By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Sunday, August 14, 2016
Last month, Decatur native Omari Hardwick visited Atlanta to see family and took some time out to speak to me at the Ritz in Buckhead. He's come a long way in a decade. He's now starring in the third season of Starz' popular drama "Power" as the powerful drug kingpin Ghost trying to get out of the business and be a (relatively) respectable nightclub owner.
Starz, seeing the rising ratings, gave the show a guaranteed two more seasons days after last month's season three debut. Then it moved the show (along with Atlanta-based "Survivor's Remorse") to Sunday night from Saturday, competing with prestigious scripted dramas on AMC, HBO and Showtime.
Hardwick, in other words, is ever rising.
It's been a steady climb for him going back a decade.
I first talked to him in 2006 when he joined the cast of TNT's short-lived EMT series "Saved" where he played second lead to Tom Everett Scott. I spoke to him again when he tried TNT's "Dark Blue," where he again played second lead, this time to Dylan McDermott.
Later, I caught up with him hosting TV One's "Verses and Flow," then on Atlanta-based BET series "Being Mary Jane," where he was the love interest to Mary Jane, the lead character played by Gabrielle Union.
Then came "Power."
Right before that opportunity came along, Hardwick said he had a "spiritual moment of clarity. The wife prayed for me to embrace my dominion and power. We committed to about 30 days of that prayer." Then "Power" came into play. "I originally was hesitant," he said, "because the name was so ostentatious. I had other options. I didn't know if this was the right thing."
But he decided to take the leap. And it's been nothing if not rewarding.
"What I love about the show is its slow build," he said. "This is Shakespeare. This is nothing short of a Greek tragedy." (He studied Shakespeare while at the University of Georgia in the early 1990s.)
And Hardwick finally has some job security. "In 2003, I was living in a car," he said.
As the show's profile has risen, so has his. He was recently featured in the New York Times. "That was another level of awesome," he said. And he's scheduled to make his broadcast late-night TV debut on NBC's "Late Night With Seth Meyers" on August 23.
Hardwick is a bit of a Renaissance Man. He works out heavily to keep his incredibly toned body, featured often in "Power" in scenes that make it clear this is pay cable. During his break between seasons, he is working on a children's book and a poetry album, which includes some singing and rapping.
But he said he has had no problem staying humble. "It's hard to get too big for my britches," he said, using a term that betrays his Southern roots.
His "Power" role has been, by far, the most challenging in his career.
He sees himself playing three characters, a self-described "three-headed monster": the ruthless, confident Ghost, the "respectable" businessman James St. Patrick and the puppy love boyfriend of his teenage love who calls him Jamie.
For the first two seasons, he said he was able to focus on Ghost, the ruthless, decisive pragmatist but he's had to play the other two roles more heavily season three. James, who works in the clubs, is more "aspirational." Jamie is "more narcissistic, more selfish, more addicted to the dominance of this girl he has wanted since he was 15." Switching among the three personas, he said, can be mind-boggling as an actor.
In all, he sees his character has fundamentally "sociopathic," Hardwick said.
Perhaps his ability to change parts stems from his childhood. He lived in Decatur in a heavily black neighborhood. But he also attended Marist where there were seven black students total at the time. But he loved Marist for instilling his love for writing and reading. At UGA, he played football, majored in communications and minored in theater. "I was an oddball," he said, with pride.
Moving to Sundays for "Power," he said, "is a big graduation for us. It's the night of 'The Sopranos.' "
Hardwick, though, likes to take the approach that "Power" is forever the underdog in a crowded field of quality dramas. "Perhaps it's the athlete in me. I want to keep pushing. I want to forget we've sort of accomplished certain feats."
"Power," 9 p.m. Sundays, Starz