How does one uncover the real man once labeled as one of LA’s most notorious drug dealers?
We sat down with acclaimed actor Michael K. Williams to discuss how he prepared for his role as “Freeway” Ricky Ross in the upcoming film, “Kill the Messenger.” The real-life drama, which stars Jeremy Renner as journalist Gary Webb, delves into the murky world of cocaine trafficking in the 1980s.
Check out our exclusive interview below:
Michael, you portray a very notorious cocaine dealer, ‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross, in the film. Can you tell me a little bit about how you approach a character who people might be quick to write off as a criminal or a drug dealer?
You know, I played him from the truth, from the perspective of the truth. The system failed him. This was a man who had aspirations to become a professional tennis player, and was allowed to go through the LA school system uneducated. And when he was approached about the possibility of a scholarship for tennis, they found out he was illiterate, and he lost everything. So this is a young black man, 18-years-old, he’s in an underserviced community of Los Angeles, no education, no money, no opportunities. And allegedly–which is what the movie speaks about–the government just flooded his community with crack cocaine. So the question that I ask is, What would you do? That’s the real question. You know, I’m not excusing, I’m not condoning, you know, illegal drug selling or transactions, but, you know, in the same token, cocoa leaves are not made, are not grown in Los Angeles.
[Laughs] No, they’re not.
Did you have the chance to meet with Ricky Ross at any point during the filming or before the filming?
Absolutely. I met him. Actually, I consider him a friend now.
Yeah. You know I was real ignorant to the whole Gary Webb thing. I had never heard of him; I didn’t know about this story. And I was, you know, hogwashed, I guess like a lot of Americans were, in regards to this topic. And so I’m reading the script, and it’s a good story, really good story. I’m like, Well, wait a minute, this is almost too good to be true. So I called a friend of mine in LA, and I’m like, well, I said, Michael, have you ever heard of a guy named Gary Webb? Is Gary Webb a real person? And he was like, Are you kidding me? You don’t know about this? And he educated me, and he said, Do you want to speak to Rick Ross? And I was like, Are you kidding me? Of course! And he put us in contact, and it was through the conversation with Rick, and he was so kind and so forthcoming to me with information that he gave me–websites and interviews to watch and to update myself about his path. And through that I got to get a sense of his demeanor, his character: A very mild mannered, gentle human being. You know, Rick Ross could have been anything in life had he been given the proper opportunities and had the proper education. He could have been President Ross. You know, he had that type of spirit and that type of mentality. It’s just unfortunate that he was uneducated, academically speaking, and he lived in a community where there was nothing else to do but to sell crack.
So the system failed him, in a way.
I believe so.
Michael, do you have any projects coming up this year that you’re excited about, to tell us?
Yes, well, on another topic outside of Hollywood, I’ve just been named Ambassador by the ACLU over mass incarceration. So I’m getting ready to gear up on a big campaign to end mass incarceration due to nonviolent drug or small, you know, drug charges, or mental illness. You know, we need to stop filling our prisons with, you know, marijuana charges and people who are mentally ill, or people who are suffering with drug addiction. There are other means of dealing with that. Those are health issues, not criminal, I believe.
“Kill The Messenger” opens in theaters on October 10.