‘Useful Idiots’ Podcast With Michael K. Williams on First Presidential Debate, Police Reform, ‘Lovecraft Country’
In this week’s quarantine episode of our Useful Idiots podcast, hosts Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper are joined by actor Michael K. Williams, best known for his iconic role as Omar Little on The Wire, and who is currently starring in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
For “Democrats Suck,” Katie expresses frustration for Biden’s confusing comments during Tuesday’s presidential debate about the Green New Deal, and other progressive policy stances that have gained traction in the pro-Sanders wing of the Democratic party.
“Biden is afraid of seeming at all progressive, he doesn’t want to be called radical left, but of course the irony is he’s going to be called that anyway. And he’s really not trying to court the left,” says Katie. “I’m not just saying that because I’m someone who thinks that important to do politically. It’s also strategic. He needs to get people to leave their houses and vote, or mail in their votes.”
Matt dissected a Fox News story prior to the debate on the controversy around Biden’s earpiece, seeing it as a classic example of a non-news story. “It’s particularly annoying because the Republicans have been bleeding, as in the way sheep talk, for years now about exactly this kind of news story, where it’s all speculation. Then they turn around and do exactly the same thing,” says Matt.
Our hosts then break down the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, discussing some of the more disturbing moments, including Trump’s call for having his supporters “watch carefully” over the election. “That’s as close as you’re going to get as somebody just outright urging his supporters to voter intimidation,” says Matt.
This week’s guest, Michael K. Williams, also submits his own post-debate thoughts.
“I felt sad for us as a nation. I was embarrassed, because the world was watching last night. I’m just really praying that we find our way back to the center, we’ve lost our way right now,” says Williams, who became more engaged in politics after 2016. “I was one of those people in 2016 that says, ‘What do you know, I’m not crazy about Hillary, but I know that [Trump’s] not going to win. And here we are. So I’m not going to do that; I’m not going to make that mistake this year. I’m going to make my voice count, and I’m going to make my platform count as best as I can.”
Williams discusses his community youth work with Operation Who Counts, and how it relates to the NYPD’s inclusion of young New Yorkers in gang databases. “We are engaging our youth, we give them the resources and the finances to build our block,” Williams explains. “Our youth are engaging their blocks to get voted, to be counted in the Census. We play music. We had a marching band. It’s communal, and it’s so beautiful.”
Matt takes a moment to fanboy Williams about his acting in The Wire, with Williams shedding some light on his acting process, and how he brings humanity to the characters he portrays.
“Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a softie. My biggest fear was, how are you going to get people believe that you’re a stone-cold killer?” asks Williams. “I had to find an ‘in’ to the mind of Omar, and for me it was his sensitivity. I believe what makes you vulnerable makes you volatile. I understood Omar’s hurt, his pain, his sensitivity. I understood his moral compass. And I tapped into that.”
Williams also discusses parallels between Omar and his current role, Montrose Freeman, in HBO’s Lovecraft Country. “They’re frustrated,” says Williams. “All of that is swallowing the pain, swallowing the pain of not being allowed to just be.”