Magazine article Working Mother

Vanessa Williams

Magazine article Working Mother

Vanessa Williams

Article excerpt

You've garnered three Emmy nominations for Ugly Betty. What's it been like playing the conniving magazine editor, Wilhelmina Slater?

She's been a joy to bring to life. I've loved getting dressed à la Wilhclmina and pushing the limits in terms of extremes for a severe, nononsense businesswoman. This cast is so talented. And you can't beat the great locations all over New York.

It must have been hard to learn that the show wasn't getting picked up.

We were all kind of heartbroken. I would have loved to do another four years, but it wasn't in the cards. Wilhelmina has been a hard role to put away because I love her strength and, of course, loved every witty line the writers gave me. We were all surprised by the news. We were shooting on location in the East Village when our executive producer told us that the network canceled us. We were supposed to do 22 episodes. They wanted to stop at 16. We begged for a few more to be able to wrap up the show with dignity. We stopped at 20 episodes so we could have some closure.

You're starring in Sondheim on Sondheim through mid-June. Was it difficult to shift from a sitcom to a Broadway show?

It's been a seamless transition. I committed to this project a while ago when James Lapine [who conceived the show and directs it] called to ask if I was interested. He was handpicking a small cast he really wanted to work with, and the only one he'd already cast was Tony Award winner Barbara Cook. I said absolutely. So I'm fortunate to have something else immediately after Ugly Bett)'. The show is a lot of fun. It's an intimate portrait of the composer in his own words and music. We're performing brand-new arrangements of more than two dozen tunes. I'm singing and dancing with a new family with whom 1 share eight shows a week. As a performer you look to stay creative. We're like gypsies who set up camp for a show or a movie for a few months, with a new family, and then you say goodbye and move on. It's always bittersweet when it's over - unless it's been a horrible experience [laughs]. But the friendships you've made are always there, and you can often pick up where you left off years later when you work together again.

How have you managed to have such a long career in a town known for craving the flavor of the month?

I'm willing to take chances and be adventurous. If a project sounds interesting and I think it will be challenging, I'm willing to take the venture on. It's not only about being open to new opportunities and saying yes, but also about being prepared. I'm lucky enough to have parents who prepared me for the entertainment industry. They're both music teachers, and I grew up learning how to sing, play piano and dance. That's helped me land a lot of different types of roles. It's kept me in the game for 27 years - so far.

TV, film and a music career - how do you balance all that with your role as mother of four [Melanie, 22, Julian, 20, Devin, 17, and Sasha Gabriella, 10]?

I became a mom when I was young, so I've always had my career along with my children. I learned to integrate my family and professional lives. I've been doing this since 1987. But there really is no balance. It's not going to be balanced when you're working. You're not going to be able to be at home with your kids as much. But I try to get the kids to the set as much as possible. And I have a great network of support.

Who's in your network?

My mom and dad in the next town over from where I live [in Westchester County, NY]. That's a very strong part of why I moved back to the East Coast after seven years in California. My parents have taught my kids music. They've been there for special events and performances. They've helped raise my kids. I also have Kathy, a high school friend. Our dads were volunteer fire commissioners together. When my kids were young, I had trouble finding a nanny who could travel as much as I needed her to for my career. Once when I was staying with my parents, my mom suggested that Kathy, who lived five houses down, babysit when I had to go to Philly. …

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