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Omari Hardwick has the 'Power' in new Starz series from rapper 50 Cent

Omari Hardwick as James "Ghost" St. Patrick in "Power."
STARZ, with permission

After historical dramas such as "Da Vinci's Demons," "Black Sails," and "The White Queen," STARZ goes contemporary with the crime drama "Power." "Power" is the story of James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), who owns Truth, New York's hottest, up-and-coming new nightclub for the city's elite. When Ghost is not at the club, he's kingpin of a lucrative drug network.

There are shades of "The Sopranos" in "Power." Like Tony, Ghost is trying to take his criminal enterprise totally legitimate, but he is finding it more difficult than he imagined. His partner Tommy (Joseph Sikora) likes the street life and mixing it up, whereas Ghost is starting to see the appeal of not having to constantly be looking over his shoulder. Even Ghost's wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton) is resistant to the idea of change, despite the fact that, as her husband sensibly points out, there are no old drug dealers. They are either in jail or dead.

The series, from executive producer/rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, lacks many of the subtitles of "The Sopranos," with its brash and bold displays of money, crime and sex, but despite its excesses, "Power" does have a sincerity about it, thanks in large part to Hardwick's portrayal of Ghost.

Truth may be been opened ostensibly to launder the drug money, but, for Ghost, it is also the fulfillment of his father's dream, and Hardwick makes us understand this. Then, there is the romantic side to Ghost, as he reconnects with a lost love from his high school years -- Angela Valdes (Lela Loren). Unbeknownst to either of them, Angela, who is a deputy district attorney working a secret drug case, is hot on Ghost's trail as she is looking for the biggest drug dealer in the city to help her make her case, but initially we are caught up in their yearning for each other.

"Power" premieres Saturday night on STARZ, with Hardwick taking time from his schedule to do this e-mail interview with about his role, the years he spent living in his car, what "Omari" means, and more. [Note: the caps and punctuation are all his.]

From where do you get the attitude to play Ghost? Is any part of him based on someone you know, or have watched in the news?

I imagine for an actor to be trusted in "wearing" a character for any duration of time, he or she has to innately possess the "attitude" appropriate to play that character respectively. I have always counted myself lucky in the sense that my range of attitude extends from an 8-year-old boy atop a mountain screaming out victory at the top of my lungs with a breath full of hope, to a 90-year-old man rocking in a rocking chair on a dusty, old, Southern porch, drinking whisky, while reading Hemingway and Sanchez and listening to the music of Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent. James "Ghost" St. Patrick is all of this. He is not necessarily based on any one human. He exists in the amalgamation of a Shakespearian character's tortured soul and the ruthless ambition of a Pablo Escobar, polished in the father (better yet, the daddy) of Cliff Huxtable in "The Cosby Show."

When you take on a role like Ghost, do you have concerns about being a role model? That younger viewers might like his swagger and not see the dark side of working in the drug trade?

Nah, I never carry the concern of losing the ability to serve as a role model for our youth. I am fully aware that the platform I have been humbly blessed by God with having is ALWAYS bigger than any role I could ever play, dark or light. Darkness furthermore, is in every human being without exception. Every reader interested in your questions and my answers possesses their own ounce of darkness and light. I speak to the youth -- I have since I was in college and, of course, currently do -- from a place birthed out of Omari. NOT the characters I have played, Ghost included. I use this platform and microphone the fans have "allowed" me to hold to speak ABOUT the characters I have lived in. I speak of their goodness, and not so good qualities, and equally address that. THAT is all you can ask of role model...self-awareness, openness, and growth.

You went from at one point living in your car, to now starring in your own STARZ series. What has that transition been like for you?

I thought often about the moment I am even currently experiencing, like the moment of literally answering questions about what it was like having days of sleeping in my car, when I was in that space. Some of my deepest poems were written while in that space in life, while listening to everything from country music (because of how great its stories are) to NPR, and I would close my eyes tightly, asking God to whisper to my folks back in Atlanta that all was good. That experience has consistently served as an obvious reminder of how far up the mountain I have climbed.

Being a Capricorn, I am constantly in a search for mountains to climb. So, perhaps the transition from sleeping in cars to headlining a show on STARZ was "smoother" for me, while, of course, coming STILL with pain, confusion, sleep deprivation, and questions. I say smoother because I embrace the journey. And during the moments of difficulty in such an embrace, the beautiful friends I was blessed with would aid in this acceptance of such a roller coaster ride. My college roommate consistently uttered, "Yours will always be a marathon, O." Reckon he was quite correct.

On imdb, it says your parents named you to set a precedent, "Omari" meaning "most high," and "Latif" meaning "gentle." What language is that from? How has it inspired your life?

Yes, I have often said that the names my mother and father gave their four children are some of the greatest gifts they have presented us with. My name derives from the Arabic language. When I was young, I had a cousin who deemed me her devilish angel (refer back to question 1...wink wink). When I think about the relentlessly ambitious, challenging and often hard, and never give up nature of myself, I see Omari quite clearly. And then I fall to my knees and thank the Lord for the gentle, sensitive, silly, child like Lateef, who prevents Omari from losing his mind (wink wink times two).

How does having been an athlete translate to success in acting?

For me, having been a high-level athlete and, of course, still being athletic is EVERYTHING. It perhaps is bigger than any hour I spent studying Meisner, or Shakespeare, or riding aimlessly on a New York subway. Our show's creator, Courtney Kemp Agboh, and our director, Anthony Hemingway, talk ball with me all day; often even using sport analogies to communicate our needs for each other! My attack of life, of story, of character is very me since birth but THAT drew me to sport, where I found a natural home away from home.

My three brothers and sister, father and grandfathers, uncles and cousins were all drawn the same way to game and competition. It was underneath my walk in life everyday and still is. I played four sports at one point in high school, but football became my No. 1. My father says and I agree, I was perhaps a better baseball player but again, football drew me in deeper as it is obviously the greatest TEAM sport. When I am standing on a set, looking at the 80-350 crew it takes to run a production, I smile and think to myself, " was the right pick."

"Power" premieres Saturday, June 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on STARZ.

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