Zelda Williams Tells Us About Carving Her Own Path In Hollywood

Photo: Gregory Pace/REX/Shutterstock
People pursue Hollywood careers for many reasons. Five minutes into talking to Zelda Williams, however, and you know that if everything else was stripped away, Williams would still be pursuing her creative truth. The actress, writer, and director may come from a famous family — she is the daughter of the late, great Robin Williams — but her path in the industry is all her own.

Williams is a storyteller across multiple mediums. On the acting side, she recently starred in Freeform's creepy summer series Dead of Summer, before stepping into the shoes of Janice Hooker, the wife of Colleen Stan's kidnapper in Lifetime's The Girl In The Box. Next, Williams is directing and writing an episode of Dark/Web, an upcoming horror anthology series about the dangers of our ever-connected world.

Williams' desire to constantly challenge herself creatively is why she earned a spot on the Create & Cultivate 100 list, a list that honors 100 badass women across 10 categories. I spoke with the triple threat at the list's launch event, hosted by Keds, about her Hollywood inspirations, why it's important to write your own roles, and what she wants to do next:

What was your first reaction when you heard you were being honored on the Create & Cultivate 100 list?

"Well I'm actually very good friends with the journalist for this event, Arianna Schioldager [editorial director of Create + Cultivate] and I'd been helping her find women to be in it. So just as a friend I was really shocked because I was like 'I was helping you!' It was a big surprise, and very sweet."

What was it like playing Janice Hooker in the Lifetime movie The Girl In The Box?

"I didn't approach her as disturbed, in order to play her and to make her a character that people are supposed to feel for [while also judging] for being privy to [the kidnapping]. She didn't make [the decision to kidnap Colleen Stan], it was made by Cameron [Hooker], and she went along with it for many years. There's something deeper to that than being disturbed, I don't think she was mentally all there, especially [considering] she was with Cameron who had beaten her since she was 16. I chose to play it like Stockholm Syndrome... I didn't meet Janice, and I will never meet Janice, but that was how I chose to interpret the character I was given."

As an actress, who inspires you the most in Hollywood?

"I love Woody Harrelson, I loved to be the female Woody Harrelson, that would be fun. It keeps evolving and changing. There are so many great actors. Right now it feels like all of these incredibly inspiring actors are alive at the same time, where previously it felt like there were maybe a handful in each generation. There are so many right now."

"I've always looked up to Lauren Bacall, that was also because when I was a kid, I would always get made fun of for my voice. [Bacall] had this husky, husky low voice, and my mom used to say 'No one will understand it until you're older, and then they'll all want [your voice.]' And she was right. It was actors like that who approached a different scope of women, back in a time when actors were mostly "created," that really changed my mind. Her wearing pants, when everyone else was in corsets and skirts — I loved that."

Who has given you the best advice?

"I have a lot of really great mentors. Scott Derrickson gave me some really great advice, he's one of the people I look to that's been helping me with directing. He said 'One of the only problems you have as an actress is that no one is going to write you. Most people write characters, and in writing a character they're already inherently simpler than most humans.' I was also particularly odd for my age group, my sex, and he said 'A lot of times when we cast women, we cast who already fit the part inherently, or who can get a movie financed.' Because I was neither, and I had to make myself smaller to fit a lot of parts, it was hard, but what he said was correct. He said there's no reason why you have to wait for permission... even if you're not the person playing your parts, you can write more complicated women. The difference is, you're complex, and very few characters are."

Are you writing now?

"[Laughs] Always! It's like meditation for me."

Who do you want to work with in the future?

"Oh that's hard! I want to work with a combination of friends, because there's something really wonderful about a set where you already inherently love each other. I've gotten to do that already with my short, but I'd like to do more of it. There are so many people I love and respect. I'd like to try everything once, because truthfully I think a lot of people are afraid of failure, but I'm afraid of not getting to sample everything and knowing what I actually love best. Whether that's a period piece with Kenneth Branagh, or any number of different things."

Since this event was hosted by Keds, what do you prefer: classic white Keds, or ones with patterns?

"I can't keep anything white clean! I have two dogs and a big yard and nothing white. Anything darker colored I'm fine with."
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