Michael K Williams
Actor Michael K. Williams grabs photographer Carter B. Smith and takes us to his old stomping grounds in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Williams, best known for his roles as Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire and Omar Little on The Wire, tells us why he wanted to go back to his old neighborhood, why he selected LaAbril to be his model, and how she helps tell his story of the “everywoman.”
Man. You just went for it.
I jumped at the chance to define what a beautiful woman is to me. How many times do men get the opportunity to do that in a publication such as Penthouse?
You were on a mission. You had your vision and there was no stopping you.
I wanted to capture what I saw when I was young, and who I had crushes on growing up as a youngster in Brooklyn. That dark-skin sister who would whoop that ass at the drop of a dime, but knew how to be a lady. She knew how to be a nurturer, a mom. And she knew how to love her man. I wanted to celebrate that. Thateverywoman, that round-the-way girl from the ’hood.
Why did you choose to go back to your old neighborhood to tell your story?
Going back to the projects where I grew up—to Vanderveer [now a newly renovated community known as Flatbush Gardens]—was important to me, because I grew up seeing so many beautiful women who never got celebrated. I grew up seeing so much potential. A lot of us never got the opportunity to express that potential on another level the way that I was blessed to be able to. So I wanted to take the camera back and show that it’s not just me. I’m not a freak accident.
I’m impressed that the crew followed you into the projects.
People tend to think about my community and think negatively about it. Let’s not kid ourselves. There’s been a lot of violence over the years. But that’s not all there is to the community. I wanted to show the beauty and the people and the sex appeal that exists.
Is that also why the model you selected is someone you grew up with? Are you and LaAbril close?
LaAbril has been a lot of things to me. She’s been like a sister to me. She’s been a good friend. She’s cooked for me. She’s challenged me. She also knew how to nurture me and give me support when I needed it early on in my career. She saw my whole career grow. From the very beginning, she has been there with me, and I just love her for all of those things.
Sure, but there’s a big difference between loving someone and thinking they’re hot.
What gravitated me toward LaAbril was definitely a combination of things. The way she looks—that dark skin and the way she wears her hair. Her confidence—I find that very attractive. And her essence. She’s a very strong-minded woman. She’s a mom of two. I happen to think that her body type is extremely sexy, and I wanted to share that with the world.
I guess that’s a good enough setup for me to ask: What do you find sexy?
I find inner strength to be a very sexy and beautiful thing in women. The everyday woman who can get up, go to work, take care of the kids, and still make time to be sexy or to enjoy her sexuality and be feminine. When I see a woman who embodies all of those aspects, that makes her sexy to me. Not just how she looks.
The way it should be.
You look in the media and in magazines and various publications that are “A-list,” and I never see the images that I grew up finding sexy. That’s another thing I love about LaAbril: how much confidence she has. How much she loves her body. She embraces everything about her body and she wears it well. It’s not about race. It’s not about the area you come from. I want every woman in America, every woman who’s not a size-one model, to look at this shoot and be like, “Damn. Go ahead, girl. You did the damn thing.” I want to celebrate all the women across the world that live LaAbril’s lifestyle, which is the everyday woman.
Was there any particular body part you wanted to highlight?
The stomach. I think that’s so sexy. I can put my head on a woman’s stomach. There’s just something very intimate about that. Just sit there and rub her stomach. I don’t know … I find that sexy and very, very intimate.
Was it challenging to work with a friend who had no previous modeling experience?
The world may not know her as a professional model, but if you knew her personally, you’d know that there’s nothing she can’t do. There was never a doubt in my mind that she could handle the shoot. I know her essence. I know her swagger. She’s that comfortable with her sexuality. She’s that comfortable with her body, with her skin tone. She’s a very confident woman. That’s what came across in these pictures. Not that she knows how to work a camera. She’s so comfortable with herself whether the camera is running or not. That’s just her every day, all day.
The shoot highlights LaAbril going through her daily routine. But it gets a little freaky behind closed doors. How does this come into play?
The dominatrix part of the shoot is actually a part of LaAbril. That’s in her. That’s a side of her personality. She’s not afraid to walk up to a man and be like, “What’s up?” You know what I mean? That’s just a part of who she is. I’m not saying that the actual act of being a dominatrix is what she’s about. I’m talking about a demonstrative female who can act like the aggressor. She’s not the type of chick who goes to the club looking for the baller. She goes to the club and she’ll be the baller. The dominatrix spoke to that part of her person ality—not so much that she’s into chains and whips.
Did you know LaAbril had all those piercings?
No. We had bought fake body jewelry for the S&M part of the shoot, and when she undressed, we just said, “Well, you can put those away.” But that’s why she was the perfect person for the shoot. It was those little things.
You don’t strike me as a body-piercing kind of guy, whatever that means.
It worked for the shoot. I’m not a big piercing guy. I’m not a big tattoo guy. But LaAbril had just the right amount. It wasn’t overdone. I’m more for just natural. If you have them, I’m not going to discriminate. I can just take it or leave it.
How does the finished product match your expectations?
I absolutely think that the photo shoot reflects my vision. I pulled together a phenomenal team. Derrick Kollock, who did the hair and makeup … he’s from Brooklyn. He’s from the projects. We grew up in the same environment, and so he knows my eye. He knew exactly what I was talking about and what I was looking for. My other good friend [stylist] Eric Archibald has walked the streets of New York his whole life. [Photographer] Carter B. Smith … I know he understands what a beautiful woman is, and he is also nontraditional in his taste in women. I feel that I assembled a dream team for the shoot, and I’m very excited that we captured my vision.
Do you have a favorite photo?
My favorite shot is LaAbril on the bed with the Afro wig. She created her own version of Foxy Brown. She was completely nude, and there was an innocence to it. She flirted. There was a passion, a vulnerability and honesty, that came across in those pictures. That is my absolute favorite.
Did you bring those masks to the set?
The masks were already on the wall, and we decided to use them. I like the masks. To me, the everyday woman wears many masks. She has to be so many different things in the course of the day. They deal with so many different things being thrown at them. The masks ended up representing part of the story that I wanted to tell. In her bedroom she would take off all her masks, all her makeup, and still be just as beautiful.
There’s nothing more sexy than a woman who’s well put together in the morning, dropping her kids off at school. Getting ready to catch that train and going to work. Taking care of her life, her kids, and her family’s lives. I just want to celebrate that. It’s very easy with the way we live now for the everyday woman to feel unsexy and unloved and uncelebrated, because life can beat her down. I want this to be an homage to the woman who works hard and takes care of her family—to let her know that, as a man, I see you, Ma. I think you are very beautiful, and I find you sexy.