Omari Hardwick On New Film 'Fantasy Football' & Embracing All Facets Of Who He Is
From his star turn as James St. Patrick on Starz’ cultural phenomenon Power to poetry, and releasing an album, 2540 DAZE with Major League Beats in 2021, Omari Hardwick has lived up to his “O” moniker by being limitless.
His latest film, Fantasy Football, serves as a homecoming for the Georgia native as he returns to his roots as a running back for his hometown Atlanta Falcons. Co-starring Marsai Martin and Kelly Rowland, the film premieres this Friday (November 25) on Paramount+. Below, we spoke to Hardwick about the new film and embracing all facets of who he is.
You are very intentional and purpose-driven. What is your why when it comes to acting?
It's interesting because this young woman who runs a fan page of mine who works at a mental health facility told me this young man, who was recently admitted, didn't want to participate in anything the institution had to offer. She sent me pictures of him huddled in the corner with his hoodie on.I was headed to my alma mater Georgia University with an ex-teammate of mine, Champ Bailey, who was going to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame when she sent me another picture. However, this time I texted her back and asked her to play my music for him. When I revisited our thread at the end of the game, she told me that he listened to the music and he started describing what the music did for him. I sat in silence in the car because this was another reminder of the purpose God spoke to me about being an artist. And I'll be honest with you, I initially ran from it because I was steadfast on being a football player, but we can't ignore green flags.
What was the green flag you received from this young man who listened to your music?
He said that he hears me inside-out while everybody hears him outside-in, and that's how I take on characters; I play the sh-t out of them because I want the audience to resonate with the soul of the character as much as they relate to how I look.
As an actor, is being identified as one character stifling or something you've learned to accept?
I have to accept it because, as Black people, we were raised to "Stay Black, pay taxes, and die." [Laughs] But if I were taxed in any of those 18-hour days in bringing Ghost to the set, seven months before the world watching, with Naturi Naughton, Lela Loren, Joseph Sikora, Luis Ramos, Rotimi, and the countless others, across from me, I'd be doing them a disservice; not to mention 50 Cent, who's not only a castmate but a producer who trusts me as the quarterback. So when I go out in the world, "No taxation without representation" runs true because not only am I representing the cast, crew and network, but I'm representing the audience and fans who fell in love with pieces of themselves through Ghost. Whatever that piece is that makes people handcuff me to this character is ok! Whether they were made to feel sexier, wiser, or cooler because, as Black and Brown people, we haven't had characters that made us feel that way on television.
I'm glad you feel it's a responsibility as opposed to a burden.
Matt Damon walking down the street isn't the same as Omari Hardwick, Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Chadwick Boseman, may he rest in peace, or even our brothers from across the pond, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, and Daniel Kaluuya. We have different tasks when we walk down the street, and I'm getting better at embracing the responsibility that comes with bodying a character [laughs]. And let's go full circle here; the tax for representing our culture is being applauded because if I did something wack, I wouldn't be so closely identified with Ghost.
Are there any aspects of acting that intimidate you or any roles/scenes that were difficult to prepare for?
I just flew into LA on a late-night flight, and I was hoping to watch a movie that's a sedative and, eventually, watch me sleep, but it didn't because the film I chose struck a chord with me, and it reflects your question. That movie was Elvis, and if you remember, Tom Hanks, who co-stars in the film, was the first big celebrity that got sick with COVID-19, which put our industry on pause, and it happened during the filming of Elvis. I wasn't familiar with Austin Butler before watching this film, but he did such an incredible job in this role that: A) His performance kept me awake [laughs] and B) That's not his 8 Mile story, and what I mean by that is it's a hard task for Eminem to show us what he came up in. Is Em judged the same if Chris Pine, Channing Tatum, or Tom Hardy playing B. Rabbit? No, and that's because they wouldn't be playing their own life story, and there's creative license there. So as beautiful as biopic performances are, there's much credit to be given to Eminem and folks who put so much of their personal lives into these characters.
So it's the vulnerability that's intimidating or difficult to prepare for?
The hardest times for me as an actor have been when I dive into some shit that the world doesn't know that I actually went through. I've never sold drugs, so the role of a kingpin isn't difficult for me, but I have lost a child, and it was super heavy for me to lose Donshea Hopkins' character, which was my daughter, on Power. It's a smorgasbord inside of a bag in which we, as actors, are forced to bring shit we've been through to pull from for certain roles. There's never a case where acting doesn't come with some courageous outpour.
Where does that courage come from?
I think my being a rebellious by-nature athlete makes it easier because you have to be a bit insane to run full speed on kickoffs into 300-pound physical specimens that might want to take your head off. I think you have to be a little off to be a firefighter, which I was [laughs]. So from Cicely Tyson to Sidney Portier to my colleagues and myself included, especially double minorities like our Black women, it's incumbent upon us to be fearless without hesitation.
You mentioned wanting direction, does that stem from how you were coached as a football player?
For sure, but it precedes that because of the presence of my strong and educated Black grandfathers. Before coaching, these men taught me how to take direction. It goes back to your lead question because I feel like there was and is so much that God has ordered for me, which allowed me to be "coachable."
Let's stick with the theme of football. Do you see any parallels between the camaraderie of a football team and a cast on set?
Yes, sir! Saquon Barkley [NY Giants running back] texted me out of the blue, and it was cryptic. Maybe cryptic is too dramatic of a word; let's say vague [laughs]. He asked, "Did you go to acting classes?" Saquan never starts a text without a warm greeting or asking when I'm coming to watch him play, etc. I bring this up because it goes back to your question; I have more little brothers in professional sports than I have in the world of acting.
Is that because you've successfully crossed over from the field to acting?
Being an athlete is the base for the talent inside of me, and think of it as a trampoline because Champ's talent took him to the NFL and hall of fame, but my talent pulled me towards acting. Doesn't mean I'm any more or less talented than Champ or anyone else; it's just a matter of where God sees fit to use our talent. Circling back to the parallels and why my little brothers gravitate towards me, it's because they know I've been in their position, and it allows me to come into the game of acting without ego because football is a sport that demands the trust of your teammates similar how acting demands the trust of your castmates.
So what do you think Saquon was actually trying to ask?
"O, I think I might want to pursue acting when my days on the field are over." I played coy because I wanted him to say it out loud, and four days later he admitted it. I knew he was probably thinking that if I, Omari, didn't take classes that maybe acting comes to him, Saquon, as naturally.
What did you say when he finally admitted it?
I told him he has to remember he's going to be one of the greatest running backs in football history if he isn't already, and I know he wouldn't let someone come onto the football field without training and preparing as hard as he does, so why would acting be any different?
Let's talk about your new film Fantasy Football on Paramount+. Being that an athlete is the baseline for your creative life, does this film feel like a homecoming of sorts for you?
Yea! It definitely feels like a homecoming that I wish could've come earlier in age [laughs]. I was watching Friday Night Lights with my son, and I was jealous of my dear friend Derek Luke getting to play James 'Boobi' Miles at a ripe 29 or 30 years of age, and here I am playing a 33-year-old Bobby Coleman at 48 years of age. But as much as I wish the world got a chance to see me as the force I was on the football field in my younger days, this film is a helluva homecoming.
How was it working with your new teammates Kelly Rowland and Marsai Martin?
A dream come true! Everybody can see, clear as day, what type of a powerhouse Marsai is going to be and already is, but I know special in a lot of different rooms and avenues, and she's phenomenal. And what makes it even more special is the fact I can share nuggets from my experiences while also learning from her because young people, as you know, are the best of us.
The world hasn't gotten a hold of them yet.
We stand to learn so much from their enthusiasm. They're less jaded because the world hasn't, to your point, tainted their views. I've come out the wiser for working with Masai; she has someone in me that she can call on for the rest of her life, and it's equally amazing that I can call on her for advice as well.
That's a beautiful relationship, and important that Black women, young and older, can trust Black men in a workspace.
Indeed! And the same goes for Kelly Rowland, who I've known for about twelve or fifteen years, and it's nice to see her dive into such a courageous space as she crosses over from her superstardom as a musician. We mirror each other because while I'm proving to the world I can create music; she's proving she can act, and she can act!