By Derek Lawrence
October 28, 2020 at 11:15 AM EDT
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Credit: Kelly Walsh/Paramount

For many actors, there's nothing scarier than wrapping an iconic run on a beloved series. Yes, there is hope for even bigger opportunities in the future, but there's also the fear of the unknown, and whether you'll be able to be seen as more than the character you've so memorably played.

Before being selected as the face of Power, Omari Hardwick appeared in films directed by Tyler Perry, Ava DuVernay, and Spike Lee. And yet, it was the team behind the Starz series, including creator Courtney Kemp and producer 50 Cent, that turned him into a star. Power became a record-breaking hit and has birthed a powerful TV universe, with at least four planned spin-offs. And at the center of it has been Hardwick and his portrayal of James St. Patrick, a.k.a. Ghost, who, despite being killed in the final season, is the namesake of followup Power Book II: Ghost. There's a world where Hardwick is forever known as Ghost, and he knows it. But, thankfully, as he looked to his post-Power future, he met a filmmaker who refused to be haunted by the memory of Ghost.

"Speaking to Mark Tonderai, not necessarily about what I saw in the script, it was him speaking about how he saw me and my career," recalls Hardwick of early conversations with the director of his new horror thriller Spell (available Friday in theaters and on demand). "He brought up Power and said, 'Look, you're in this space where everyone continuously talks about one character. But, as a director, I'm competitive enough to want to breakthrough that. I want to raise the stakes and take you to a challenging place that no one has seen you go.' For a director to steer me into that and go, 'I'm going to really needle you in ways that you haven't been needled prior,' I was in on that alone.'"

Being needled is interesting wording from Hardwick, considering the plot of Spell, which follows Marquis, a native of rural Appalachia who made it out and never looked back. Now a successful businessman, he's returning home with his wife and children for his father's funeral. But their plane crashes on the way and Marquis wakes up wounded and trapped in the attic of Ms. Eloise (Loretta), a strange woman who promises to nurse him back to health via Boogity, a Hoodoo figure made from his blood and skin.

Hardwick found Marquis to be quite similar to Ghost in that they are both "quite lost," whereas he believes they begin differ when it comes to self-awareness. "This guy believes, I come from a weird, dirty backwoods type of reality and I can eradicate myself from that," says Hardwick, who thinks he was "built" to play "diseased" people. "Ghost didn't eradicate that. 50's [Power theme] song says it best: 'I come from a big rich town, I just grew up in the poorest part.' Ghost drove into that, to then drive into another part of the big rich town. You'd almost make Ghost delusional on paper, but Marquis is the delusional one."

And the character's mindset only becomes more disoriented as he adjusts to his new reality. After the crash and being told his family is dead, Marquis finds himself in a situation similar to that in Misery. "Shout-out to James Caan, shout-out to Kathy Bates," says Hardwick of the stars from the Stephen King film adaptation. "But we took it to a steroid level." The self-described method actor truly lived in misery during filming in South Africa. When he wasn't forced to stay injured in bed, Hardwick was crawling around, climbing buildings in the rain, and often needing to act like he didn't have control of his own body. "Physically and spiritually it took a toll, because I had got to places, head and heart, that I had never gone to," says Hardwick, who would maintain his character's limp offscreen and often starve himself. "I needed to go to these very pubescent and adolescent places as a 40-year-old man, which was not easy."

Hardwick tried to leave all of that baggage onset and "act normal" when spending time with his family, who joined him in South Africa, only to blow out his back swimming with the kids. "And then I go back to work on Monday, take advantage of the back having gone out, I can use it, and then, in using the back going out, now Mark is adding more to it," says Hardwick with a laugh. "He's like, 'Okay, so you’re okay crawling this week?” I'm like, 'Yeah, because my back is actually out,' and he says, 'Cool, let me add a couple more things that are going to make it even more grueling.'"

Despite all of the pain, including stitches on his foot, Hardwick knew he had to deliver, both for the audience and for those who got him here. "I appreciate Tyler Perry reaching out to Paramount and telling them, 'I think this guy is one of the next,'" he says of his frequent collaborator. "This great studio hired me and believed in Omari on a level that Courtney, 50, and Starz believed in me. And so, once I go, I don't ever want people to go, 'Um, I don't know.' I go full out."

Next up for Hardwick is a major role in Zack Snyder's big-budget Netflix zombie film Army of the Dead, in which he costars opposite "heavyweight talent" Dave Bautista. Ahead of that 2021 release, Hardwick is thankful that "God allowed me this moment," comparing Spell to the mostly-solo spotlight given to Will Smith in I Am Legend. "For the most part you've got to watch my ass crawl around for two hours," says Hardwick. "It's definitely a moment of humility."

And power.

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