On the set of Breaking, Michael K. Williams always showed up smelling really good according to his castmates.
Prior to his death last year, Williams had just wrapped production on the thriller-drama that went on to premiere at Sundance Film Festival this year.
“His clothes,” star John Boyega told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s West Hollywood premiere about what he remembers most about Williams on-set. “The design of his clothes, his fashion sense. He smelled very nice. He had a very nice presence. I’m actually wearing his natural oils tonight because he gave me a bottle.”
“He smelled really wonderful,” actress Selenis Leyva, who plays Rosa Diaz in the film, agreed.
Beyond his recognizable scent, Williams is remembered by his castmates as not only a talented performer, but a generous one. Over the course of the film, several interactions between Williams’ character and the rest of the cast occur over the phone. While Williams wasn’t required to be present for the filming of those scenes, he always was.
“A lot of the times that I saw him on set, he was basically off-camera, on the phone, literally giving the lines to John,” said Leyva. “A lot of actors in his position would be like, ‘No, I’m not doing that.’ He was there. He was present. Just a wonderful spirit.”
Nicole Beharie, who plays Estel Valerie in the film, echoed that sentiment. “This guy is an icon,” she said about Williams. “And yet, he came in for my phone off-camera, on his day off, just to say my lines. I don’t know if you know, but people don’t do that. Sometimes people will be in a scene with you and they won’t be there. So that’s the spirit of Michael. It sucks that he’s not here with us today.”
Director and co-writer Abi Damaris Corbin remembers Williams giving on-set acting lessons to extras in the film. “He showed them, ‘Hey, if you want to take your career to the next level, here’s how.’ Just so many snippets in just a short span of time. His presence was so rich and so giving.”
She continued, “He was a dancer in his eyes and his heart and his spirit, a man who wanted people to be better than him, and yet, what a great man. I want to remember how we saw him. Because he saw me. He also raided my fridge for chocolate chip cookies and banana bread.”
Breaking tells the true story of the late Brian Brown-Easley (Boyega), a Marine Corps veteran who faces financial trouble and homelessness when he doesn’t receive his disability check in the mail. When the Department of Veteran Affairs fails to help his situation, Easley turns to rob a Wells Fargo Bank with a bomb threat in 2017.
After learning of Easley’s story, Corbin was heartbroken. “This man so badly just wanted to be heard. He still hadn’t been heard. So I felt the weight on my shoulders and said, ‘Wow, one person after another has just walked past this. I can’t do the same. It makes me no better.’ There’s no way to repair a system that’s broken if each person looks away. So we made this film, so that we wouldn’t have to.”
The cast praised the film’s star Boyega for his intense portrayal of Easley. From the start, Corbin and co-writer Kwame Kwei-Armah had the Star Wars actor in mind.
“When Kwame and I wrapped the last line of the script, we looked at each other over Zoom and we immediately had the same thought — John Boyega,” said Corbin. But at the time, Boyega wasn’t available. “We were heartbroken,” the director remembered. “Then we looked at Jonathan Majors, and he was available fortuitously, but then COVID and Marvel and schedules, and the person who was supposed to be in the room, landed in the room. And the very first day that John was on-set was the anniversary of when Brian Brown-Easley walked into that bank. When he first walked on-set, there was a holy hush upon the set. And there was power. You could just feel that John was ready, spiritually.”
“He’s a generational talent,” said Kwei-Armah of Boyega. “He’s an artist that exceeds expectations every time. I knew John as a boy, and we were hugging just now. We were hugging and almost crying, because I gave John his first job in a play where he had one line. Now, I have seen this man, this brilliant artist. I feel like crying.”
Williams’ son Karim Anderson was also in attendance at the film’s Wednesday evening premiere. “I’m glad I’m still here to be in his legacy and to see his work unveiled,” said Anderson about his father. “And for you guys to enjoy it. He’s a master at everything, and he’s a phenomenal person. So when you see him on the big screen, you’re just going to see a phenomenal person who loves acting.”
Boyega added, “I also [remember Michael’s] work ethic. The versatility and the type of work he showed before is second to none. He had such an amazing career. We wanted him to just bless our small little movie and give it some grace. And he’s done just that.”
Breaking hits theaters Fri. Aug 26.