When given the script for the pilot of Boomtown, Mykelti Williamson followed his gut instinct-he refused to read it. His experience two years earlier on the short-lived drama, The Fugitive, had made Mr. Williamson gun-shy about committing to another dramatic series on television.
“When we started on The Fugitive, it was an amazing show,” Mr. Williamson said. “But then the show started to experience budget cuts; it was scaled way down. I felt we were in trouble and the audience felt the same way. I did not want another experience like that-to start out with a bang and then have the show taper off to being something else.”
Boomtown executive producer Jon Avnet-who was determined to get the multifaceted Mr. Williamson to play daredevil detective “Fearless” Bobby Smith-convinced the actor that things would be different this time around. “He was amazing, it was like meeting with Muhammad Ali,” Mr. Williamson said. “I thought if this guy can do half the stuff he says he’s going to do, then this will be a really good show.”
Lucky for Mr. Williamson that Mr. Avnet-like Mr. Ali-is a man who lives up to the talk. After one season on Boomtown, Mr. Williamson feels very fortunate to be involved. Playing a cop who lives each day as if there were no tomorrow, Mr. Williamson said the beauty of the character is that the man knows life is fragile. “He got a second chance during Desert Storm when a bullet that was meant for him ended up killing his best friend. Now he’s doing the things he wants to do most and he does them without fear, because at the end of his life he doesn’t want any regrets.”
It’s a mantra that the actor himself has tried to adopt throughout his life, from his childhood days when he contemplated a career as a boxer (his mother absolutely refused to let him pursue it professionally) to the first moment he stepped on a stage at his neighborhood church and life for him was forever changed. “Muhammad Ali and Jackie Gleason were my heroes. They were my heroes because I loved the effect they had on other people.”
He’s tried to be as effective with his own career, and in large part he has succeeded. Mr. Williamson stunned many in the industry with his dead-on portrayal of the slack-jawed Pvt. Benjamin “Bubba” Bufford-Blue in the film Forrest Gump. But the opportunity was double-edged.
That film was a bittersweet experience for me, he said. It stopped me from working for a year. People thought I was Bubba, and it almost cost me my career.
When he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for the performance, Al Pacino-who never met Mr. Williamson-was livid. He later convinced director Michael Mann to bring the actor in for a role in the movie Heat.
Nowadays, Mr. Williamson’s acting chops get a daily workout on Boomtown, especially when Mr. Avnet-who also directs-decides to shoot scenes without any rehearsal. We’ve got explosions happening and it’s scary and it’s fun,” Mr. Williamson said. “Once you accomplish it, you get this incredible rush. It’s really intense and I love it.”