Malinda Williams is no stranger to the big and small screens. With a girl-next-door smile and street-smart attitude, we just can’t get enough of her. We recently caught up with the star to ask about her next moves, and found out there’s more to Ms. Williams than meets the eye.
Clutch: You’ve been in this business for many years, and we can even remember you on The Cosby Show and Moesha. When did you get started with your career?
MW: Hard to pinpoint exactly when, but I started at a very young age, when I was a child. So, I’ve definitely been in the game going on twenty years.
Clutch: You’re one of those rare actresses who can make the transition from television to film. Which is your favorite to work on?
MW: I can’t choose between the two, and I get asked that a lot. Each medium has its pros and cons. When I’m feeling like doing a film, it’s because that’s what works for my life at the time. Television is a very fast paced, very hectic and sometimes grueling schedule. Film…you shoot it and you’re done, sometimes in the span of two or three months. You shoot it, it’s done, you go home and you’re on a next project. Again, there’s a lot more room to play with, you know, in terms of being creative. With television you don’t have as much time to be creative because it’s so fast paced and a lot of times it is a little more rigid when the writing is concerned and the networks are concerned.
Clutch: A lot of your fan base comes from your role as Bird on the Showtime series Soul Food. Are you still recognized as the character when you’re out in public?
MW: Every day. If I leave my house, at least once a day. Unless I’m stuck in the house, no matter where I go, at least one person calls me Bird a day.
Clutch: You and your father are interviewed and featured in the new book Daughters of Men: Portraits of African-American Women and Their Fathers, by author Rachel Vassel. How did you get involved with this project?
MW: Well, it was an interesting project. The author called my publicist, and she called me and asked would I be willing to do an interview about my father. That’s interesting because no one really ever asked me about my father. So I said of course…I was all too thrilled to participate in something like that. It was definitely something I had never seen before and something I’d be interested in reading myself even if I weren’t part of the book. She got on the phone and started asking me questions, and I began to realize really just what role my father did play in my life. It’s like you kind of just know that you had a great father and how important he was in your life, so you don’t walk around counting all the ways. But when I was doing the interview with Rachel, I literally was forced to count the ways my dad had influenced me and the ways he was important to me. I got off the phone and called my Dad like, “Dad, thank you!” All of a sudden I was so grateful for my father even more so than I had been before I had that conversation with Rachel. That’s what I took home.
Clutch: You also have a new movie coming out, First Sunday. Tell us about it.
MW: It’s a comedy. I don’t want to be corny and call it a caper, but that’s what it is! It’s two boys from the hood, no pun intended, who decide to rob a church on first Sunday. As you can imagine a lot of things happen. We have Loretta Devine, Michael Beach, Katt Williams, Tracy Morgan, Ice Cube…so it was a lot of add libbing going on. It was constantly being rewritten as we were shooting. You were constantly on your toes, because you never knew what Loretta was going to say, or what Kat was going to say. The director gave the actors a lot of room in that area to play around with.
Clutch: We’ve seen you play just about every role imaginable—the younger sister, the embittered wife, the dream girl—you name it. How do you prepare to take on these different personalities when you start a new project?
MW: I think the first thing I try to do is put yourself in that characters shoes. If it’s a series there’s only so much prep you can do because you only have one or two scripts in advance. So you kind of just decide who that character is going to be and then you take it from there. The nice thing about a series is you have two, three, four, five years—sometimes if you’re lucky, seven to ten years—to develop a character, and you don’t have to worry from the beginning who she’s going to be; you just decide who she is now. And over the span of seven years she changes, just like you as a human being would change. If you’re doing a three-episode arc of a television series, you have to literally analyze every single word that’s on the page. You know, that’s probably why I as a person am so critical of things people do and say. I pick everything apart; I’m very analytical. And I do that because it’s part of my profession. It’s like every single thing we do, there’s a reason why we do it. I take that and try to apply it to the character and go, “Okay, she’s saying this, but what does she really mean, what does she really want?” Sometimes it’s not on the page and you have to make it up and you have to give the character more bones than are actually seen there. So you kind of throw in something like “Well, I think my character’s dream would be to become a race car driver!” and that element adds an extra layer to your character. There are lots of ways that you can play around with it. What makes it so interesting to me is that it’s almost like someone gave you a piece of art and asked you to add to it. You know, sometimes it’s a great piece of work and sometimes it’s work that’s going to need more of your help than you expected. But the challenge of it is turning it into something or seeing the outcome, because it’s not going to be exactly what was originally brought to you. Now you’re bringing your artistic value to it.
Clutch: At one time you were creating a lingerie line, Modern Goddess. Is this still in the works or have you moved on to other endeavors?
MW: I’m always doing something. Modern Goddess is definitely still in the works. I just try to find ways outside of the business to be creative. There is that thing in me that is very artistic and wants to keep creating. And the type of artist that I am is not the type that is bound to my acting work. I have to try to find ways and different outlets to be creative because that’s what fulfills me. So yeah I’m always doing something. I’m writing, I design, I paint, I draw. There are so many things that I do to be creative.
Clutch: If there were a reality television show about your life what would viewers see in your typical day?
MW: A typical day…I wake up about 7:00 a.m. I have a son, so he has to be at school at 8:00 a.m. I come home and a lot of times I’m like, “I can’t believe I start my day this early, but alright…so be it!” Typically, I always have to have a little bit of silence in my day—whether it’s prayer, meditation or reading. When it’s 8:30 it’s too early to make any phone calls, so that’s the time that I take to do that. And then throughout the rest of the day I run errands or I do some of my readings. Sometimes I’ll have a class. I get home around 2:30, 3:00 and then it’s time to get the kid. We come home, do homework, have dinner. And that’s when I’m not on a show or in a film. Throughout the year I’m not working every single day and that’s the beauty of what I do. I’m available to prioritize. First and foremost is my son. It’s nice to be able to be there for him. I volunteer at his school, I’m at the bake sell with cookies! It’s normal, but not typical. Well, it’s typical for me in that I’m just a regular girl, I’m a mom. I go to Office Depot and get pencil sharpeners just like everyone else. But then I don’t have a 9 to 5 that I go to. I live in Southern California, but I’m not out here every day shopping at Kitson on Rodeo Drive or partying every night. I’m very much normal.
Clutch: Between running errands, being a mom and working, how do you find time to stay in such great shape?
MW: I have to exercise. I have a treadmill. Once of the things I made sure is that I got a treadmill put in my house. Just to keep it moving. I have a trainer that I work with off and on—not consistently. When I feel like I’m slipping or need a little discipline. She’s physically, mentally and spiritually training. It’s not jut losing weight with this woman. It’s almost like you go there and you’re with someone who whips you back into shape, not just your body, but also your mind. I do try to keep some sort of regimen going. I take a lot of herbs, lots of vitamins. I do my research in terms of anti-aging, how to stay youthful, how to keep the skin beautiful and supple. What foods are great for your skin, things that I know I’m supposed to be doing right now. I think Oprah said this, or someone on her show said this, “When you’re 19 or 25, there were things you could do that your body just won’t do at 30.” And you really do have to change yourself for your own good. You have to monitor yourself and do a little research. I’m really into the holistic and herbal healing. It’s about being proactive as opposed to being reactive. I definitely have great genes; don’t want to take that away from my parents! But I do work at that.
Clutch: Unlike some celebs, you always seem so positive and we never hear about you in the tabloids or on gossip blogs. How do you stay grounded? What piece of advice works for you in that sense?
MW: I was watching television, Showbiz Tonight or something, and I couldn’t stand it! I had to change the channel. They were bashing some artist or celebrity, really just talking nasty about this person. There was a time where all you had to deal with was someone saying, “Sorry, Malinda. You didn’t get the part.” That was the level of thickness you had to have on your skin and that was enough—trust me. Because as many times as you would interview and audition, and really wanted to be in a movie, and wanted to be on a show, nine times out of ten, you got rejected. It’s a very hard business to be in. So I think one of the best pieces of advice was to never take no for an answer. I would always say, “Okay, I didn’t get that one, that’s fine. I’ll get the next one,” and I would move on. I was very persistent in moving on. I was very good at letting things roll off my back. But people never told me and I’m sure they weren’t able at that time to foresee the Internet, and they weren’t able to foresee these shows like TMZ. I’ll never understand people who just literally spend their day trying to find things wrong with people. I don’t understand that type of energy—and I wish someone had prepared me for that, and not just for myself, but for my friends; even for people like Britney [Spears] who I don’t even know, but I sit there and I feel for her. It’s kind of painful even for me to listen to. Because I know somehow it’s going to reflect back on me—not as an actress, not as a celebrity, but as a women. I wish I had gotten something else that would prepare me for what to say, what to do or how to change what’s happening now.
Clutch: There are a handful of working black actresses that you can always count on to get the role of leading lady. Do you feel like Hollywood pits you against each other to land these parts?
MW: I don’t feel it’s a competition in that sense of the word; as though there’s a race and whoever is the winner gets the prize. I don’t feel like Hollywood pits us against one another, what I think happens is we become interchangeable. We become one in the same. Therefore our value gets depreciated because of that. Because I feel like, there’s rarely just one woman who can play the role. She’s very rare. It’s almost like [they say] If we can’t get Malinda, we’ll get Gabrielle. If we can’t get Gabrielle, we’ll get Nia. If we can’t get Nia, we’ll get Regina. I definitely don’t see myself as any of those women. You know what I mean? They are who they are. I remember one time having a conversation with Diahann Carroll while up in Toronto shooting Soul Food. We were talking to her and asked her a question about Dorothy Dandridge. And she said something to the effect of, “Those girls back in those times definitely saw themselves separate of one another.” They knew they were black women struggling in this business, but they didn’t see themselves as one in the same. Even though the outside world may have seen them as the same “type.” They never allowed themselves to be interchangeable. If they were looking for Dorothy, Diahann would never do it. Because the television and film world is so saturated, films are being put out every week, sometimes films are only in the box office for two or three weeks. I don’t feel like the competition is between us, the problem is that we’re expendable, you know.
Clutch: What sort of advice would you offer to a young woman starting out in the business today?
MW: When I was first in the business, a lot of people would tell me it’s very hard, it’s competitive and it’s one in a million! When people call you a star or celebrity, that’s one in a million. People come from all over the world to Hollywood to make it. And probably nine out of ten of them don’t. But I never allowed myself to hear or see that part of it. I only see myself as the one out of the ten. So if I were to give encouraging advice, I would say see yourself as the exception, not the rule. You have to have tunnel vision. You really do have to stay focused on your goal. I don’t like to be discouraging, but if I had to offer any piece of discouraging advice it would be to stay in school, which I don’t think is discouraging at all. I would say finish up your education first or as you go along. But do put that first.
Clutch: We believe that you tell a lot about a person by what’s in their purse. What do you keep in your clutch?
MW: Advil, at least one piece of sticky tape, a safety pin because you never know what’s going to happen. If you go into any of my clutches you will always find those things there. I think a little lip gloss, Revlon, you know, and twenty dollars. My father always told me to keep twenty dollars in your back pocket in case you need to catch a ride home.
Clutch: That’s a very smart and practical answer. Most people say lip gloss or a cell phone, but you never think about those little emergencies where a safety pin could come in handy. And you’re prepared for it all.
MW: Also a stick of gum, please! I always go in my clutches if I haven’t carried them in a long time and there will be this hard, crumbled piece of gum! I don’t want to offend anyone, and it’s the easiest thing to take care of! And if you’re not going to have some on you, just don’t talk.