Learning is always important for Hardwick. Growing up in Atlanta, he was always curious and despite the fact that he became an established athlete, he remembers that acting was something that always hung over him. As a 5-year-old kid, he even considered taking acting classes.
“My mother gets amnesia and tends to think it was my younger brother that asked about an acting class,” he says, chuckling. “It was on Candler Road at South DeKalb Mall, behind the mall. It was a little acting class that my mom was aware of, but I wasn’t. I’d done Peter Pan in a little pre-K class or whatever. She always thought I would be a pastor, so there was definitely a stage under my feet innately, or a microphone; or an opportunity that would come via art and entertainment. But I just thought of it as ‘Hollywood.’ So when she said there’s a class behind South DeKalb Mall, I said, ‘No, I gotta go to Hollywood.’ Obviously, we weren’t leaving Decatur anytime soon and going to Hollywood; so I got into sports. [But] initially, pre-soccer at five years of age and baseball that same year, there was this kid that yearned for some type of art. I found poetry at 12 and 13; and lo and behold, learned that my attorney father had a background in poetry — as he wore dashikis and Afros in the ’70s and named his kids Arabic names. He was a poet and a lot like The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron and all of these folks. He definitely was an artist. It was somewhat on the table.”
Hardwick would grow up to become a defensive back for the University of Georgia. While in college, his artistic inclinations came to the fore yet again. This time, everyone around him recognized his creative instincts.
“I was at UGA playing with Champ Bailey and Hines Ward — both guys who will probably touch the Hall of Fame one day,” he says. “And they were rooting me on. All of these guys were like ‘There’s another thing to you, not just ball. You got this artist thing and you need to pursue that.’ Then Kenny Leon from the Alliance Theater in Atlanta came and spoke.”
Hardwick and Leon recently reunited in New York City, and they both remembered that fateful meeting two decades ago. “I went to see the Holler If Ya Hear Me preview and he and I laughed about the moment when I was 20 years old [and] he pointed and called out the football player and said ‘I’m gonna check on you in a couple of years, football player.’ Maybe it was fate.”
Fate and the circular nature of existence are constant themes in Omari Hardwick’s conversation, and it’s not hard to see why. As casting began for “Power,” he was reunited with another old acquaintance; actress Naturi Naughton, who plays his wife on the show.
“She was the only actor that I knew in the show. I didn’t know anybody else,” Hardwick says. “Obviously, I knew of other people’s work and was a fan of certain people that we worked with, [but] Naturi was like a baby sister. The irony of [our] on-screen chemistry was that we had to put that relationship to the side. [Though] there is this sort of big brother or father figure [element] within our characters’ relationship because we had to cast a girl that’s younger in Naturi. [The part] was originally for an older actress. But once we went with Naturi, Courtney flipped the script and did a great job of creating the character to circulate around Naturi’s age and experiences in life. So it’s qualified to say that we had to put the brother-sister relationship down, because I think it’s still in Ghost and Tasha; the big brothering or father figure that certain romantic relationships, even, can attest to.”
And the pair learned to play off of each other’s strong personalities. “It was challenging at times because of how much we loved each other prior,” Hardwick admits. “She’s a strong personality; whenever you’re dealing with a bright female who’s talented, you’re also dealing with an opinionated female who’s talented. So for me, as the number one on the call sheet, it required a lot of moments of letting her be the queen; and imparting my moments where I needed to be the king and sort of teach her a thing or two about this craft that I probably have more years at. So it was great, it was all good; even the moments of frustration — beauty came out of it. I don’t think you really have chemistry in the way that you want between two actors unless frustration is there as well. So, we had frustration, we had magic, we had days of exhaustion — both of us. But she is a great partner.”
Hardwick has realized so many of his dreams; success in sports at a young age, becoming a renowned poet, an ever-growing Hollywood résumé; but there is one dream project that he plans to make reality: Hardwick wants to help bring a biopic about the late poet, musician and activist, Gil Scott-Heron to the screen.
“I’ve obviously [come] full circle — I’m really always attracted to these characters that I find to be kingly human beings that fell down,” he explains, before quoting gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. “’We fall down but we get up.’ I don’t ever think that I’ve played a character more so reflective of that reality than this guy Ghost; and I think that people like Gil Scott-Heron have a lot of Ghost in them. They fall down but they get up. Does it mean the conclusion of their story, that we as the people know, is [that] they got up? Not necessarily. Michael Jackson fell down and he got up at times; it doesn’t mean that the conclusion of his falling down was one where he got up, because he’s not with us anymore. I think Gil Scott-Heron is a king. He’s a brilliant, broken king. I’m close to Gia, his daughter. We’re poets together. We rocked out in the Los Angeles poetry scene for a very long time. His story is too forgotten. Being the poet actor, I think it’s pretty apropos for me to take that on and sort of rebirth his life and allow his life to be seen in a way by a younger generation that don’t necessarily know anything [about him] — beyond Kanye [West] and Kendrick Lamar.”
Words by: Stereo Williams
Images by: Keith Major