Photography by Mr Blair Getz Mezibov | Styling by Mr Jason Rider
Words by Ms Hermione Hoby
Consummate professional that he is, and despite the presence of his less-than-perfectly-behaved miniature Pincher puppies, Mr Williams' shoot is wrapped up hours before anyone anticipates. Having enjoyed a career as a dancer and model before he became an actor, the 44-year-old and self-described "Brooklyn boy made good" is perfectly at ease in front of the lens. After gracing music videos for the likes of Madonna and Boy George in the 1990s, his break-out acting role came with the acclaimed television series The Wire. He lured legions of fans with his portrayal of Mr Omar Little, the principled, if morally ambiguous stick-up man, who is generally thought of as the series' most compelling character. More recently, Mr Williams has been lighting up screens alongside Mr Steve Buscemi and Ms Paz de la Huerta in the Emmy-nominated prohibition drama Boardwalk Empire in which he plays Mr Chalky White, the unofficial mayor of Atlantic City's black community.
If you had to dress as either Mr Omar Little or Mr Chalky White for the rest of your life who would you chose?
Omar's clothes are a lot more comfortable but man, do I feel better in Chalky White's!
He's a little more stylish?
He's a lot more stylish. If I could say I have something in common with Chalky it would be his flair for style. There's a lot that goes on behind fashion, whereas style and swagger come not from what's in vogue or in season, but what's in my season. For a black man to be dressing like that and acting like that in 1920 is really major - he's ready to pop, and from the colours he's decided to wear, you know he's not afraid. It says character, it says courage and it says self-respect, and I like that. I endeavour to have those qualities, too.
How much does what you wear matter to you?
Clothes are very important to me; they're an extension of where I'm at mentally. If I'm getting dressed for an event it's a process - the right music has to be playing and whatever I put on has to make me feel like the event I'm going to. For instance, when I got dressed for the season two premiere of Boardwalk Empire
I was wearing Ralph Lauren Black Label
and playing the new Jay-Z and Kanye West album, Watch the Throne
. One song that I kept playing over and over was "Made in America" because I felt like I'd made it in America.
Do you find your sense of style changing with the characters you play?
has opened up my palette; I have a wider scope on what it is that I like now. I wore a bow tie to church last Sunday, for example, and I just bought a Burberry
overcoat as a birthday present to myself. I like the effect it's had on my sense of style; I feel like a grown man when I put those types of clothes on.
The clothes in Boardwalk Empire must really help you get into character?
Absolutely. And the detail that the costume designers have paid to the wardrobe is just incredible. There are things you don't even see, like the men's socks: they didn't have elastic then so men had to wear garters. And collars weren't already on the shirt, you had to button the collar on - a lot of work goes into it. I love the process - when you tug the last tug of the bow tie and the jacket is on, you're no longer the person you were before you stepped into those pants.
What did it feel like to hear President Obama say The Wire was his favourite show and Mr Little his favourite character?
Boy, did my head get big that day! It made me want to stand up a little more straight and pay attention, so I went and campaigned for him. I said, "This man's calling my name from his mouth - I should take the time to learn who he is and what he's about." And I fell in love with him and he made me pay more attention to politics.
Have you ever met him?
Yes, at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He goes, "Where's Omar at? That's my man!" and he came and got me, and, as my mother put it, gave me the homeboy handshake and hugged me. I knew I was meeting the future president of the United States so it was just overwhelming.
I understand it was seeing Ms Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation 1814" video that got you started as a performer?
Correct. The minute I saw that video I quit school, quit my job, and went on a quest to find Janet Jackson. I always wanted to be part of something but I felt like an outsider growing up - I wasn't cool enough to be down with the cool guys. In the video you've got this nappy-headed, big-lipped kid running around lost in this dark, damp warehouse and that was what my life felt like, trying to get out of the projects.
And your scar seems to have actually helped your career, right?
It did, it got me noticed. Tupac, bless his soul, had seen my picture and thought I looked thugged-out enough to play his little brother. He had them scour the streets of New York until they found me and then I was cast in Bullet, my first acting break.
You've just joined the NBC comedy TV show Community, which centres on a group of students in Colorado. How are you finding that?
Man, those guys are dope. Seeing them work as a team the way they do is incredible to watch. It's an awesome cast and they were very gentle with me. Anybody can make you cry but it takes a pro to make you laugh.
Boardwalk Empire shows on Sky Atlantic in the UK, Wednesdays at 10:30pm GMT