'Community' Guest Star Michael K. Williams' First Impression On-Set: 'It's Insane'

"The Wire" and "Boardwalk Empire" star talks about doing the comedic role on the NBC series.

This season on NBC’s Community, there are a host of academic challenges for the study group as the show gets back to its Season 1 roots where grades were important. One of those challenges arrives in the form of a new biology professor played by guest star Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire).

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“Professor Kane is definitely from the wrong side of the tracks,” Williams tells The Hollywood Reporter about his character. “And he spent a large chunk of his life in prison, and it was in prison that he decided to get a new lease on life. And he educated himself, got a degree, came out, and furthered his education, and became a professor of biology.”

THR spoke to Williams about what we can expect from his character, his thoughts on playing a comedic role, and his first impressions of the Community set.

The Hollywood Reporter: What’s the main beef Professor Kane has with the study group?

Michael K. Williams: Pretty much he’s intense. His whole attitude is he’s still like playing catch up. And he gets into this college, and sees the kids who he perceived them as a bunch of slackers, initially. His whole attitude is like, ‘Do you know what I had to do to get my education? You guys should be clamoring for my knowledge, right now.’

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THR: Will the relationship always be adversarial?

Williams: As time goes on, we see that although he may be very smart book-wise, there’s a lot to deal with society, the way society has changed, that he’s not accustomed to. And so, we start to see these kids actually teach him, ‘This is where we’re at today.’ So, it’s actually a give and take of knowledge and experiences that we start to see between the students and this professor.

THR: The show’s creator, Dan Harmon, told me that he wrote this role for you. What was your reaction to that?

Williams: I don’t know if people have written things for me. I’m just looking for to stay working right now. But I know that Dan and I, when we initially met, that he did tell me that he wrote this character with me in mind. And of course, that’s extremely flattering, to any actor. 

But more importantly, what I loved what he did was he didn’t rip Omar off. And he created a vehicle for me to come in, and be amongst these veteran comedic actors, you know, Chevy Chase, Joel McHale--I mean, come on. And he created a situation of space for me at the table that I can come in, and do what I do, and not be too far pulled out of my comfort zone, and still give the appearance of being funny. And I was really grateful for that, more than anything else.

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THR: Comedy isn’t your usual thing. How did you prepare for this role?

Williams: The main thing I do is I leave my baggage at home. I go to the set, and I am an open vessel, like a sponge, and I absorb the energy in the room as fast as I can. I catch rhythms. I catch temperaments, you know, personalities. And I just go with the flow, and I ask the actors that I’m surrounded by to guide me.

So, I remain extremely open, and I listen. If they say, ‘Say it like this,’ I’ll say it like that. Joel will come to me, and be like, ‘We’ll go off the top.  Sometimes Dan or the director, they will say, ‘Just go with it.’ And I’ll ask Joel, ‘Give me things to say.’ And you know, we’ll play with it like that. And I just remain very open, and I take a lot of suggestions as to how we can make it wor, because I realize I’m out of my element.

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THR: What were your first impressions of the cast on-set?

Williams: I fell in love with those little guys, man. They were very forthcoming, very open. They welcomed me immediately. But I must say, the first time like I actually saw their rhythm, when they got into the flow of things, and I first glanced at what’s really happening, it was just like I just stand back, and I laugh like, ‘We get paid to do this?’

Like to sit on that set, and watch that cast of Community work, it’s like watching a live show of some sort, like a Broadway show, like a musical, or something, because it goes from A to Z. One minute they’re singing. They’re screaming. They’re yelling. They’re mad at each other. They argue. They fight, and then they laugh. And it goes within like seconds, these different emotions, and different like pockets. It’s crazy. It’s insane to watch.

Watch a preview of Williams on Thursday’s episode below.

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro


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