Omari Hardwick isn’t a household name yet, but he’s working on it. The local born actor has been in the business since 2001, but the movie roles were small and the series cancelled. Nearly a decade later he caught the eye of Spike Lee who cast him as Commander Huggs in Miracle at St. Anna and things started to change. Since 2010, Hardwick has been in several blockbusters including The A-Team, Kick-Ass, For Colored Girls, and a leading role in Ava DuVernay’s award-winning film, Middle of Nowhere. Hardwick has a recurring role on BET’s “Being Mary Jane” as the fidelity-challenged Andre Daniels but he takes center stage in rapper 50 Cent’s new crime drama “Power,” premiering this weekend on the Starz Network. In the series, Hardwick plays James “Ghost” St. Patrick, a smart and street-savvy drug boss with aspirations that go far beyond the streets he came from. Hardwick recently stopped by the Creative Loafing office with his on-screen wife, portrayed by Naturi Naughton (Notorious, Lottery Ticket), to talk about the new series and growing up in Atlanta. “Power” premieres Sat., June 7, at 9 p.m. on Starz.
There’s more to your ‘Ghost’ than meets the eye. How would you describe your character?
Omari Hardwick: Using that moniker, he is kind of a ghost. He’s “phantomly,” [he] comes and goes. I think a person who has a bountiful box of stuff is actually successful at making you think there’s nothing there.
He’s very good at hiding. He loves his wife and finds it very difficult to hide from her because she’s the same woman who aided him in becoming the person we know him as on paper: a drug dealer. The [story] behind Ghost is that he wants to leave drug dealership and not be somebody that’s seen as your basic Frank Lucas character of sorts who made his way out of nothing. At best he’s everything he dreamed of being that Tasha is holding him back from. At worst he was simply a knucklehead. He’s a bright knucklehead whose figured out how to make New York City his and the rest of the country his with the club thing.
Tasha is really interesting considering who her husband is. Its fascinating to see her duality – she’s strong but very insecure.
Naturi Naughton: I think that Tasha is very complex; she’s multidimensional. She’s got lots of parts to her. It’s what Courtney Agboh, our show runner and writer, created. Yes, Tasha is strong, but I enjoy playing characters … like Lil’ Kim [Notorious], where I get to dig into the vulnerability of these women that are seemingly so put together but really, in the case of Tasha, really insecure. Tasha is really trying to prove something in this stable, secure, fantastic life. So her vulnerability comes into play when she’s afraid. Tasha’s fear is the key to what makes her weak and vulnerable. When she’s afraid, she’s very insecure. I had to research what it’s really like to be the wife of a powerful man. Like J[ay-Z] and Bey[once], the Bonnie and Clyde aspect is something else I wanted to bring into Ghost and Tasha’s relationship. Tasha has an arc of realizing she put so much stock in building up Ghost and his drug empire that she forgot to put stock in herself. I think that’s what makes her so interesting and one of the elements I was excited to play. She’s not all strong, which she seems to be, but very much afraid and still a little girl at times.
So Courtney must have given you a lot of flexibility to develop your own characters.
OH: It’s hard to come in when they hire you [to] flip fries [laughs]. They are basically saying that’s what you’re great at so it’s hard to not bring pieces of yourself to the character. There are moments when the average-to-good actor is never too many adjectives away from the character they’re portraying. They figure out what parts of themselves to bring to the table and what parts not to.
There’s good chemistry I see between you. Tell me about how that translates to Ghost and Tasha on set.
NN: The good thing I feel is that we knew each other and had a friendship before we embarked on this “Power” project, which was challenging at times. We had very challenging schedules and very challenging scenes. There’s a sexual aspect and passion that is very awkward for the brother-sister friendship that we already had. The chemistry as a married couple that come across in this show between Ghost and Tasha is pretty amazing. You’ll see that our chemistry is so real – we love each other. You know that they’ll ride or die for each other. Even though Tasha is a little younger, she helped him build this empire. They are partners, they ‘re not just husband and wife. At the end of the day, when people watch, you may not always see the beauty of their marriage but you will see the real. The chemistry between that whole family dynamic is real too. It’s not just about Ghost being a drug dealer and a club owner.
So talk to me about the nudity in this show.
OH: I’m going grab my cord and beat you for asking this question [laughs]! I think the physicality is the only way to get to the story.
NN: I get this a lot from the female perspective because nudity is something people get a little uncomfortable about and its awkward and I’ve done it before….
OH: … it’s cultural.
So we’re not as European as we like to believe, I suppose.
NN: Trust me, I was nervous about seeing myself that way but I will say the nudity in the show has purpose and supports who these people are.
Okay, back to the sunnier side of things. Talk to be about growing up in Decatur.
OH: It was walks in the neighborhood in the hot of the night to get Now and Laters, and candy they don’t sell no more. And it was ducking Down By Law, which was our Crips and Bloods. It was church on Sunday at New Birth’s first church, which I don’t remember what it is now. What’s great about Atlanta was we have trees so we used to play cops and robbers in the woods. It was priceless to grow up in Decatur at that time. The irony is the “Dec”, “East Pernt” [East Point], College Park, SWATS [Southwest Atlanta] to where we are now [Downtown], is the part of Atlanta I miss now. The complexion and the culture of Atlanta is like a little L.A. now. So growing up in Decatur, in a nutshell, is when I close my eyes and I hear great music and [see] cookouts where I smell good food, and knowing what streets not to go down [laughs] and “Atlanta Jams” [at Club XS on Moreland Ave.]. I can’t replace it, I hold on to it very dearly.
As a native, when people come to Atlanta, where do you recommend they go?
OH: I always tell them to go to a Braves game. I feel that the Hawks are so different from the team I grew up with when Dominique [Wilkins] and Doc [Rivers] played. I tell them to go to [Café] Intermezzo, and don’t forget Waffle House and Krispy Kreme.