On the hit ABC comedy Ugly Betty (Thursdays at 8 pm/ET), Vanessa Williams has excelled at making being bad look good, playing vicious fashion editor Wilhelmina Slater. But last week we got a glimpse at what makes the beauty-obsessed queen bee tick when her disapproving father came to town and turned her strong, outspoken character into a quivering mess. TVGuide.com asked Williams if we'll get to see more of Wilhelmina's softer side, and how she's fitting in with this ensemble cast.
TVGuide.com: How much fun are you having playing this bad person who says whatever comes to mind?
Vanessa Williams: Well, I'm saying wonderfully scripted lines and that's the joy. When it is funny on the page you just can't wait to do the scene and make it come to life. I'm really happy with the writing team that we have, and I of course love Michael Urie, who plays my assistant. Every scene is no good unless he's in it. It is a fantastic ensemble and it is really a lot of fun.
TVGuide.com: How is it playing Wilhelmina?
Williams: She's a great role. I think it is a little more freeing when you don't have to worry about playing it safe. A lot of the time the comedy is a pretty broad attempt and we make it a little more subtle. But we're dealing with a fantasy world where we don't have to be realistic, and that makes it more freeing as an actor.
TVGuide.com: Last week we got to see Wilhelmina's father for the first time. Will we get to see any more of him?
Williams: I haven't worked with the father since then. We're on Episode 8 right now and he hasn't made a return yet.
TVGuide.com: Will we get any more insight into why Wilhelmina is the way she is?
Williams: One of the story arcs that is coming up is an introduction to her daughter, who is at boarding school, so that is probably where you see her at her most vulnerable.
TVGuide.com: Are you worried about any real fashion editors seeing you play this role?
Williams: [Laughs] Not at all. I'm not on major covers of magazines on a monthly basis, so I'm certainly not going to offend anyone by doing my job. I'm an actor playing a role that has been written wonderfully. If they can't take a joke, that's their problem.
TVGuide.com: Does it make you more aware of beauty and every little wrinkle since you are playing someone who is so obsessed with her looks?
Williams: No, it doesn't make me more aware. It is fun to basically dress up in clothing that is glamorous and extremely elegant because most of the time, like right now, I'm wearing corduroys and a T-shirt and in bare feet watching the rain fall from the office in my house. [Wilhemina] is so far from my reality. It really is putting on a mask and playing a role, which is fun.
TVGuide.com: So you aren't concerned about appearance every day?
Williams: No. My hair is wet right now and I don't live in L.A., I commute there, so I just go to work and then I return home. My son is at a football game, I get my daughter from the bus, I helped her with a costume this morning.... So [doing Ugly Betty] is going to work. When I do Wilhelmina, I think we've created a look that is very severe and very sophisticated and intense, which is intentional. Because I have to spend so much time in the wardrobe and makeup chair being fussed over, [at home] the last thing I want to do is put any makeup on and do my hair.
TVGuide.com: Were you a fan of the telenovela, Yo Soy Betty La Fea?
Williams: No, I'd never heard of it. When I read the title Ugly Betty, I had no idea what this was. I hadn't read The Devil Wears Prada, either. This was the third go-round for me with kind of the same scenario. I did a pilot back in '03 for UPN where I played a fashion editor who was similar a tough, no-holds-barred woman. Then I did South Beach, where I played a hotel owner who had a fashion line, and she was a similar kind of female boss with a lot of power and very stylized. We'll see whether this one goes. We just got picked up [for a full season], so we'll see how long this one lasts.
TVGuide.com: You sound busy with the show and your family; do you have any time to work on your music?
Williams: I perform usually once a month to keep my chops up. The pilot came out of the blue and then it got picked up out of the blue, so you just never really know in this business. You can't count on anything.
TVGuide.com: Are you working on a new CD?
Williams: Not yet. I've got to figure out which coast I'm going to spend most of my time on, and then I'll figure that out.
TVGuide.com: Ugly Betty films in L.A., correct?
Williams: We shot the pilot in New York and we were 90 percent sure that it was going to stay in New York, and then they did the old switcheroo sometime in May. About 80 percent of the cast are New Yorkers, so we're all renting and figuring out what the heck we're doing now.
TVGuide.com: You are known for being such a gorgeous woman, but did you have any "Ugly Betty" moments in your life?
Williams: I think I've had moments where I have felt like an outsider, in every genre that there is. I'm lucky enough to be a performer who can float from stage to theater to television and film and to have the breadth of a career. But there are always times where you feel out of place, yet know in your heart that you can do it and it is just a matter of time before you can prove yourself. I think that's kind of where Betty is. She's really out of touch [regarding her looks] and I think I've been pretty much on top of what looks good on me, but in terms of feeling like you are not in a place where you can hack it and then being able to overcome that, everyone can share that.
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