With the return of the white-hooded KKK to Atlantic City, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is forced to figure out where his allegiances lie: With his most prominent voters, or with his most powerful (and black) friend, Chalky White, played by Michael K. Williams.
Chalky is a fan-favorite character in the show's otherwise morally ambiguous landscape of prohibition era Atlantic City, and when I caught up with Williams to talk Season 2, he teased that it'll only get crazier this season on Chalky's path to finding justice.
We also talked about the emotional tug of reenacting such a horrific reality for blacks in the 1920s, and seeing more of Chalky's family, which Williams says is "the crack in his armor."
Then we talked about some lighter stuff too, like his awesome turn as an ex-con turned biology teacher on 'Community,' his favorite shows on TV and his love affair with Twitter. Keep reading for more ...
This season premiere is amazing for Chalky White!
Yeah, it's pretty awesome! [Laughs] For sure.
It's safe to say that it starts out with a bang -- what can you tease about how what we see in the premiere changes the game a little bit?
Season 2 does start out with that bang ... we see that the Klan has come back to haunt Chalky, and so after a big shoot-out scene, Chalky gets knocked down a couple of notches. He's reminded that he's still just a coon, and he doesn't deal with that too, too kindly. He's also caught in the crosshairs of someone that's gunning for Nucky [Steve Buscemi], and that also doesn't sit well with him. You know, he already didn't trust anybody, but now he really doesn't trust anybody. What happens is Nucky realizes that he can't trust Chalky either, so they find themselves both in this precarious situation and they realize they have more in common with each other than they have with their own separate communities.
Nucky's two-faced nature and moral ambiguity really comes into play in the premiere though. Is that a side of him that we'll see even more of this season?
Yes and no. Nucky gets a little more angry this season -- he's pissed off at the level of betrayal. In his mind he feels like, although he may have really messed up ways of going about things, at the heart of all that, he genuinely cares. He genuinely thinks he's doing the right thing for everybody, although everybody may not feel that way. He's hurt, and he gets really pissed off at the level of betrayal with the people he thought he was doing good by. So that's the main thing this season.
What's the one word you'd use to describe Chalky's path or his attitude this season?
Justice. He's out for justice. It's past revenge. He knows that this is wrong, the way he's being treated, and he's not going to stand for it.
It's really hard to watch the scenes with the KKK ... that can't be easy to play.
No, it's very difficult to know that that was a time and a place in history where my people, my family, were subjected to that. I know that I had some family members that met their demise at the hands of the Klan in America ... it's harsh, but I'm grateful to be given a chance to portray it, to be part of the storyline. And to be a character like Chalky who is so prominent and so strong as a black man in 1920 in the face of all that adversity ... it's an homage to my ancestors.
Yeah, Chalky's living large. We see his beautiful home and his wife and son in the premiere -- how much more of Chalky's home life will we see this season?
We're going to see a lot more of that. And actually, that's the crack in his armor. Up until this season, Chalky has been this smooth, calculating, cold as ice kind of character. But then he gets around his family, and his little girl gets in the center of his heart and makes him giggle, you know what I'm saying? Then you see these insecurities arise because, at the end of the day, he still feels like just a coon. He doesn't feel, with his family, always the way that he should -- you're going to see a lot of insecurities arise in his relationship with his family.
We see Michael Shannon's character, Prohibition agent Nelson van Alden, getting closer to bringing down Nucky Thompson, but can anyone bring down Chalky White?
Chalky White can. The minute Chalky gets angry, or lets his emotion take over his business sense, he's in trouble. His decisions have got to stay from a business point of view to keep things running smoothly. The minute it gets too personal, he can slip up and make bad judgment calls.
Speaking of things getting personal ... Nucky has sort of settled down with Margaret Schroeder, but he still has ladies on the side. Does Chalky just behave himself, or does he have dalliances as well?
We'll see! I'm quite sure there's a little bit of a playboy in Chalky somewhere. [Laughs]
For people who might've missed Season 1, but then heard all the critical buzz and saw the Emmys love, can they jump in and start with Season 2?
Absolutely I think it's OK to jump in with Season 2, but you know, you do yourself a huge disservice by not taking the time to watch Season 1. Particularly with Nucky's character and his relationships with his bother Eli and J.D., played by Michael Pitt, and the Commodore ... there's some betrayal going on, there's a history that will make better sense once you watch Season 1. But you can definitely jump in Season 2 and be entertained.
Switching gears a bit, you were great on the season premiere of 'Community' -- I love having you in a sitcom!
Aw, thank you! [Laughs] I am very happy about that -- any opportunity to laugh at myself is welcome. But he's intense.
He definitely is. And he's already butting heads with Jeff Winger!
You've gotta love Joel McHale ... he's awesome. I'm just constantly trying to figure this class out ... it's a strange group of kids, you know what I mean? Like where did you guys come from? [Laughs]
They all said they'd love to have you back for more. Is that in the works?
Oh yes, it's a huge discussion right now. I have at least another episode on my contract to do [on top of the two I've shot], but there's a huge possibility there may be more than three episodes. I welcome the chance.
I mean the biggest reaction when people heard the casting news was OMAR IS COMING TO GREENDALE! Does it make you laugh that you'll never be mentioned without a shout-out to Omar or 'The Wire'?
It makes me happy -- I'm very grateful that my work was so well-received, and the show as a whole. I'm very grateful to be a part of that family, looking back now. It'll never get old for me. I'm still riding the wave, I'm still getting mileage on 'The Wire.' I'm far from tired of it. Most people don't get a character like Omar, and then to go from Omar to Chalky? I think it's safe to say that lightning has struck twice in the same place.
Do you all ever talk about reuniting for something more? A movie, a prequel, anything?
No, David [Simon] has no desire to turn it into a movie -- I think it did what it was supposed to do. We just want to let it be in the atmosphere the way it is. To try to go back now and rebuild those character, I think it would do it a terrible injustice.
Agreed. But I could see 'Boardwalk' easily ending up with something on the big screen.
Who knows, but I'd be down for that. If they call me, I'll be there!
When you're not on TV, what do you watch on TV?
I watch 'Game of Thrones,' I watch 'Shameless' and I watch 'Modern Family.' I was so happy for Peter [Dinklage] on Emmys night ... well deserved. Really well deserved. I hope to give him a bump in the years to come though. [Laughs] That Best Supporting is not all his! I'm coming for it one of these years!
[Laughs] And I love seeing you on Twitter.
I loveTwitter. And that's all me -- please make it known that I don't have anybody running my Twitter account. That is me on my iPhone tweeting, and I love it. It's inspiring, I get laughs from it, it lifts my spirits the things that people say, or how they respond to what I say. It's a love affair with the people that have supported me, and it's a way to connect, one-on-one, with the people who support what I do. It's the least I can do, is to get on Twitter and say thank you. I'm really having a ball tweeting this past year.
Tell us: Are you excited for the new season of 'Boardwalk Empire'? And to have Williams on 'Community'?