Omari Hardwick’s Making Poetry in “I Will Follow” (Interview)
Last week I had a chance to speak with Omari Hardwick who portrays the character of Troy in I Will Follow. You may remember Mr. Hardwick from last year’s highly debated For Colored Girls adaptation as well as his many film and television roles; including a supporting part in the hit movie Kick Ass and the lead role in TNT‘s former cop series, Dark Blue.
We had a candid discussion on what drew him to this touching story, his thoughts on female directors, cinematic poetry and the politics of industry awards and race in Hollywood. It was a thought-provoking half hour, I learned a lot through Omari’s words on cinema-craft as well as what it takes to make it in the film industry.
On what drew him to “I Will Follow”
Hearing this, it’s not hard to see why DuVernay’s film appealed to him; with Omari’s Theater background, his love for the stage has extended to co-founding the Theater group, Plan B.
And yet Mr. Hardwick’s interest in the material was not only due to its stage-like appeal. It was the poet inside him who absorbed the words and their “poetic” flow; he saw the role as a quiet departure from the characters he had become accustomed to playing on television and the big screen.
Finding vulnerability while portraying Troy.
And it seemed the stars were aligned for Omari on this project. Shortly before production began, he injured his ankle in a motorcycle accident. For many actors, this would have been seen as a major setback but not in his case. For Hardwick it proved to be an asset; he worked with DuVernay to incorporate his injury into the story. He mentioned how some of the more physically demanding actions were done away with or altered–in some some cases improvised; such as the swing scene between Troy and Maye. As for his co-star Salli (Maye), he took the opportunity to “maximize her and minimize himself.” In doing this, it lent another layer of vulnerability to his character.
To delve deeper into that idea, I asked him if it was liberating to take on Troy after portraying so many tough/hardened types in the past? Omari stated that it was:
And his on screen chemistry with Salli…
As for what many have said of his chemistry on screen with co-star Salli-Richardson-Whitfield, Omari stated that in the beginning it was awkward for him. He said:
However, if that was the case, those who have seen the film hardly noticed–which seems to be a testament to how well the two played off each other.
On women directors and their way of filmmaking.
My time with Omari was dwindling and I really wanted to address a curious comment he made about working with Ava. He stated:
In his opinion, men have less sensitivity with it comes to filmmaking and when you compare Ava’s writing and directing in I Will Follow to what’s coming out of male-dominated Hollywood today, that point is emphasized. To Hardwick, aside from the independent circuit, mainstream cinema seems to be getting worst. He stated that, “There’s less intimacy in films.”
This of course led me to ask if he had ever worked with other female directors before and if so, who? He answered:
On Tyler Perry, the public and the press.
We talked about how last year he starred in quite the controversial film, For Colored Girls . I mentioned how it was highly commented on both positively and negatively here at Shadow and Act and elsewhere. I asked him what it was like working with Tyler Perry and how he handled the reactions that came from critics and the public following the film’s release? Omari answer to that was:
He also drew an interesting comparison to Michael Vick; one I can only allude to meaning that there is more that defines a person than a single act and whether that should forever define them. Maybe I’m completely wrong on what he meant but our time was coming to a close and I wasn’t able to expand on it as much as I would have liked. However, Omari went on to express that Tyler Perry expects the controversy when making certain types of film. And yet, he admitted that it does get frustrating at times. He said…
He went on to say that:
Omari on industry awards and race in Hollywood.
Coming off last month’s Academy Award’s presentation, I asked Omari about the industry and these types of ceremony’s; I wanted to know whether in his opinion they were/are still relevant—especially when it comes to people of color? He expressed that he honors those whom have received recognition through these various committees; he mentioned Hattie McDaniel, Denzel Washington and others that have been awarded by the Academy for their work but he also said that there are politics behind it; Omari feels that, for actors, the key is to continue to do the work it takes to succeed and plan out the career you would like to have. If you’re able to keep your integrity in the projects you choose to do, the validation of mainstream Hollywood won’t be as much of a focus.
To explore that topic more, I asked him whether if in his own experiences he’s faced certain barriers in Hollywood, due to his race. Omari stated that:
On the future…
To wrap things up, I asked Hardwick what was on the horizon after the premiere of I Will Follow and if he had a special passion project he just had to make in the future?
He stated that yes, considering his background in sports (before becoming an actor he was a professional athlete), he would love to someday play a football character; Michael Vick was brought up a couple of times (so was that a hint as to where his aspirations lie?); he also mentioned an future film project he has in the works in with, Up in the Air star, Vera Farmiga.
All-in-all it was a great conversation that I hope to one day continue with Omari. With having his own production company, theater group, poetry and other acting projects in the works, I’m sure we’ll get another chance to ask the questions some of you are dying to know the answer to, like…
is he single?
I thank Mr. Hardwick for taking the time to speak to Shadow and Act. He was a thoughtful and intelligent man to talk to. Be sure to catch him in I Will Follow, premiering in theaters, March 11th. And coming up Friday, read my interview with Salli Richardson-Whitfield, the film’s star.
Until next time.
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