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The Truth About How Michael K. Williams Got His Scar

Few names in the history of television inspire quite as vivid an image as that of Omar Little. For fans of HBO's iconic crime drama The Wire, that name will no doubt recall stark memories of pursed lips whistling, a flowing duster barely concealing a shotgun, eyes that dole out equal parts unholy menace and tender-hearted empathy, and a barely faded scar running right down the middle of his face. The duster and the attitude were, of course, affectations meant to convey inner city grit and intellect of the character. The scar, however, is as much a part of the man who played Omar as the face that wears it.

That man is actor Michael K. Williams, who portrayed Baltimore's most infamous stick-up man, Omar Little, with soul-searing integrity for five seasons on The Wire. Over that period, William's facial scar became a character-defining trait for Omar, serving as stark representation of a man whose physical and emotional worlds were often sharply divided. In fact, so much has been made of the singular facial feature over the years that Williams felt compelled to explain how he came to be scarred in a 2014 NPR interview. It turns out the scar is a lasting memento from a New York street fight reminiscent of something we might've seen in the series that made the actor famous.

"The dude wiped his hand across his mouth and ... smacked me. What he did was, he spit a razor. He was positioning the razor in his mouth to get it between his middle finger and ring finger. And then he swiped me down my face. The cut on my face was actually the first hit of the fight, so we managed to escape with our lives, barely, that night"  

That scar actually helped Michael K. Williams get his big break in showbiz

Williams was lucky he didn't lose an eye in the exchange, or suffer an even worse fate. The brutal encounter did, however, leave him permanently scarred from his forehead to his right cheek. What might've been a career-ending injury for the aspiring actor, however, ultimately separated him from the pack. Almost overnight, Michael K. Williams went from booking gigs as a backup dancer in music videos to booking speaking roles in high-profile projects.

"Things changed immediately after that. Directors didn't want me just to dance in videos anymore. They wanted me to act out these thug rolls. They were like, 'Mike, roll these dice in this video! Have this fight in this video!' I was like, 'All right!'"

Williams was even hand-picked by hip-hop star Tupac Shakur to play a key role in the late rapper-slash-actor's 1996 crime drama Bullet. Williams parlayed that job into an appearance in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead, and even landed a one-off gig on The Sopranos. The actor didn't fully break through until that scar (coupled with William's raw talent) caught the attention of David Simon, who took a risk on the relatively unknown actor when casting his masterful crime saga The Wire.  Williams paid back the risk with one of the great television performances of the 20th Century. 

"I got to grow with an amazing group of people that I consider my Wire family. That character changed my life. And that was my big break." 

In they years since his breakout, Williams has lent his strikingly authentic presence to all manner of projects (see: Boardwalk Empire, Community12 Years A SlaveThe Night Of, Netflix's When They See Us, etc.). He'll no doubt continue to do so for the foreseeable future.