Pearson had never acted before. Her character — a ruthless foot soldier — shared her real name. And her ability to depict a killer with a detached personality once led the horror writer Stephen King to describe her as “perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series.”
Finding Pearson, and changing the trajectory of her life, Williams later told me, was one of the most fulfilling things he ever did on “The Wire.”
“When I looked at her, I instantly knew that she was the quintessential Baltimore,” he said.
Williams brought the same level of intensity and expansiveness to many of his subsequent characters. Most recently, he received his fifth Emmy nomination for his role as Montrose Freeman, a conflicted patriarch in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”
But it was Omar Little who provided Williams with his breakthrough, and it may be the role that he will be best remembered for. Williams dealt with personal addiction throughout his life, even throughout his time on “The Wire.”
(What follows will be a spoiler for those who have never watched “The Wire.”)
Omar was always destined to die in “The Wire.” The character’s growing popularity never altered that trajectory.
Williams was pragmatic about taping his final scene.
“No one wants to talk about the elephant in the room, which in my opinion, was no one wanted to deal with the reality that it felt like mourning a fictitious character,” Williams later told me. “I don’t think no one was able to go there that day.”
Jonathan Abrams, a sports reporter for The New York Times, is the author of “All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire,” an oral history of the series.