As an actor, Decatur native Omari Hardwick gets a double challenge on the show “Dark Blue,” which airs Wednesday nights on TNT.
He gets to not only play a conflicted married undercover cop Ty Curtis, but he also gets to try out different bad-guy personas in each episode.
“He’s a very layered character, really meaty,” said Hardwick during an interview at Corner Bakery in Buckhead earlier this week. “This was an opportunity to show my range. It’s a dream role to have in the TV world.” He’s in town to visit family now that “Dark Blue” has completed taping its first 10 episodes and awaits whether TNT gives the show a second season. (It’s averaging about 3 million viewers a week.)
To prep for an earlier cop role, he made connections with actual undercover officers. “To do this, you have to be a little bit off,” he said. “It’s the rush. They become addicted to it.”
Like other cop and lawyer shows which wrap up cases in a neat bow after an hour, “Dark Blue” takes on a new criminal element each week when in reality, undercover cops will often stay in character for months on end. “You have to suspend disbelief,” Hardwick said.
And how about the issue of criminals recognizing you in another guise? “We talked to a lot of cops who did it for 20 years. You’d be amazed. You speak to the same person and they don’t recognize you in a different context. All it takes sometimes is a change of hair or outfit.”
Hardwick, now 35, was a three-sport man at Marist but dabbled in acting. At the University of Georgia, where he majored in journalism, he played defensive back with the Dawgs and did several plays such as August Wilson’s “Fences.”
The Dawgs were not that great during his years there in the early 1990s. “We had some great guys. We had an incredible team,” he said later in an interview with Nick Cellini and Chris Dimino on 790/The Zone. “We should have done better… we never held up to the bargain.”
After school, he tried out for the NFL but just missed the cut with the San Diego Chargers. He then subsisted for a few years in New York City doing security and grabbing an acting gig here and there. “I struggled,” he said. “I lived in Harlem on friends’ couches, in Brooklyn with cousins.”
In 1998, he came to Los Angeles, taking acting classes and continuing to harbor a “poverty mentality.” He believed he had to suffer to truly benefit from it all. “It kept me broken,” he said. “I lived in a car at one point.” (Yes, just like Tyler Perry!)
In L.A., Hardwick recalls getting fired at one club for fighting although that is what he sometimes has to do as a security guy. Now, he said, there’s a “Dark Blue” billboard literally looking down at that spot.
At one point, he started training for firefighting as a backup profession (and request of an ex girlfriend worried about his future.)
But he got his first big job in a film for Spike Lee on Showtime called “Sucker Free City.” He then got a part in the film “Beauty Shop.” And soon after, he received a co-starring role on TNT’s medical drama “Saved” in 2005. After he was given the good news, “I pulled over to the side of the road,” he recalled, “and shed a few tears.”
But the show didn’t really pull in the numbers TNT had expected and was cancelled after one season. Hardwick, who found out at the same time his best friend had been murdered, was crushed. It took awhile for him to get himself back up.
By 2007, he started snagging decent movie roles including the recent Spike Lee film “Miracle at St. Anna” and Mike Epps comedy “Next Day Air.”
Which role does he regret missing most? The upcoming James Cameron film “Avatar,” which booked Laz Alonso instead. He and Laz are of similar age, size and looks, so they often compete for similar roles. Here’s a photo of Laz:
And here’s an interview Southside Steve did with Hardwick: