Omari Hardwick didn’t dream of being an actor when he was young. Sports was supposed to be his ticket. In high school, he played basketball, baseball and football — and he made it to the University of Georgia as a defensive back and was primed for an NFL career. Until a leg injury his senior year prevented him from being drafted and ultimately derailed his NFL aspirations after some time on the development squad for the San Diego Chargers. After some time grinding it out as an actor, Hardwick landed roles in movies like The A-Team, Gridiron Gang, and Middle of Nowhere as well as on TV shows like Being Mary Jane, Breakout Kings and Saved. All of which led him to the Starz original series, Power, which returns for Season 2 starting June 2. As James “Ghost” St. Patrick, Hardwick juggles a career as a high-level drug dealer with his “front” job as a New York City nightclub owner. He’s also married with a beautiful wife and family, and sleeping with his first love, who happens to be a DEA agent.
The baller-turned-television star took a break from filming Season 2 of Power to explain why this show is teaching him so much about himself and to share his not-so-fond memory of Playboy magazine — it involves nuns and a ruler.
What’s it been like stepping back into Ghost’s complex world in Power?
He’s taught me more about Omari. Obviously an actor has to be complex to play this guy, so he taught me how complex I am. Perhaps I would have been doing some of these same things that he’s doing out of immorality had I not grown up a particular way, or not had a father figure in my life like I did, or had opportunities that Ghost doesn’t have. So it’s an interesting to watch a guy in an out-of-body experience while I’m playing him at the same time…to be a fan of his, to root for him because I’m playing him, to feel like I need to counsel him. And I’m learning more about me; what makes me tick and what makes me happy. It’s been an interesting gamut of emotions playing this guy, coming from me and looking at his different emotions.
Has playing a nightclub owner on TV been helpful when actually hitting the clubs?
I’m shooting all day, man. My average day is probably between 16 and 18 hours, so when the season ends I’m not really running to a club. What I will say is that I do appearances at clubs on the weekends during the season with no sleep. So I’m just trying to hold on to dear life and be as present and amicable and as social as possible with the person asking me for a picture or an autograph, knowing that I’m extremely exhausted, and my family at home is barely getting their time with me. The club scene hasn’t made me need anything from it, accept for perhaps the music. But I can’t sit and listen and vibe out quietly in a dark corner to the music in the club anymore because I’m now living a life of recognizability. It’s harder for me to just vibe out when someone notices me.
What was your first encounter with Playboy magazine?
I was in third grade and my older brother was in the fifth grade. We found a Playboy at the house and my brother and his friend talked me into taking it to school. Me being the consummate middle child and wanting the attention of my older brother, I did it. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I was showing it off to the rest of the boys. And during his lunch break, which was different from mine, my older brother walked into my classroom signaling me to bring my bookbag over. He told the teacher that I had a Playboy magazine in it. Now [I went to] a Catholic school and I’m 41 years old, so this was when nuns and teachers used rulers. We had regular lady teachers and then we had nuns, and a nun grabbed me by my ear…and dragged me to the principal’s office while spanking me with a ruler. All while my brother laughed, and is still laughing to this day. It’s horrible. I can’t even tell you who was on the cover of it. I wish I remembered that at least.
And nuns aren’t going to buy the “I was reading it for the articles” excuse.
Yeah, exactly. But I’ve been to the Mansion and I’ve been to the Grotto. Hugh Hefner’s had me and some other rookies and free agents out when I was starting out for the NFL. I was in San Diego with the Chargers at the time, and I’ve been back maybe twice. So I’m a fan again.
That is the best story I’ve ever heard from that question.
It sucks. I didn’t read Playboy’s incredible articles for years.
What do you consider your pop culture blind spot?
I don’t follow the Housewives. I feel like there’s like five shows like Housewives of Atlanta. I really missed the boat on that because I find myself watching the Kardashians and some other reality shows when I feel I need moments to just stare at the TV and be stupid.
Heaven forbid you were ever on death row, what would your last meal be?
My last meal would definitely include french fries. I would say a little bit of fried chicken, a little bit of beef stew. I love asparagus, so I’d throw that in. I’m a cookie monster, so if they could give me oatmeal raisin or peanut butter cookies before they pulled the switch I would be okay. I think God would be okay with me if I had a couple of cookies at the end.
What’s your favorite mistake in life?
I originally said no to meetings for the show Power that you’re interviewing me about, so if in reverse it’s a mistake that I’m doing this show, it’s the greatest mistake I’ve ever made in my life.
What’s the first thing you bought with your first big Hollywood check?
I bought a vehicle, which everybody buys. I bought a truck…a Jeep Cherokee. And then I graduated to an Audi Q7 and things like that, but the first thing was a Jeep Cherokee.
What pisses you off?
What pisses me off: racial biases, prejudices. Racism pisses me off.
If you could commit one consequence-free crime what would it be?
I’ll add a super power to this answer. If I had one wish it would be the power to be invisible, and I would go around and I would loot — not stores, but I would loot the greatest record shops and get all the great music that I could find. I’m a music buff. I would go to all these different countries. I would sneak on planes, and I wouldn’t have to even been in the stowaway compartment of the plane. I would be invisible and go around and be the greatest thief ever.