Catching Up With Tonya Lee Williams

Soap Opera Digest: So, what have you been up to?
Tonya Lee Williams: I’ve been in Toronto directing my first project. It’s a one-hour TV pilot called KINK IN MY HAIR, and Sheryl Lee Ralph [ex-Laura, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW] is the star. I started the project in development just before Christmas. We adapted it from a play called Da Kink In My Hair. The playwright, Trey Anthony, came to me and we decided to work on it. We hired a screenwriter and pitched it to VisionTV, our broadcaster up in Canada, and they paid for the pilot. We started to meet, went immediately into pre-production and shot for eight days. I’ve been in post [production] for the last few weeks. It’s been a blast. The broadcasters are thrilled. They’re airing it in October or November of this year and then next spring, we’ll know if they pick us up for 13 episodes. I’m also the executive producer.Digest: What will happen to Olivia if the show gets picked up?
Williams: I’ll cross those amazing bridges when they come, but we have until next spring to find out. And because I’m the executive producer, I want to hire other directors, so I won’t be directing all the episodes. Until then, I’ll do what I do now — go back and forth doing a bunch of things.Digest: It’s nice that they’ve still kept Liv in the mix.
Williams: Yes. I pop up to talk to Dru, and to Brad about the craziness that’s going on with him and Victor over Abby. I like that. I like being in the loop of the show, but still having enough space to do some of the things that I’m really feeling passionate about. I’m addicted to directing. I’m probably going to start bugging them here to let me direct some episodes of the show.Digest: Has your Y&R experience helped you with directing?
Williams: Absolutely. You forget all the stuff that you take in being on a show. My 14 years here have been invaluable. My first [assistant director] and [director of photography] were like, “How do you do blocking so easily?” It’s because of watching the people here. I literally got it immediately. They were like, “How do know this?” From sitting and watching and listening to the directors here. I have so much more admiration for what they do because they’re coming up with blocking on a daily basis. I had eight days to shoot, not a day.Digest: What did you find to be the biggest challenge?
Williams: It’s funny. I’m one of those people who’s always thinking about what the worst challenges are going to be, and … They’re always easier than I think. I think of all those things that could possibly go wrong, so then I get there and none of these things happen. People say, “You’re always so positive,” but it’s because I’ve already exhausted all the negatives that could happen, and nothing ever happens as bad as anything I’ve imagined [laughs]. I said to my DP [director of photography], “I feel like I’m totally spoiled.” It’s like going out on your first audition in your life and you book it and you’re thinking, “How hard can this be?” I had such an incredible experience, so now already I’m thinking the next directing project I do will be a nightmare [laughs].Digest: So, what’s the pilot about?
Williams: It’s the story of a black Caribbean hair salon. Sheryl Lee Ralph plays the woman who owns it. She, her sister and her daughter live above the shop, and [it also involves] the other stylists and the one barber in the shop. Everyone who has seen it so far says there’s such chemistry between the actors. Sheryl Lee said to me, “I don’t know if I’ve ever walked into any place where I didn’t know any of the players and it felt like a family immediately.” It really did.Digest: Since you’ve been so busy, Olivia’s lived much of her life off-screen. In fact, we didn’t even see her and fiancé Wesley break up.
Williams: I know! Thank God they wrote that in, because even I was saying, “My God, where is he?” I get a lot of mail as to, “Where’s [Olivia’s son] Nate?” Not to mention him at all? It would have been one thing to say she sent him off to her parents, but it’s really aggravating for the fans. Every fan letter I get now is, “When are we going to see your son? Are they aging him? Is he coming back? What’s going on? Is he in the apartment? Is he at school? Where is he?” And I have no answer. That drives the fans crazy. I don’t even think they care if it’s a bad reason as long as it’s a reason as to why he’s not there.Digest: Will we be seeing more of Liv in the future?
Williams: At some point, I’m sure. Olivia’s definitely due some storyline. It has been a while now. I’d love some.