Interview By Lisa Burwell | Written by Tori Phelps | Photography by Giuliano Bekor / CPi Syndication
“Relatable” isn’t usually how you’d describe an actress starring on a hit TV show. Then again, Virginia Williams isn’t most actresses. On a break from filming—while she was sick, no less—Williams found time to discuss Fairly Legal, the projects closest to her heart, and why she feels “insanely blessed.” Maybe it was her innate graciousness or the bubbly laugh that belied how lousy she really felt, but it took all of five minutes with this appealingly down-to-earth actress to be put under the same spell she has cast on Hollywood.
Virginia Williams has a charming Southern accent that slips through when she’s off the clock. And while she’s a fine actress, this is the real deal. A Memphis-raised Southern belle, Williams adores her hometown and anxiously anticipates trips back home to visit her folks several times a year.
Right now, business is too good for more frequent trips.
Williams landed the plum role of Lauren Reed on USA’s Fairly Legal, a dramedy with two popular seasons under its belt. The USA network is known for its unique, not-gonna-see-this-on-another-show characters, and Williams is thrilled that hers falls into that category. The premise is simple enough: After her decades-older husband dies, Lauren has to keep their law firm going while butting heads with her intrepid same-age stepdaughter, Kate, a mediator who’s also a partner in the firm. Since Kate is the main character, it would be easy to make Lauren a cookie-cutter villain. But part of what makes this show so addictive is that there’s no black and white; rather than “good” or “evil,” the characters are just complex, layered people.
And for that, Williams is grateful. She clearly has a deep fondness for her character that’s due, in part, to Lauren’s flaws. “She’s exacting and proper and extremely stylish, but she’s also fun and a delight to play,” Williams explains. “It would have been easier to play her as a one-dimensional character, but I’ve tried very hard to show her depth.”
She confides that her portrayal of Lauren is infused with a generous helping of “steel magnolia”: strong and independent yet very feminine. To bring Lauren to life, Williams drew inspiration from the many tough-but-tender Dixie divas in her life. “Southern women are extremely good at getting what they want,” she smiles.
Another source of inspiration: Grace Kelly. Williams studied every movie the Hollywood legend made so she could imbue Lauren with her expressions and mannerisms. This resulted in an uncanny authentic resemblance between the two actresses, gestures and carriage included.
The hometown pride that’s sprinkled throughout her conversations is just one more reason Williams seems so real. Even the story behind meeting her husband (a fellow Memphis native, of course) is adorable. True, it includes Los Angeles and agents, but rather than the all-too-common tale of her “people” setting her up with a fellow actor to raise her profile, she simply ran into a cute guy who was paying his dues in the mailroom at her agent’s office. Instead of chucking true love in favor of someone able to open more doors for her, she grabbed hold with both hands. The tight couple now juggles her work schedule and his career as a literary manager while keeping their relationship top priority. “We try never to spend more than ten days apart,” she adds.
And when she does have to be separated from her husband, the friends she’s made in her adopted hometown keep her going. Of her newfound pals, she confides, “I didn’t find the stereotypical shallowness that I was expecting. I have really genuine friends here—lots of girlfriends from all walks of life.”
Making friends seems to come easily to Williams, which is a good thing since her craft has taken her all over the world. She minored in Theology while earning a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Performance from Fordham University at Lincoln Center in New York City, an impressive achievement made even more remarkable considering they only accept eighteen to twenty students each year. Following her NYC years, she studied Shakespeare at both Oxford University and the British American Drama Academy—experiences she calls some of the best of her life.
She didn’t just study the art of acting, however; Williams was already a working actor by the time she hit her teens. Roles on soap operas One Life to Live and As the World Turns were followed by appearances on more than two dozen TV shows, including a recurring role on the CBS hit series How I Met Your Mother and a lead in the Lifetime original series Monarch Cove. The self-proclaimed workaholic used her break from filming Fairly Legal in Vancouver to make two movies this summer: a comedy called Sleeping Around and a horror movie titled The Culling. She also lent her vocal talents to an Irish independent film, Choosing Sign.
Most people would feel exhausted just reading about her work schedule, but she seems to think there’s still room for additional projects—namely a musical TV show or film. “I try to get to New York City once or twice a year to see some shows,” says the music lover.
Broadway isn’t the only activity filling her scarce downtime. Williams is a passionate supporter of Free the Slaves, a charity that fights human trafficking and the sex slave trade. She becomes more animated than usual when discussing the horrors inherent in these crimes and the shocking fact that there are 27 million slaves worldwide at this very moment. As part of her work with the organization, she journeyed to the front lines of Nepal and India in September but says there’s work to be done at home, too. “Los Angeles is one of the top three ports in the world for slave trading,” she points out.
On a more upbeat note, she also lends her time and name to La Fresh, a natural, eco-friendly skin care line. It’s hip to be “green” right now, but Williams agreed to be the company’s celebrity face only because she’s obsessed with the products, using them every day to wipe away the airbrushed makeup that coats her face, neck—and even ears—during long days of filming.
Not that she’s complaining. “I’m insanely blessed to do what I love to do,” she says.
Gratitude—just another reason to love her.