Vanessa Williams Vanessa Williams

It isn't easy playing Ugly Betty's scheming, nasty Wilhelmina Slater — especially at the beginning of Season 4, when she's lost her man, her baby and her job. But Vanessa Williams is glad that Willy doesn't always get her way, as it helps explain why she's so guarded. Williams tells us how Willy will deal with her setbacks, why the arrival of her daughter, Nico (America's Next Top Model's Yaya DaCosta), will distract her and what Willy and Betty have in common. Wilhelmina was in a pretty sad place at the end of the season. Is it this adversity that motivates her?
Vanessa Williams: She was singing the blues. Every time she opens up her heart and is vulnerable, and gets burned, she puts another chink in her armor and fortifies herself. That's the human condition. I mean, she does it to an extreme. I'm sure when [series creator Silvio Horta] first sketched her for the pilot, we had no idea how far we'd take her. Are you glad the character has that depth?
Williams: Yeah, I'm so happy that I get to play a well-developed character. But I also know she can't lose her bite. That's her go-to, that's her humor, her comfort zone. And I know that people tune in to hear what phenomenal, witty lines our writers come up with on a weekly basis. Things take a turn for Willy when her daughter Nico returns with some pretty heavy baggage in tow. What is this story line supposed to be showing us?
Williams: I think it brings out the lioness in her, the mother, the protector. You saw a little bit of conflict between Wilhelmina and her daughter in the first season [when she was played by another actress], but I think Yaya did a phenomenal job. It's another great pairing. It shows that no matter what happens, Wilhelmina is going to protect her child.

Video: Go behind the scenes of Ugly Betty and get to know star America Ferrera Now that Daniel is in mourning, will you be doing more with Judith Light, whose character has taken over the company?
Williams: Yes, I love being able to play with Judith. We've got more tasty stuff coming up. The two of us have been in the business for so long we're like seasoned vets. We tell stories, we share information. There's a comfort there in being an old pro. Betty's an editor now, so I have to ask: Is there any part of Willy that roots for Betty?
Williams: Yes, we've touched on it a couple times. I've given her advice: Don't turn into me. Don't let work get in the way. Enjoy your life, be careful, because you're driven like me. Beware. Beware. Obviously her style drives Wilhelmina crazy, but she admires her for her respect and she always knows that she'll be true and virtuous, and that's a comfort for her. Is Willy going to make things right with Marc?
Williams: They'll get back together. It's too much of a dynamic for that not to work again.

Video: The Ugly Betty cast has a big night out in New York City And will we see Connor again?
Williams: The Connor-Willy story showed her softening, almost giving up everything for love. She was afraid to give him her heart because she had been burned before. It shows the female side of Wilhelmina as opposed to the automaton Terminator side of her. It was a nice dynamic. Most of the feedback that I got was that this was a man who could handle her. He's not eclipsed by her; he's not overpowering her; he's on her level. And I think that's why people believed it. What's Willy's endgame? Where would you like to see her end up?
Williams: Maybe she opens Mode Australia and runs off to Connor, so she can have her man and run her magazine the way she wants to.

The new season of Ugly Betty airs Fridays at 9/8c on ABC. Catch encore airings Thursdays at 7/6c on TV Guide Network.