He impresses you like a true renaissance man except without any of the pretense. He is chameleon-like, if you will, when it comes to his transformation into a role. Merely looking at some of his photos you can see how he is able to mutate into character where there are few remnants of his persona left visible. The images alone are riveting.
Michael leads a colorful life. He is no stranger to the hustle and flow of street-life, his telltale scar betrays his turbulent days. Yet he has flawlessly graced the pages of GQ with the poise of a dancer and swagger of gentleman. Early in his career, he choreographed 100% Pure Love for Crystal Waters and modeled a sculpted six pack in Madonna’s Secret.
Most recently, he is the formidable Chalky White on HBO’s Board Walk Empire. He is also appearing as Professor Kane in NBC’s “Community”. Michael considers himself a “Brooklyn Boy Made Good”. I couldn’t agree more. In spite of his notoriety, he manages to stay humbled and grounded. So much so, that you may stumble upon him chilling, nibbling on fries at Mickey D’s as he waits for his flight in a crowded airport.
ARC: The last time we saw each other we bumped into your former cast-mate, Idris Elba. I asked Idris if he knew you when you were a dancer? He looked surprised, smiled and said,”no”. Do you find that people are still surprised to find out you were a dancer and is there a possibility that you would put on your dancing shoes (boots) again for a role?
MKW: LOL! Yeah, people are still shocked when they find out I used to be a dancer. Would I put my shoes back on? Yes, but only for the right role .
ARC: Speaking of Idris, he played Stringer Bell, the character you assassinated while playing Omar Little in The Wire. Is it true that you received death threats for the demise of the beloved Stringer Bell and does that speak to how convincing you were in the role of Omar Little?
MKW: I wouldn’t say I received death threats but I got a lot of hate mail for the Omar killing Stringer scene. I think because [of ] how much these two characters resonated with people and it was such a huge waste of two beautiful minds [as characters].
ARC: You’re from Brooklyn originally. Before gentrification, Bed-ford-Stuyvesant or Bed-Stuy was known as “Bed-Stuy – Do or Die”. Can you relate to that? If so, how much did your street experience contribute to the part of Red in Brooklyn’s Finest?
MKW: Well, I’m from the Vanderveer projects in East Flatbush. My only relationship to Bed-Stuy was to visit my brothers and sisters in LG [Lafayette Gardens Housing Project] or when I went to school at Westinghouse. So I can’t speak to the gentrification there but I can say I know white people live in LG now and downtown BK [Brooklyn] don’t look nothing like it did when I was in school! But, as far as my ‘hood having an influence on the character Red, yes. I mean, me and my moms used to go food shopping at Big Red right there under the L on Livonia Ave in Brownsville.
ARC: In Boardwalk Empire, you personify the role of Chalky White, the de facto mayor of Chicken Bone Beach, a former black community in Atlantic City. Your character is loosely based on the actual boxing champion, Chalky Wright. I think it’s Season 2 Episode 4 , there is a chilling scene where Chalky describes the lynching of his father as he interrogates a Klansman. Can you describe how you were able to deliver the intensity of that scene?
MKW: When I’m getting in character for Chalky, I channel my ancestors. All my dead uncles, my father and my godfather are all in Chalky… especially with my father being from the south, I know I have family members who’ve met their demise at the hands of the Klan; so I speak to and for them and let them speak through me.
ARC: Out of all the characters you have played which one are you most like and why?
MKW: I would say the character I’m most like Is Omar [The Wire] because of his sensitivity an vulnerability