Interview by Justin Q. Williams
If you walk into any barbershop in a black community, you can guarantee yourself 3 arguments. Who is the greatest basketball player ever (even though it’s always a Lebron, Michael, and Kobe conversation)? Who is the best rapper dead or alive, and whether POWER or EMPIRE is the best show on television? These debates are never based on facts, but a complete perspective of the arguing parties. That said, the scale of the barbershop is typically always favoring POWER due to the personification of one man…Omari Hardwick.
Omari’s character James St.Patrick aka “Ghost”, on the hit STARZ show POWER, embodies the dream of many men that watch the show. He’s successful businessman with the money, cars, and clothes, has 3 beautiful children and a wife, and his best friend is like his brother. The twist is that he’s a drug dealer, the love of his life is his mistress, and one of his closest friends from the past is trying to kill him. Ghost is trying to get out of the game but continuously pulled back into the grip of the underworld by the same people whom he is trying to give an honest life. Now it’s a hell of a storyline that will keep you entertained for many nights.
Seated on a plush wall sofa in the lounge of the W Hotel in Atlanta, is Omari. He has a bottle of Gentleman Jack Double Mellowed Tennessee Whiskey cracked open with a few ounces drowning the square ice-cubes in his cup. He’s relaxed and dressed relaxed because he has a long night of talking his way. He’s in town for The Real to Reel short film contest and local film screening tour, presented by Gentleman Jack. You can’t help but see “Ghost” seated beside you. Not being able to separate the character from the person is the sign of an amazing actor. Nonetheless, the person that we spoke to is soo far from Ghost and soo much closer to James St. Patrick.
“It’s me,” Omari laughs as he takes a sip from his cup. James Saint Patrick crossing into Omari is okay,” Omari laughs as he sips his drink and sits up in his chair. “I got a deal with Real to Reel and Gentleman Jack because of a “James Saint Patrick” within Omari, the business savvy, and the ability to carry and present myself in a way that grandpop and pop and several other people that an important in my life have aided me in presenting myself. ‘GHOST’ intermingling with Omari is a problem and it’s also impossible for him not to. I’m shooting the show (POWER) for seven months and there’s a four-year-old and a two-year-old at home. It’s hard. I deal with it (coming out of character) with the punching bag down in the gymnasium. That helps. The gymnasium and the punching bag in the gymnasium. This year it’s music. Pouring my THAT into the music.”
Growing up in Decatur, Georgia, sports were a huge part of Omari Latif Hardwick’s world, but early on he knew he had a passion for the arts. When arriving in his teenage years, Hardwick was writing poetry on a regular basis, a passion he would carry with him into adulthood. The Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network is a multi-faceted, after-school spoken word poetry program available free to students actively attending Broward County public high schools, middle schools, and select elementary schools. Because when we use our words, we are less likely to use other vices to express our emotions. The understanding of the importance that poetry played in his life, gave him the motivation to give that same outlet to others. Ultimately, it may be one of the most rewarding projects on his resume.
“I felt as accomplished as I felt on anything I’ve ever done. I learned very early how cathartic it was for me to be a poet. I don’t think there are a lot of artists on Earth that aren’t angry. We have our own level of anger from whatever comes from whether it be environmental, whether it be familial I had enough anger to put food on my table eventually as an actor and as an artist so poetry did so much for me by the age of 13 years old that I felt a kinship to those that were perhaps lost and shutout and lonely and a little confused when they were around the same age. is pretty amazing to create The Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network and use the tools of similes and metaphor in creating a template called poem to clean out the closet of all of these broken kids who came out of broken homes. so the attempt of course is to graduate it from South Florida and come back here to Decatur, into Baltimore, to New Orleans, to Chicago in different places to where we see environments very similar to what I grew up in, in Decatur in southeast Atlanta as well as what the kids are going through in Broward County and the likes. That was very big for me. Particularly in being an athlete. Because sometimes Athletes aren’t promoted by culture to get stuff out verbally you’re just promoted to get stuff out physically.”
Omari had a moment when he needed that outlet. On a vacation with his wife to The Cayman Islands, she casually asked him if he went to the meeting about the new project. To his surprise she remembered while he completely forgot about it) and after a few moments of shock that his Public Relations wife remembered his meetings, he told her that he hadn’t. His mindset when leaving for vacation wasn’t on any meeting with anyone about a show. Omari had his focus on another controversial role that was being played out in the face of America. It was on his “Little Black Boy Wonder.”
“Maybe it was a tough day,” Omari thinks to himself. “I’m very much an activist at spirit and the Trayvon verdict of (George) Zimmerman getting off for the crime was the same day that was initially meet for POWER and I was doing the PSA called ‘Little Black Boy Wonder’ because I just had to get it out and I used these actors David Oyelowo, Eric LaSalle, Bill Duke, Marlon Wayans, to just get it out. To get out this thing that I wanted to get off of my chest that we’re little black boy wonders we’re getting pegged off as we go. So you want me to meet for a show when I’m already not great at embracing, at that moment of my life, whatever Denzell embraced 20 years prior, the last on trying to do was to meet for the show I just want to focus on this kid that was shot and verdict that came out releasing the man back into society who shot him who we all think should be locked up.”
Being locked up is how Omari felt after working on the hit BET show Being Mary Jane (which his wife pushed him to do.) Ultimately, he was happy when his season was over and he ran from the project. It’s really the sex symbol aspect of the show’s character that he ran from. In his view, the “fairer gender” as he refers to women, can get caught up in particulars. That said, he didn’t necessarily see himself as the deep poet who happens to know how to act. Therefore, when the audience see his character and they’re saying “Can I see that scene with he and Gabby(Gabrielle Union) again. Nature nor Nurture taught Omari to embrace that part of himself. His wife taught him that in order to get to the tops of the ladder, he would have to embrace a sex symbol. After getting to that point, he now had the obstacle of now embracing being the powerful symbol of James St.Patrick. (Pun intended).
“We were en route to the Cayman Islands and was at a layover in Houston and she said, “did you go to the meeting for that one show?” Omari reflects with a laugh. “I didn’t even know she remembered I had a meeting for it… I thought about it for two maybe three minutes. And I said ‘I can’t believe you thought that.’ In a route back, I learned from my manager that the show wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer. So, I always give her credit for it because she said: “you really have to start embracing your power.” It wasn’t until a year later that the word that she asked me to embrace in a prayer for 45 days, is the name of the show and I haven’t gone back after that. I’ve embraced fully after that. Curtis (50 Cent) got on me about it and said ‘from here out don’t go backward’ so I’m trying.”
Going backward is completely not an option. While in pursuit of his acting career, Omari was doing odd jobs as a security guard and a substitute teacher. He was able to get into acting classes but wasn’t able to make the ends meet on a consistent basis. He saw a big break with a project with Spike Lee and he turned down a paramedic opportunity and chased his dreams. Unfortunately, that path in the maze of success was a turnaround. He ended up homeless and living in his car. He showered at the gym that he attended. He parked his car on the same lot that he ended up filming a project on later down the line. At the time, he was coaching and mentoring Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington as a football player at Campbell Hall in Beverly Hills, California. When the Washingtons found out his circumstances they offered him exactly what he needed… A Roof. Sure, while Denzel could have called any producer in the industry and asked them to give Omari a shot, he kept business and personal very separate. He would go on to give Omari advice and Paulette made sure that Omari’s car was paid off. When he landed his first major gig, he repaid them all that they had invested in him. It was a moment of triumph for Omari. How does one stay focused when it feels like everything is being turned upside down?
“I’m competitive,” Omari says confidently. “Not competitive enough to grab my moxie and say I want to be number one on the call sheet but such a competitor. I’m a Capricorn, I don’t know how to come down from the mountain once I start I’m on it. It’s always hard for athletes to give up. Which is counterintuitive to be that diligent but look over to the right and see a platinum character and say “Nah I’m cool on that” but keep going up the mountain. But going up the mountain is embracing the character. I’ve got issues and so does ‘Ghost’. I definitely wasn’t awesome at embracing my power, (pun intended) I hid from that for very long time but I was definitely okay with embracing how well I saw life and how clear I saw it and I think, all in all, even the characters that now embrace that are on shows called and embracing that word, my power in the industry, my platforms, the big microphones that are being thrust into my face and asking a poignant question, I think they’re imbued in characters that everyone is into because the mix of a poet meets an athlete, meets a kid who grew up in Decatur but went to high school in northwest Atlanta, that being Peachtree, but went back to snap finger in Decatur I got such a weird sort of dichotomous life that into a character, I don’t know if an acting class can teach that.”
Omari grew up in a very loving and nurturing environment. Being the middle child of 3, he was probably one of the coolest kids in the house. Or at least in his mind. His environment and the family he grew up in, negative and positive, he was this 11-year-old who would say he was definitely going on 35 years of age on a Wednesday and would tend to be 4-years-old the following week, and 55 years old the following week. Being very much a kid at heart, but really being an old person in the mind and seeing a lot of life really well in a prophetic way, Omari was nicknamed ‘Chilly’ by his maternal grandfather. He paid homage to his grandfathers in a song called “Chilly Boots” on his album Later in Decatur.
“I wrote a song recently that’s on the album called chilly boots is definitely useful in the sense that the hook,” Omari explains “For example, the refrain is one grandpop called me chilly and the other gave me boots. and what it really speaks to is the fact that I wanted cowboy boots growing up (said with a reflective squint) I did and my mother and father weren’t necessarily broke, I think they’re probably could get them, they just didn’t get them that year. but my grandfather got them and from that moment on, to ask if each other have what each other need, we symbolically made “boots” having what you need. So the song speaks to never figuring out why he (my mom’s pops) called me “Chili” and why pops pops gave me boots. I say the conclusion is, I was born cool enough to walk some truth.”
Knowing the kind of intelligent and impressionable kid he was, Omari wants to make sure that he also provides some entertainment for his children that is considered age appropriate. Character after character, he has taken a role and created someone who we either love to love or love to hate him. He gives us hope just as much as resentment. If you ask my brother, while binge-watching POWER, he’s seen Omari’s ass more than his own. With all of that said, it’s hard to think of him as a father. We sometimes forget that actors have private and personal lives. While most women who have seen him in a film or on a show consider him to be the sex symbol, his little girl may be his biggest fan. Even though she isn’t watching him on a hit STARZ series, when daddy comes through the door, he is not “Ghost”…or is he?
“Before (our daughter)Nova had a memory, which I guess it pre-3 years old, we had not sold the LA house and called New York “the steady home” so there were definitely moments where I hearing she was screaming out ghost,” Omari laughs. “I think Jay (his wife) was allowing her to watch the intro. but who doesn’t want to watch the intro? it might be one of Curtis’s greatest songs of all time. so she knows Big Rich Town and Uncle 50 left to right and recite it verbatim. But at this point, No. But, I think that thankfully power is allowing me to sort of now have opportunities to do things that they can watch. I can’t wait to get into animation and voiceovers and those things will be great. But I’ve done independent films such as the Christmas Blessing with Russ Parr, who is now director. Journalist turned director who was at the top of the game as a journalist and is now doing an incredible job as a director. But when he did Christmas Blessing I was able to have the whole family go and watch it and it was a great movie that was definitely kids are able to gather around to watch at every Christmas. Now they can’t really watch Ghost, I mean hell, 16-year-olds shouldn’t be watching ghost, but they’re watching it.”