Michael Kenneth Williams is used to tackling gritty characters—think The Wire’s Omar Little or Boardwalk Empire’s Chalky White—so playing Rock Banyon, a down-on-his-luck jazz musician, should be an easy task. But Rock is the protagonist of The Spoils Before Dying, the satirical and comedic follow-up to The Spoils of Babylon, the over-the-top, giant-wig-sporting, and slap-happy 2014 miniseries that starred Kristen Wiig and Tobey Maguire as star-crossed lovers. And that meant Williams had to film alongside comedians, including Maya Rudolph and the returning Wiig, who often left him struggling to stay in character.
Take an innocuous line about cake, for example. In one scene, Wiig—as Delores O’Dell, a singer Rock meets on the road—told Williams, “I’m gonna bake you a cake now, honey.” When the actress began riffing on the enunciation for dramatic effect, however, Wililams told EW he could barely hold himself together.
“I’m sitting there trying to hold my laughter, and it got so bad, because you’re working your core,” he said. “I started to get cramps. It was a real workout, trying not to laugh.”
That side-splitting comedy—and the chance to work with a cast of comedy heavyweights and executive producer Will Ferrell—convinced Williams to sign on The Spoils Before Dying. The latest Spoils installment promises the same overly dramatic tone as its predecessor, but with s a much darker premise: Williams’ Rock Banyon wakes up one morning to find his occasional lover Fresno Foxglove (Rudolph) dead in a car with another man. What follows is a series of events Williams says has to be seen to be understood, including a trip to Mexico, a Hollywood conspiracy, and appearances from Rudolph as Fresno in spirit form.
“It was the weirdest world to be in. There was just no up, no down,” he said. “[Rock] wakes up and the love of his life is dead, and he’s being accused of having murdered her, and he can’t remember anything because he’d drunk himself into a stupor the night before. That’s some pretty creepy sh– if you think about it, you know?”
Certainly, but Williams points out the miniseries manages to find the humor within the pulp-noir murder mystery. “It’s an interesting world to set a comedy in,” he said. “It’s a really dark twisted vortex that you’re making fun of at the same time.”
The Spoils Before Dying, which also stars Michael Sheen, Kate McKinnon, Tim Meadows, Chris Parnell, and Haley Joel Osment, is set to air on IFC later this year. Check out more exclusive photos from the miniseries below.