granted, making us wish that the rebel leader was more than just a supporting character aiding a background story while Frank Grillo kicks some Purge ass.
Given the chance to talk with Williams in support of The Purge: Anarchy, I made the lengthy trek across Brooklyn to Coney Island for the film’s press day – a day filled with high-energy interviews and worthwhile interactions. Talking specifically to Williams, I had plenty of questions about the places he drew inspiration from when envisioning his interpretation of Carmello, the gigantic tonal shift between The Purge and its sequel, and why the hell there’s no application where I can download Michael K. Williams catch-phrases as ringtones. The best part is, I actually got a legitimate answer about that last question – enjoy!
WGTC: How did you prepare for The Purge: Anarchy? Your character is a rebel leader of sorts, and there are some obvious nods to prominent political figures in history – but who did you draw the most inspiration from?
Michael K. Williams: I drew inspiration form Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and Tupac Shakur. It really came to me, so much of the writing was vivid and alive, I didn’t have to go very far. In my mind, it was always an homage to those three men.
WGTC: Thinking about The Purge itself, which aspect is more horrifying – the rich purgers who basically torture the weak, or the barbaric individuals who roam the streets killing everything in sight?
Michael K. Williams: You know what, no sin is worse or better than the other. Fucked up is fucked up – it is what it is.
WGTC: So I’m assuming you caught DeMonaco’s The Purge before signing onto this role?
Michael K. Williams: Oh yeah!
WGTC: Now The Purge: Anarchy goes into more action genre territory – did you know such a shift was coming and did that play into your decision?
Michael K. Williams: Well I didn’t know there was going to be a Purge 2 let alone that I’d be a part of it [laughs], I saw The Purge when it came out. I walked away from the first one loving the movie, but feeling like it still did not address the elephant in the room, which was all the poor people were the ones being purged – or forced to purge to save their lives. I was like, “Well, what’s up with that??” Then here comes The Purge: Anarchy, and it address all that with my character.
WGTC: So what is it that you wanted to see more of in The Purge: Anarchy? How did you want that aspect to be portrayed in a sequel?
Michael K. Williams: I wanted to see the people who were being purged in the original galvanized. I wanted to see them fight back. I wanted to see them not being so victimized and so deer in headlights. The government said that The Purge was to eradicate crime, but that wasn’t really the case. [My character] Carmello let that be known, and The Purge: Anarchy satisfied all my appetites where The Purge did not.
WGTC: Looking back on your other characters, which one of them would be best suited to fight through The Purge?
Michael K. Williams: [Smiles] Omar – hands down. In his own words, Omar is “a man for the town.”
WGTC: Going back to The Purge: Anarchy, you’re a beacon of hope in this film – a voice of an uprising. How long do you think it takes to establish that kind of power and presence? What does it take to be that kind of leader?
Michael K. Williams: It takes determination, honesty, courage – because he’s putting his life on the line. He could just as easily take his guns and take his small group of people and just hold down a small area, taking out anyone who comes in the area, but he puts himself out there to inform the masses. I think that’s very brave of him.
WGTC: To play Devil’s advocate though, is Carmello not purging in his own way?
Michael K. Williams: Oh absolutely, but he’s keeping 100% as we say, he’s telling you why he’s purging, he’s not hiding behind a lie as to why he’s purging. He’s not preaching about eradicating crime, he’s saying “these mofos are out to kill us, so we’ve got to kill them first! This is what’s really going on!” He’s definitely purging, but he’s not BS-ing people.
WGTC: So let’s take a look at Frank Grillo’s character and how…
Michael K. Williams: Actually, I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I’ve worked with no one because I’m mostly behind a computer. I know nothing – all I know is what Carmello deals with. When we were filming I didn’t really have time to even read the script because I was shooting The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg, so I literally jumped into Carmello head first.
WGTC: So you don’t even know if you saved anyone, or how Carmello ties into the main characters?
Michael K. Williams: Not a clue [laughs]. All I know is the end.