The “passion” of Williams’s performance is what persuaded them to keep him on.
“He gave us an astounding gift — an act of faith from a magnificent actor who could have played his hand very differently,” Simon recently wrote of Williams. “Television usually chases its audience — if they love them some Omar, you feed them more Omar. … Never mind story and theme. Instead, Mike bent his beautiful mind to a task that even the best writers and show runners often avoid. He thought about the whole story, the whole of the work.”
But Williams left behind a legacy that went far beyond Omar. He more recently brought his thoughtful approach to series such as “Boardwalk Empire” and “Lovecraft Country,” the latter of which earned him his fifth Emmy nomination earlier this year. While presenting the outstanding supporting actor category at Sunday’s Emmy Awards, Kerry Washington paid tribute to Williams, describing him as a “brilliantly talented actor and a generous human being who has left us far too soon.” Though “The Crown’s” Tobias Menzies ultimately took home the award, he dedicated his win to Williams.
The late actor was open about how the line between him and Omar “got blurred” as the show went on, and expressed several years ago that he felt unworthy of the role during filming. In a New York Times profile of Williams from 2017, Simon recalled him showing up to the “Wire” set high but said they chose not to fire him because “we worried that if he lost the work he’d become truly untethered.”
Williams found the support he needed at the time and began to speak publicly about addiction to encourage others to stop using. He was honest, revealing in the Times interview that he relapsed while shooting the brutal HBO miniseries “The Night Of” in 2016.
“Addiction doesn’t go away,” he said. “It’s an everyday struggle for me, but I’m fighting.”