Exclusive: Michael K. Williams Talks The Gambler And Working With Mark WahlbergPosted by Wilson Morales
December 24, 2014
Opening on Christmas Day is director Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler, starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams and Jessica Lange.
In The Gambler, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a risk taker. Both an English professor and a high-stakes gambler, Bennett bets it all when he borrows from a gangster (Michael K. Williams) and offers his own life as collateral. Always one step ahead, Bennett pits his creditor against the operator of a gambling ring (Alvin Ing) and leaves his dysfunctional relationship with his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange) in his wake. He plays both sides, immersing himself in an illicit, underground world while garnering the attention of Frank (John Goodman), a loan shark with a paternal interest in Bennett’s future. As his relationship with a student (Brie Larson) deepens, Bennett must take the ultimate risk for a second chance…
For Williams, it’s been another amazing year for the Brooklyn native, who most audiences will remember from his days as Omar Little on HBO’s acclaimed series, The Wire. Since the series has left the air, Williams has been working steadily in the film business and was featured in last year’s Oscar winning film, 12 Years a Slave. This year alone, he appeared in Robocop, The Purge: Anarchy, Kill The Messenger, Inherent Vice and this film. Next year, Williams will be playing opposite his long time friend Queen Latifah in HBO’s Bessie, based on the famed musician Bessie Smith.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Williams talks about his character in The Gambler and working alongside his friend and mentor Mark Wahlberg.
How would you describe Neville?
Michael K. Williams: I would say that Neville is a businessman. He’s an American capitalistic businessman.
MKW: A number of things. The script was amazing and Neville jumped off the page for me. He had so much swagger, so much style, which was sexy and I was like, “I would love to be this dude.” Last but not least, it was a chance to work with a good friend of mine and my boss and mentor, Mark Wahlberg. On “Boardwalk Empire,” I worked for him, but on this film, I worked with him.
What’s the difference between those distinctions?
MKW: When you are working for someone, they are your boss and there’s certain conversations that you don’t need to have. I wouldn’t go to him and talk to him about my character. He’s the executive producer of my show so I don’t need to talk to him about my scene. He’s my boss, but when I’m working with him on this film, and we’re in the same frame of a scene, a conversation can be had. It deepened our relationship. We talked about character work and what we are going to do in the scene together and be at the table read. It’s a whole different ball game. I’m depending on me as much as he’s depending on me. As my boss on the show, my performance doesn’t have any baring on him per se directly.
MKW: There was a lot of fun at the table read. Two things freaked me out. Mark came to the table read completely off-book. He was rambling off the monologues and speeches like it was nothing. I was like, “I have to step my game up.” I’m sitting there and stumbling through my two lines and the second thing I really enjoyed about the table read was being able to meet the legendary and beautiful Ms. Jessica Lange. I’m a huge fan of her and walked up to her and shook her hand.
Is gambling an addiction?
MKW: Anything can be an addiction if you abuse it. Anything that is done to an excessive point where you are letting take control of you has become an addiction. With the word “gambler,” we’re all gamblers. We all take risks in form or another. If you got up from your bed and left your apartment, and jumped in a cab, you gambled. You gambled and put your life in the hands of someone else. If you got on a plane this morning, you gambled. We take those things for granted but people in their careers, people gambled in their love lives and everyone’s a gambler.
MKW: Yes. Wanting to be free. People looking at Mark’s character as well as mine and thinking that their lives are picture perfect and have nothing to worry about, but if only they knew that wasn’t the case. I know what that feels like. Sometimes I feel trapped in the workings of this business. People look at me like my life is perfect and I might complain or vent that it’s not. People tend to forget that I’m human and there are highs and lows to this like everything else.
How good does it make you feel that you’re consistently working, from the TV show to roles in The Messenger , Inherent Vice and this film?
MKW: It’s a good feeling but I get my joy by how people respond to the work I’ve done. Did I touch someone emotionally? Did I invoke conversations? Did I piss someone off? Those are the things that feed my soul.
This is the biggest role you have had so far, in terms of the number of scenes you’re in. Is this the start of something new?
MKW: Absolutely. I don’t believe in big or small roles. It’s what you do with it. This is the definitely the beginning of another aspect of my career. I’m getting into more film work and working with actors of another level and being recognized for all the hard work I’ve put in. HBO has given such a great platform and given me such great characters to develop and work with. Where else do you go?
MKW: That’s my baby girl. I’ve known her since she was 17 years old. We walked these streets of New York plenty of days and working with her on “Bessie” gave me the same feeling when I worked with Mark on “The Gambler.” I watched them grow and they watched me grow personally and professionally. I’m really proud of that. People from the old block will be saying, “Look at Mike and Dana!”
What’s else if up for you next year?
MKW: I completed a film called “Triple Nine.” John Hillcoat teamed up again after “The Road.” The cast is massive. I’m shooting a miniseries for HBO called “Crime” and it’s written and directed by Steven Zaillian. It has John Turturro and a young amazing actor from London named Riz Ahmed. He’s currently on-screen in “Nightcrawler” with Jake Gyllenhaal . He and I play cellmates on Riker’s Island and it’s basically the breakdown in the judicial system and how people who don’t have money get railroaded when they can’t afford high-powered attorneys.