Actress and singer Cynda Williams began her acclaimed career in the public eye after relocating to New York from her native Chicago. Soon, she landed a starring role opposite Denzel Washington as Clarke Bentancourt in Spike Lee’s Mo Betta Blues. She followed that with an award-winning turn as Lila Walker aka Fantasia in the crime thriller One False Move. She then went on to appear in a number of films, television shows, and theater productions before taking an extended break from the entertainment business to raise her daughter.
Since returning to the spotlight, Williams has kept busy with a number of projects including performing spot dates across the Midwest with her band, reprising her role in the hit stage play Immediate Family with Phylicia Rashad, and appearing in Christopher Nolen’s ensemble romantic comedy, 72 Hours.
N’DIGO recently caught up with the veteran renaissance woman to discuss her career beginnings, what’s in her future, and exciting new book project, The Pink Pantie Confessions.
Who inspired you to pursue a career in music and entertainment?
I had a very interesting upbringing. I really didn’t watch a lot of movies or television as a child. My family was very church oriented and that left very little time to do the regular stuff that most kids did. One of my main influences were the people I watched in the theater program at my church. My uncle James Williams, who was a professional singer, ended up being a huge influence on me. My cousin and I used sometimes watch him perform from backstage and be in awe of him, He had a band called Black Lightning and looking back on it now, believe it or not, he reminds me of the late great Prince in that he had a different kind of vocal quality. A very gritty sound. He’d be all over that stage with sweat flying everywhere and the audiences ate it all up. He also introduced me to different styles of music like Elton John, Dionne Warwick, Earth Wind & Fire, Barbara Streisand, and my favorite was Gino Vannelli. So my influences were all over the place musically.
How did you discover your love for acting?
At my high school, if you were in the choir, then you were expected to do the musical. You didn’t have much choice. So I started doing musicals in high school. By this time I had moved from Chicago to a smaller town and high school in Muncie, Indiana. My teacher at the time decided that there was a enough talent among the very small group of performers of color to do A Raisin In The Sun and that was my first non-musical play. That was when I got bit by the acting bug and wanted to do nothing else after that. From there I went to Ball State University and of course, I majored in Theater. After that, I was off and running.
Of course people know you from Spike Lee’s Mo’ Betta Blues and One False Move, but what is one of your lesser known films that you are really proud of but think maybe went under the radar for most?
I’ve been very fortunate to do a few great smaller budget movies. It’s hard to pick because I have a handful that I really like but two that I think not as many people are as familiar with are a couple ensemble pieces called Relax…It’s Just Sex and When Do We Eat? Both films were done by a production company called Sneak Preview Entertainment and both films had amazing stories and scripts and I loved the entire experience of them and was able to make genuine friends with some of the cast members from those films.
Who’s in your dream ensemble cast?
That’s a tough one. Let’s see….who would I have to have? Okay, I’d want Jeffrey Wright. I’d like to work with Angela Bassett. I’d add Ed Norton as well. Also….Mark Ruffalo and Meryl Streep. It’d definitely be a different kind of movie but we’d make it work. *laughs*
Tell us about your newly released book, The Pink Pantie Confessions?
I’d describe it as a self-help memoir to myself. It’s filled with different memoirs, poetry, and insights that I’ve written throughout the years in attempts to help myself. I found very early on that if I hold things in that it doesn’t do me very well physically, spiritually, and emotionally at all. So I begin writing to get these things out and this book is a collection of those thoughts. When Facebook first began I would write all these statuses…and I don’t quite use Facebook like everyone else. Of course I keep in touch with family, friends, and fans on it. But I also use it to put positive thoughts and energy into the atmosphere. So what I did was take some of those statuses and expounded upon them and connected them to other things that I had written.
When you’re having a rough day what’s your personal remedy to bring yourself back to center?
I don’t have a certain go to. It’s different for me all the time. I might first just get quiet and listen to myself and ask what do I need? It might be music. It might be a glass of wine. It might be cup of tea. I listen to my spirit to tell me what I need at the moment but one thing that is always consistent: I take a deep breath and start thinking about my blessings. I may have that glass or wine or cup of tea while thinking on my blessings or I may go for a walk in the park while thinking about my blessings. That takes me out of a negative state every single time. Even when I’m angry and don’t wanna think about my blessings and all I want to concentrate on is why I’m mad, I literally force myself say ‘I’m thankful for my daughter. I’m thankful that I was able to pay my bills last month…’ and so forth. I do it everytime and it always takes me to a place of feeling better.
What’s your best advice for those aspiring to be in the entertainment industry?
Entertainment is a challenging career choice because of course there are so many people that want to do it but there are so few spots available. The people that are usually blessed enough to do it are those that educate themselves and I’m not necessarily talking about at a four year school. It could be classes. It could be learning monologues. It could be standing in a mirror and working on your abilities or working with a coach. Just always continue to educate yourself on the craft because you can never know enough. You’ll also need a thick skin and being able to keep in mind that what is yours will come to you. Sometimes you may audition for something that seems perfect for you. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect in the eyes of the director or that it’s your time. Once I realized that not every job was mine and the jobs that were mine will come to me, I stopped being hard of myself and I stopped being depressed about the constant rejection. Because rejection is part of the business and process. You’ll hear way more No’s than you will Yes’. And that goes for everyone on almost every level. Even some of the big stars you see all the time have been constantly rejected for roles. You cant take it personally. You just have to be persistent.
What are three essential items you must have when you travel?
I always always always have to have some kind of reading material. I am an avid reader and I really feel naked if I don’t have a book. I need a good comfortable pair of shoes. I am not a high-heeled girl. I need shoes that look and feel good but will get me to where I need to go because I like to do a lot of walking. And lastly, as basic as it sounds, definitely my cell phone. I’m not a phone person but I need it on hand to contact the few people I can count on one hand, that I talk to consistently. My friends will attest that I’m not a texter but I do text my daughter. I have to talk to her every single day or I don’t feel right so my phone is a must.
What’s something about you that people would be surprised to know?
People always assume that if they see you in movies and on TV that you’re rich but I have never been a “financially wealthy” person. I’ve always been a working actress which means I work for my money and it’s a job. But I would not be considered rich in the most common sense of the word. I’m rich in many other ways and I do hope to one day to have that kind of wealth and become financially wealthy but it’s also the least important kind of wealth in my opinion. Wealth of love, of family and friends, of my spirit…..that kind of prosperity is much more important to me than financial prosperity. But in all honesty, I certainly wouldn’t mind some financial prosperity. *laughs*
Any favorite quotes or affirmations?
Yes indeed…okay bear with me because I’m paraphrasing but it goes “fear and faith are both invisible emotions but which one will you choose to concentrate on?” I personally choose faith.
What’s next for Cynda Williams?
At the moment the book is my main focus. I really wanna get the word out there and spread this movement. I believe that it’s important and healthy for people to “confess” if not to a group of people then to just one person, or even written confessions. Put it on paper. Anything to get the darkness that’s locked up inside out of you. It’s so important for your health to do so. This is book project is not all about selling books, though that would be nice. *laughs* But it’s about helping people be health because it can be a lot of keep it all locked inside. Of course, I’ll always act. I’m attached to a couple of movies that I hope to shoot over the summer. I also have a non-profit organization called “Guiding Light” and I’ll be doing more work with that so we can continue to raise funds to help feed people and we also have a few other programs we’d like to get off the ground in the near future. And somewhere down the line I’d love to write another book.
Join Cynda as she celebrates the launch of her book, Pink Pantie Confessions (220 Publishing) , on Saturday May 14th from 6 P.M. – 8 P.M. at M Lounge 1520 S. Wabash in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood.