NEW YORK (AP) — This is a couple of complicated men.
As the second season of "Power" begins, James "Ghost" St. Patrick is plunging ever deeper into the drug trade as a way to save his ritzy New York nightclub and leave the drug world behind, while he juggles life with two powerful women: his gung-ho gangster wife and his rekindled teen love who, unbeknownst to him, is an assistant U.S. attorney who doesn't realize the man she aims to bust is her Jamie.
Further complicating things is his lifelong best friend and business partner, Tommy Egan, who savors the drug world Ghost is trying to escape.
"Power" is an ebony-and-ivory love story — a love story between Ghost and Tommy, "two guys who just can't figure out how to get away from each other," says Omari Hardwick, who stars as Ghost opposite Joseph Sikora, who co-stars as Tommy.
As the two actors discuss the new "Power" season (starting Saturday at 9 p.m. EDT on Starz), they make it clear that they, too, have forged tight bonds since teaming up on the series.
"We are good puzzle pieces that fit together," says Sikora, 38, "and have great trust in each other when the cameras start rolling."
"We both come from victim-y Catholic moms," adds Hardwick, 41, with a laugh. "I'm a black Catholic raised in Decatur, Georgia, which was very gang-infested, then I went to an all-white private high school and excelled in sports, and wrote poetry, then played football at the University of Georgia, minoring in drama. I was a 200-pound defensive back on Saturday, but after the season I was performing 'Lysistrata' or 'Fences.'"
Acting was likewise in the blood of Sikora, who as a working-class Chicago kid got an early start in commercials. Since then he has logged theater credits in Chicago, Los Angeles and Broadway, along with appearing in dozens of TV shows, including "Boardwalk Empire," ''Grey's Anatomy" and "True Detective," as well as the films "Shutter Island" and HBO's "Normal."
But in his youth he found time for other pursuits.
"I spent a significant amount of time in the streets, hanging out with gang members, from the time I was 12 years old," he says. "I didn't smoke marijuana until I was older in life, but I dealt it out, a little bit here and there. In that small way I could see the attraction of the drug trade: I made all this money doing absolutely nothing."
"These are things that I didn't know when Joe auditioned. But I could look at him and know," says Hardwick, who encouraged Sikora to embrace his own background, not just the scripts' printed pages, in inhabiting his character.
"I've definitely carried firearms," Sikora goes on, "and I know that feeling of getting shot at and hearing that crazy little voice: 'I could die right now, and I don't want to die.'"
Maybe that's what helps give "Power" its power. (Adding further street cred: Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, who, besides his role as an executive producer, co-stars as Ghost's former overlord now getting sprung from prison.) "Power" is powered by violence, but the two men at its center understand, as Sikora came to understand in real life, the deadly stakes, even as they are addicted to it.
"That's important," says Hardwick. "If your character is just out there acting a fool, viewers are gonna say, 'Why am I watching this?' But if he's whispering, 'I don't really want to die,' there's a level of vulnerability cemented in these bad characters."
Hardwick has starred in BET's "Being Mary Jane," as well as its film "Middle of Nowhere" and features including "Kick-Ass," ''Beauty Shop" and "Sparkle." But it's been a long road to reach stardom.
He recalls a girlfriend who, as she saw him nearing 30 without much show-biz success, persuaded him to claim a backup career. He became an L.A. firefighter.
"You go to the dishwater to get forks and you only get spoons," says Hardwick, still the poet. "For two years I was going for something that wasn't really in my heart."
Then he quit. Three hours later, he says, he learned he had won a role in Spike Lee's 2004 film, "Sucker Free City."
"Fire department, bye-bye! Spike Lee job, got it!" he recalls. "Then I got no more work for a while and went homeless. But you got to go through tough times to be a really solid actor. Otherwise, what are you putting on-screen?"
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore