Over six years, Omari Hardwick embraced his deliciously complex role as James “Ghost” St. Patrick in Starz’s popular drama “Power," which ended its six-year run just before the pandemic began.
But what to do next? The Decatur native and University of Georgia graduate decided to focus on film. And the success of “Power” enabled him to nab a leading role in the upcoming thriller “Spell,” which is out in theaters and video on demand Oct. 30.
He plays Marquis, a successful lawyer happily married with two teenagers, who finds out his long-estranged father has died in West Virginia. Marquis knows how to fly planes, and as his own private pilot, he grudgingly flies back to his home state to attend the funeral but gets diverted when lightning hits his plane and he crashes in Appalachia.
Marquis awakens in the attic bed of a mysterious older Black couple. He is being taken care of by Eloise, played with a disconcerting combination of sweet matronly kindness and subtle menace by veteran actress Loretta Devine (“Waiting to Exhale,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Boston Public”). Worse yet, Eloise claims they found only him in the plane wreckage. There was no sign of his family. And, the couple doesn’t have a phone. Eloise doesn’t believe in such things.
The early scenes in the attic deliberately evoke the 1990 psychological thriller film “Misery." (The law firm Marquis works at includes the name Sheldon, a subtle nod to the film since that is the last name of James Caan’s trapped author character.)
Injured and drugged, Marquis tries to make sense of what is going on. Eloise explains that she’s using a Boogity, a hoodoo figurine made from his own skin and blood to help guide him back to health. He finds out the couple is into the same dark magic that his late father followed. He has to come to terms with the harrowing past he had run away from while plotting a way to escape and save his family before Eloise and others use them for fodder in a spooky ritual sacrifice.
“Omari is a movie star in the proper sense of the term,” said Mark Tonderai, the British “Spell” director who has directed several episodes of TV shows, such as the CW’s “Black Lightning” and Fox’s “The Passage,” both of which were shot in metro Atlanta. “He’s totally committed to his craft. He works incredibly hard. Whenever we yelled ‘Action!' he would go there."
Hardwick’s acting journey has been a long one, with success first coming in his mid-30s when he landed a co-starring role in the short-lived TNT cop series “Dark Blue” with Dylan McDermott. After notable parts in the Whitney Houston film “Sparkle” and BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” he landed the plum “Power” position.
As the character Ghost in 63 harrowing episodes, he juggled life as a violent man with criminal ties, a respectable entrepreneur and a family man, or as Hardwick likes to call his character, “a three-headed monster.”
“Power” may have given him the power to helm a movie, but at 46 years old, he still feels humble that he is where he is. “It’s a real eye-opener to be the leading man in a Paramount big-studio film,” he said. “There’s a level of trust, and it’s readily apparent people want me to be seen in that place where the focus is on you 60%, if not 80%, of the movie. You know you are the dark horse being bet on. It’s kind of nice in that regard.”
While portraying Ghost in “Power” was mentally difficult, he said playing Marquis was more intense and grueling. He spent eight weeks shooting in Cape Town, South Africa, scrambling along rooftops and furtively hustling around farm grounds in relentless humidity and heat.
“I’m a robot,” he said, citing the mindset he took on when playing competitive high school and college football. “But it was beating me up.”
Credit: Kelly Walsh
Credit: Kelly Walsh
In this case, he said he tried to capture Tom Hanks' feelings of isolation and loss in “Cast Away.”
Indeed, Hardwick calls himself a Method actor, meaning he stays in character even when the cameras are off. “I was more Method than I’ve ever been over eight weeks,” he said.
But he also followed the advice of actor Don Cheadle: never be apart from family more than three weeks. So, he brought his wife, Jae, and two young children to South Africa with him.
He said it was a challenge to be a relaxed dad to them during shooting but did have Saturdays off to focus on his family: “My kids know papa is in character, but they’d rather have me in character than not be with me at all."
Tonderai, whose mom practiced juju in Zimbabwe, said he wanted the film to feel authentic and read several books about hoodoo, which blends Christian and traditional African elements.
“I knew going into this that I’d be more susceptible to its power and belief system,” Tonderai said. “I wanted to treat it with real respect and dignity, not something to laugh at. It’s something people practiced and came through slaves having to hide practices from their masters using whatever tools available be it blood, sweat, hair, whatever.”
Eloise — who was the town’s healer — tries to convince Marquis that she is on his side, but he intrinsically knows he’s being manipulated. Hardwick, who has worked with Devine in Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” admired her ability to delve into such a dark character, even if that hasn’t been her calling card as an actress up until now. “She’s a legend, and I’m not at all,” he said.
Devine herself said working with Hardwick was easy: “He’s always on point. And he looked super fine with his shirt off!”
And she justified Eloise treating Marquis so poorly: “He thinks he’s better than everybody else. She wanted to bring him into reality and open up that rage he has kept inside of him.”
Before filming began last year, Tonderai gave both Devine and Hardwick dossiers on the topic of hoodoo. Eloise’s boogity voodoo doll, Hardwick said, is a “puppet and she is the puppeteer. Anything she does to the boogity happens to the victim or entrapped. I happen to be the victim and man entrapped.”
Credit: Publicity still
Credit: Publicity still
No matter how many films he does going forward, Hardwick is aware his role in “Power” will be a defining moment in his career, one that will stay with him for many years to come. And he’s fine with the fact Ghost died because he felt he deserved to die from a creative standpoint.
He did wish his character had a little more time on earth to spend with the many antagonists arrayed against him, including his son Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.), who is now the focus of the current Starz series “Power Book II: Ghost.”
But his character’s name lives on in the title of the show, and his presence haunts his family members and friends even in death.
“I’m forced to have to embrace what I was to it," Hardwick said. “I’m no longer on the mountain with them. But I helped structure the mountain.”
HOW TO WATCH
In local movie theaters starting Oct. 30.
On video on demand on Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, DirecTV, Vudu, Xfinity, FandangoNOW, and more.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.