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Power season premiere: Omari Hardwick on Ghost's time behind bars

‘It doesn’t look good for Ghost,’ he tells EW

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Myles Aronowitz/Starz

Prison isn’t treating Ghost too well. Or, make that James.

The season 4 premiere of Power picks up right where things left off, with Ghost (Omari Hardwick) being booked following his arrest for the murder of Greg Knox (Andy Bean). The drug kingpin has committed his share of crimes, but this wasn’t one of them. Despite that fact, the evidence and his scorned lover Angela (Lela Loren) say differently.

While Tommy (Joseph Sikora), Tasha (Naturi Naughton), Dre (Rotimi)], and Kanan (50 Cent) all had to scramble to figure out their next move, Ghost had to figure out how he would survive. On the advice of his lawyer Joe Proctor (Jerry Ferrera)], the powerful criminal is trying to lay low and channel his club owning, good samaritan persona James St. Patrick. Easier said than done, considering by episode’s end he’s being beaten by a pair of guards, including one played by the late Charlie Murphy.

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To break down the big premiere, EW talked with Hardwick about how he slept at the prison to prepare for the story line, the reason it was tough to work with Murphy, and why fans should be worried about Ghost.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were your first thoughts when showrunner Courtney Kemp presented you with the idea of Ghost going to jail? Were you excited for something different?
OMARI HARDWICK: Beyond excited. I kind of wanted it. At this point, going into season 4, I’d say I have leverage stature increased enough where I could sort of pull her coat tail on what I wanted. I’m typically able to speak with her, Curtis, and Chris Albrecht at Starz and pick their brain and tell them what I feel can aid the show. I don’t think they would have asked me to be the lead if I wasn’t someone who could add to the story arcs. It was ironic because personally, I was at a place in my life where I kind of wanted to be isolated a bit. Celebrity had really taken off, and I think I’m okay at it, because I don’t know how not to be a gracious and appreciative kid, but I still never got into this sh– for celebrity. So for me, that was happening simultaneous with perhaps wanting the character to go into an isolated state as well. I mentioned it to Courtney and I think once she saw I was so willing and desiring that, she was onboard.

You talk about wanting the isolation, in the first three seasons you were often the connection between a lot of the story lines and characters. So what was it like being off and separated from the rest of the cast for the most part?
It was really interesting. And perhaps, again, because I had invited it so much, it wasn’t a shock value as much, because I was really wanting it. I think most people following my career and Power at this point can tell the levels of intensity with which I play every character. Being an ex-athlete meets a poet meets a trained actor, I think the combination of the three equals a pretty intense, very immersed, when it need be, dare I say, method actor. It was just me. So I did go method this season. I lived at the jail three days a week, where we shot. The wife allowed it. It was pretty intense… I was entrenched and in it. Because of my personal journey, it felt so good to be isolated. It kind of aided my transition by character-wise being where I had to be.

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The opening was great with Ghost being booked and so quickly, pun intended, stripped of his power. He can’t even answer an urgent call from Tasha. So what was it like playing this unfamiliar version of the character?
Those things call themselves challenges, but for me, I wouldn’t necessarily call it anything but a welcomed invitation. There’s no one more multi-faceted and dynamic and duplicitous than Ghost, so it was always one of those things that I welcomed with open arms. In talking with Courtney, Curtis, and Chris, I said from the gate that I wanted to play all the colors of this guy. If he’s an instrument, I want to pick him up one day as a trumpet, one day as a saxophone, and then the following week turn him into a piano; just play him at whatever best way I can figure out how to play him. So it was nice to be able to be vulnerable and different. Obviously, there’s vulnerable moments, as Ghost is a father and a lover in so many ways. So he’s got to use that level of charm and charisma on a consistent basis. As an audience, we can never put our finger on when he is being honest or truly vulnerable or compassionate or whether he’s being manipulative to get whatever he needs to get, which is part of what makes him so cool. But I definitely love the moments this year where I was able to play him more like a wind instrument. He was not as strong as the bass guitar we usually know him to be. It’s kind of interesting to be quiet, to not know what to say, to have Proctor tell Ghost what to do. I’m not used to as a character being told what to do. I loved it.

The episode ends with maybe his weakest moment to date as he gets a beat down at the hands of the guards. Moving forward, will that prompt him to snap out of James and back into Ghost for self-preservation’s sake?
I always liken this guy to several different powerful people in life, whether to King Herod, Pablo Escobar, President Obama, or President Clinton. No matter what you say about them, you can’t argue their intelligence. But at this moment in time, I guess we’d say for the first in four seasons, Ghost is Jekyll and Hyde. So it’s hard to answer the question without giving the world too much of a peek, but I’d definitely say that we already know that the adage is apropos for this guy that, you can take the guy out of the hood, but it’s hard to take the hood out of the guy. I would definitely say if Ghost got James in with the antics and actions that it’s kind of ironic that Ghost would have to be the one to break him out or get him to remain safe at night when he closes his eyes, even though he only closes one eye. He’s James as much as he can be James. Nobody in jail wants to see Jamie. He’s a 14-year-old lovestruck puppy who is addicted to a dream that he had of being with a girl. I don’t necessarily think Jamie is ever present this season. But he’s definitely putting on James as much as possible, but I don’t know how you can survive in jail without Ghost coming out.

In being isolated from much of the cast, many of your interactions are with the late Charlie Murphy. He’s known as such a comedic legend, so what was it like to work with him, particularly on a project opposite of what he’s known for?
When they said cut, it was interesting because I needed that isolation so much and it was really difficult because he wanted to talk. He’s chatty as a lot of comedians are because they’re so brilliant and the mind never stops. Dramatic actors particularly are quiet and Ghost is so quiet. And you’re never that far from the character you’re playing, so as an actor, I’m super, super quiet. And so he was chatty and it was really difficult, but he’s such an icon that there were times were I would turn and kind of smile at him with a slight grin, giving enough respect, but sort of in my eyes making the statement of I don’t really feel like talking right now. That happened a lot. I think he caught on. Being a fan of the show, it sort of helped since his level of respect was super high. And Charlie was bright and street smart, and I’m sure he’s talking to the angels in heaven and making them laugh and telling them the right places to watch Power on Sunday nights. He’s a special, special cat. So rest in peace.

Without giving any spoilers, what can you tease about the next few episodes of the season as a whole?
It doesn’t look good for Ghost. That’s the best tease I can say. It’s hard pressed that a betting man in Vegas would win if they said he was getting out of jail. With the nucleus of the show, that means everyone else is affected. Everybody on the outside. Kanan may have wanted revenge, but even at the end of the day, he’s like, “Damn, if Ghost ain’t getting out, what does that mean for my flow?” What does it mean for Tasha and the kids? What does it mean for Angela and the cops? The cops aren’t completely innocent in terms of how they’ve done things, but they’re obviously happy that he’s not getting out. But everyone else is sort of on pins and needles waiting to see what happens.

Power airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.