Omari Hardwick has left us enraptured with his character James “Ghost” St. Patrick on the critically acclaimed Starz series Power. However, the 43-year-old star is much more than just an actor. A writer, musician, and poet at heart, Hardwick recently teamed up with Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack for Real to Reel to help bring rising African-American voices into the spotlight through the medium of film.
Though the contest is now closed, and Hardwick is in the process of choosing a winner, he recently chatted with EBONY.com about the importance of Real to Reel, why this upcoming season of Power is the best one yet, and the state of Black entertainment.
EBONY: Hi, Omari, how are you?
Omari Hardwick: Hey. How are you doing?
EBONY: I’m wonderful, thank you. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
OH: Good, of course.
EBONY: The first thing I wanted to ask you was, how did you get involved with Real to Reel and Gentleman Jack?
OH: I had a friend who I know via the Bluapple Poetry Network that I’m very involved with. It’s a program that I do that involves high school kids. We use poetry to cleanse out their ills and whatever pains they’re dealing with in their lives and whatnot. It’s under Jason Taylor’s foundation, the football great and inductee into the Hall of Fame. Eric Gudger, who volunteers, is very, very close to me and has become more like a dear friend over the years. He came my way and had an idea. I think he’s always seen the bigger picture for me career-wise in terms of branding and opportunities of that nature. He knew I liked whiskey. He just happens to be a whiskey connoisseur, somebody that always partakes, and he said the program that Gentleman Jack was steeped in, as one of the sponsors of the NBA, one that supports education in certain factors, and more specifically artists of color, young artists that are trying to get where I’m at, I guess. He thought that I would be the perfect person for it.
OH: I was all for it.
EBONY: Why is it so important for you personally to continue to make sure that Black stories across the Diaspora are being told in film and on television?
OH: It’s ironic. I was just coming off a couple of conversations, I would say, but one in particular recently was just about where we are as a consumer. It’s so ironic to me a couple of friends were just talking about the fact that there’s not this desire to see some of our artists outside of perhaps the one to two characters maybe that made you famous. Here we are doing all of these independent films and working our butts off because, of course, they’ve coined a moniker in independent films that pertains to us because we’re not necessarily getting the blockbuster movies.
EBONY: It’s still very difficult to get studios on board with Black projects.
OH: Exactly. Let alone paychecks. We’re doing these independent films, and we’re busting our butts to try to make sure that we’re able to educate. A lot of us are definitely not into the perils that come with this industry, even though we face them sometimes, but we’re definitely not equally into the celebrated portion. We just are into the art and want to tell a story. For me, who is always leaning more toward labeling myself an artist prior to labeling myself an actor or a poet. I would just say, in general, I’m an artist; I think it’s just incumbent upon me to help those out that might face the same thing, where they create a fan base, but within that fan base there’s a chapter of folks that are like, “Man, I ain’t trying to check for you in nothing outside of this one thing I like.” I definitely think that they need those opportunities to flex their artistic muscles behind the camera, in front of the camera, as writers in terms of their pen. We just need better stories told. Whether the fans want to see it or not, we as artists have to make them want to see it. I’m always going to champion that and champion people that want to tell good, expansive, dynamic, not run-of-the-mill stories. I’m all about that.
EBONY: Wonderful. We are in this resurgence of Black film and television, like we saw in the ’90s with shows like your series Power, with Insecure, with all these different series that are out right now. Do you think personally, since you’ve been in the industry for 20 years, that this is a fad, or do you think that this is here to stay at this point?
OH: That’s a really good question. I wouldn’t even say faddish, but I would be remiss again if I didn’t say that the fan base that we’re speaking about, they, of course, are looking for things to almost be a fad without knowing that they are. What I mean by that, there’s immediacy; there’s an urgency, there’s a desire to move on to the next quickly. Whether Jay Z put that in a song and we locked to it, on to the next, he didn’t necessarily mean go on to the next if what’s in front of you is of value. You’ve got to soak that in for a while. I don’t think it’s here to go anywhere. I think it’s here to stay for a while, but again, maybe the irony is that it bumps into the previously answered question that you asked me about; really where it’s on us to redefine what quality is. Obviously, everybody’s running for their own best, so it’s arrogant for me to judge it and go, “You’re not the best.” I think after a while what does become there to stay or here to stay is folks redefining what is quality art, and particularly as it pertains to that of what you view. We’ve got reality-based TV shows, and we’ve got some women that are not even necessarily literally wives on shows.
EBONY: [Laughing] You’re so right about that.
OH: I’m not picking on shows. However, if those shows are bookending shows like Power, and one is a fantasy, but even the one fantasy being our show is actually done better and is done more realistically, than how ironic that the show gets titled that of reality is not really that real. That’s odd.
EBONY: That’s very true.
OH: I think the resurgence of the Black art, as it pertains to film and TV and these things, I think it ain’t going nowhere. I think it’s here. I think the resurgence is a good word for it, but hopefully, it’s a surge that just continues to light at a high level and spark new thinkers and new filmmakers and young kids that are 13 years old that figured out how to make an incredible movie on their laptop or on their iPhone, hopefully.
EBONY: I know the Real to Reel contest is now closed. You guys are deliberating about the winner. What did you look for in the films that were submitted?
OH: I would always say just something of a unique voice. I think maybe as a writer naturally, and I know Courtney Kemp is a really gifted, beyond gifted creator. Curtis, that being Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, they’ve often said, “I think Omari at base you’re a writer,” and I think it adds to my ability to assess characters and to break them down differently. Being from Decatur, Ga., and having a foot in street and then being able to go to the White House, all of those things helped, but I think at the end of the day being able to then write what you saw and express what you saw is a big thing. For me, when I’m looking at these films, it’s really whether the writer, which is often the director with these films, whether they’re able to tell six different stories within their six different characters. You don’t want to hear the same voice. I think it starts with that. Then just the director and the film, storywise, taking a unique angle and making you go… . It’s a funky analogy, but Arsenio [Hall] was onto something when he would say, “Things that make you go hmm.” As you said, I’ve been in the industry long enough, so my barometer is decent for being able to see things that are unique enough. We’re looking for a story that’s different and unique. It could be about love. It could be a thriller. It could be something of comedy. It’s just got to stand out. I like funny stuff as much as the next man, but it’s got to be not the typical, run-of-the-mill comedy that we’ve seen before.
EBONY: It has to be poignant, yeah. It has to be different.
OH: Got to be. Something that you can walk away learning something from. Even if you watch a Kevin Hart or an Eddie Murphy or a Richard Pryor stand-up, you still walk away learning something. You’re always looking for something that pushes you forward but entertains you at the same time. Entertainment is definitely key.
EBONY: Speaking of entertainment. I know that Ghost, your character on Power, is going to be in a very different situation in this forthcoming season. What can we expect from Season Four of Power, if you can say anything at this point at all?
OH: Oh my God, it’s craziness. These guys, the world’s definitely insane, and it’s not giving anything away that he’s locked up as we begin Season Four. I would just say that the hashtag that Starz had us put out on the internet the other day, I think that is appropriately stated when we say, “Who’s going to turn?” Ghost hasn’t made amends for what he’s done to his wife, Naturi’s [Naughton] character, Tasha. He hasn’t made amends for what he had done to her, for how he’s hurt her. At this point, obviously, you can expect that he doesn’t care about making amends for the hurt that he’s put on Angela because he’s done all kinds of things, but he hasn’t done, which she’s accusing them of having done. It’s more so that. He’s trying to make amends, or do I make amends, or do I just fight for myself. Is there a level of selfishness that persists in this guy, that we keep seeing the egomaniacal yet doting father? He’s so complex. He’s a loving father, but he’s also an egomaniac. I asked Courtney pre-Season Three, I said, “Is he a sociopath?” She said, “I don’t know if I would label him a sociopath.” I don’t think it’s that level of fabrication or lying or what have you, but the third season, you’ll see why I asked that question. You’ll see. He’s still a killer. I mean that figuratively, as well. Obviously literally he’s killed, but he’s still a killer and not necessarily done the best job of killing the dark, dark demon that’s on his left shoulder. He hasn’t done a great job of killing that demon yet, and the sins of the father, whether you are a believer in the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, what have you, the sins of the father do trickle down. We can expect to see his son being affected by that further. We saw hints of it in Season Three, but in Season Four there’s more of that. There’s more of the cops trying to figure out who set Ghost up. Obviously, he’s set up. There’s more of the attempt to figure that out. There’s more of the strain between the relationship with Ghost and Tommy [Joseph Sikora]. Let’s not forget Tommy is still getting over the loss of his only love in life, and at the hand of himself, so you’re dealing with that. It’s hard to not think that at times he won’t be on the brink of falling off himself at any moment. Again, Tasha holding it down, and Angela [Lela Loren] sticking to her guns. We all know Charlie Murphy joined us this year, God bless his soul and rest in peace, and the incredible Larenz Tate, who is one of my dearest brothers, which is why of course I did the [Love Jones] homage at ABFF Honors, the variety special night.
EBONY: That was incredible!
OH: I appreciate it. Very humbled. Everybody joined it this year. A really nice ship has been created, and the cast members that have joined only add to the ship’s float, but it is to me the best season that we’ve had thus far, and I thought season two was phenomenal. Three was tougher for me because he was Jamie, and it was hard being Jamie for me, because you ask me as a producer, writer, director, you’re asking a guy to play Ghost for two seasons straight, and then all of a sudden you want me to play Jamie. I signed up because of the complexity of the guy, but it was a little different to all of a sudden have to be Jamie. That was Season Three, but four for me was just a rocket ship of fireworks. We thought it was phenomenal.
EBONY: I’m really excited to see it. What’s next for you? I know that you have Power. I know that Real to Reel is going to announce their winner shortly. I also know that you are working with Meagan Good on the forthcoming film A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love On Election Night. What else are you working on that you can talk about?
OH: Yes, absolutely. The film with Meagan, it’s really beautiful. It’s a love story that is built upon the foundation of the election and Donald Trump having won the election. They meet in the club and the rest is history. It’s a 90-minute one-er. This great young director, Qasim Basir, who’s really talented and got a great vision. I definitely am supportive of him and producer Datari Turner. I’m supportive of their vision, and what the vision was simply was to tell a story in one take. It’s one take.
OH: It’s literally 90 minutes, no cuts. It’s a take. One night, one take. That’s the film. You get 90 minutes of it. Then the second film was a big soldier movie that I just came off of that is called Will Gardner. I think it’s headed equally for the film festival world. I think it’ll actually go very far in that world. Then the third film is a thriller that I am doing in July in New York. Then the album, of course. Last summer I didn’t do a movie. I did an album.
EBONY: You’re extremely busy then.
OH: Eric Roberson, one of my EPs leaked it. I have EPs Robert Glasper, Roxie El-Sadiq and then Josiah Bell. Those were my EPs, and I’m an EP as well, obviously. We went in, and we went hard. That’ll come out at some point. I’m trying to figure out the format of how to release that. I think we know. Can’t tell you, but I think we know. Then just being Papa and trying to make sure that Nova and Brave are getting past four and two years of age.
EBONY: That’s a blessing.
EBONY: Thank you so much, Mr. Hardwick. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today.
OH: Of course!
Find out more about Gentlemen Jack and Real to Real here. The fourth season of Power will premiere Sunday, June 25, on Starz.