As we continue to mourn the shocking and heartbreaking death of actor Michael K. Williams, we’re reminded of the mental, emotional and physical toll being immersed in a character can take on a dedicated actor.
It’s arguable that William’s brilliance as a thespian was cemented through his work on HBO—from his gritty and often-mind-blowing portrayal of America’s favorite gangster with a code and a heart of Gold, Omar Little, in The Wire, to his show-stealing performance as Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire. (Seriously, if you never watched Boardwalk, you missed Williams performing alongside actor Jeffrey Wright in season four of the series. It was like the mecca of criminally underrated Black actors showing us why they should be unequivocally considered A-list.)
But it was his role as Montrose Freeman in the hit series Lovecraft Country that had such a profound impact on his well-being that he entered into therapy after wrapping up the first and only season of the show, according to the New York Post.
“I just started therapy, you know, and really taking that seriously and starting to unpack…the critic in my head and what and how that has affected my actions, my responses to certain situations, my relationships. It was a very new process for me,” Williams told TV talk-show host Tamron Hall of his troubles with drug abuse and the trauma brought on by his role in the show.
Ironically, Williams was promoting his new film Body Brokers, which is about a corrupt drug-treatment center in Los Angeles.
He called his role in the movie a “perfect example” of how “people often think that when a person puts down the drugs or the alcohol, that all the problems go away.”
“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” he continued. “Drugs and alcohol are not the problems, they’re merely symptoms of the problem. And once those things go away, the real work begins.”
Williams—whose death is rumored to have been caused by a drug overdose—also broke down in tears while talking about his experience on the set of Lovecraft Country during a virtual panel discussion with other cast members of the show.
“Lovecraft Country took me on a mental and emotional rollercoaster I was not prepared for personally,” he said. “And thank God I had the cast— these amazing angels around me to hold me up.”
We don’t know yet if his death was caused by a drug overdose at all, or if it was his experience on the show that lead to his death, but we know his story shows the price of being a great actor can often be too high.
Lovecraft Country was magnificent work and immensely important to the culture—we wouldn’t trade it for the life and well-being of the rising star that was Michael K. Wiliams, though.
Rest well, sir, and may the angels continue to hold you up.