Power star Omari Hardwick on Season 3, growing up in Decatur, and why he’s excited for UGA’s new football season

“The character’s complexities are, at the end of the day, the reason I thought I could play him.”
Omari Hardwick (left) as James St. Patrick, with 50 Cent (right) as Kanan

© 2016 Starz Entertainment, LLC

When Decatur native Omari Hardwick landed the role of Ghost on Starz’s Power, whose third season premieres on July 17, he realized that it was a rare acting opportunity. Hardwick describes his character, an ostensibly straight-laced businessman named James St. Patrick, as “a three-headed monster.” That’s because James is also known as “Ghost,” a drug kingpin, and “Jamie,” the lover of an assistant U.S. attorney.

We recently spoke with Hardwick about the role, what viewers can expect in season three, and how the former athlete made the journey from Atlanta to Sanford Stadium to Hollywood.

You play James, a successful nightclub owner who leads a criminal double life as “Ghost.” What drew you to the character?
When I read [the script], the character leapt off the page. [Series creator] Courtney Kemp had written [Ghost] to think 10 steps ahead. He could speak the language of kings all the way to the kids in the projects that he grew up in. [And] to know a woman was at the helm of this seemingly very male-dominated type of show was very interesting to me.

Which of the character’s three sides—James, Jamie, or Ghost—do you identify with most?
It would be the obvious answer to say there’s a little bit of all of them in me, but I would say that Jamie is probably the furthest from me. A lot of people really like Jamie. They say he’s sweet, and there’s definitely the poet side of me that is like Jamie. But I would say he’s the furthest from me in the sense that he’s kind of just about him. As the show continues, we wonder if he’s really that in love with [attorney Angela]. In a way I relate to Ghost. Obviously I’ve never murdered somebody, and I’m not a distributor of illegal narcotics. But the character’s complexities are, at the end of the day, the reason I thought I could play the guy.

Power's Season 3 poster
Power’s Season 3 poster

© 2016 Starz Entertainment, LLC

What can fans expect in season three?
They can expect to watch this see-saw internal battle. [James] has claimed to rid himself of what the world would say is the ugliest part of the three-headed monster—Ghost. But it’s a struggle. [Because] you know Ghost is a ticking time bomb, but he also has this calm resolve, [like he] has it all figured out. That’s why a lot of people really like him.

[Meanwhile] James has made too many bad bargains, not only with Angela but also with Tommy, his wife and his three kids, and he’s thinking that can all work out. His level of hubris was already paramount, but at this point, it’s on a steroid level, and I think the fans will see that.

We do see what happens to Kanan, played by 50 Cent, and whether or not he survived. There’s more murder and betrayal. Season three is very much an Angela Lansbury whodunnit.

You grew up in Decatur but went to high school at Marist in North Atlanta. What was that like?
Atlanta is a very healthy place for black families to be, in terms of economic and social mobility. My father was a young lawyer, and he was doing decent relative to Atlanta. He had us in an area where you see white flight happen. So black families would move into neighborhoods, and then the white families would leave. [Living in] Decatur at that time taught me that there was still a lot that needed to be fixed. It’s 2016, and it’s still not that differed at times. But [Decatur] also taught me a level of pride that black people could keep a community together.

Then I would go 30 minutes away to Marist, which was white. There [were] seven other black people in my graduating class. And that was Triple-A ball, so it was a big enough school for that to be a very small percentage of people that look like me, when I then went home to a neighborhood where everybody looked like me.

My grandfathers and pops and uncles, and every other [male] in my family, were big on letting me know that I can get anything that anybody else can get. And then I went to a school where people didn’t look like me, and they were right—I was able to get certain things that maybe people like me think that only white men can get. I’m on an interview now with you because that confidence was instilled in me starting in Decatur.

You later attended UGA and played football there. Was it tough transitioning from athlete to actor?
I always had an interest in acting in high school, but I was playing sports, so the only acting I was doing was within my own thoughts. But my senior year I started to do plays at [University of] Georgia. I was 200 pounds, and I was doing Lisistrata and taking piano lessons and working my language out in Shakespeare. I read everything from Macbeth to Othello. I was in a troupe called Black Theatrical Ensemble, and we would perform at the Georgia Theatre in downtown Athens. You got laughs sometimes [from teammates], but to this day, a lot of them, such as Champ Bailey and Hines Ward, are all very supportive.

Do you still follow UGA football?
I still root for everybody. I root for the Hawks. I’m still a diehard Braves fan, for sure. And I still root for the Falcons and the University of Georgia. I root for Georgia Tech basketball. I’m a real Georgia boy. I’m going to try and see if I can get off on the Friday prior to [UGA] homecoming this year, although I shoot 16 to 18 hours at times. But I’m making a note to go back this year because I haven’t been back in six years. As you know, Kirby Smart is the coach this year, [and he] was also a strong safety on my team. So it’s kind of a reunion this year for me.

You’ve talked about how in your early days as an actor, you had trouble making ends meet and even lived out of your car. What made you stick with it?
I’m just not a quitter, even if it was idiotic at times to not quit. The love and support of folks helped. In L.A. you need a car more than an apartment. I was young, so I thought “I need a car to get to auditions, and I could always shower at the YMCA.” So that’s what I did. I just kept seeing the finish line and knew I would get there. And I was poetic enough to think I could end up using this stuff that I was going through. I could use it to throw into characters on-screen whenever I get there. I thought that would outweigh acting class.

What are your go-to spots in Atlanta?
It’s changed so much. I used to like the original Intermezzo. I used to go in there and hide out. It’s funny—I was always sort of in that ghost way. I was never into where everyone else was going.