Want proof that someone over at ABC is really smart? Well, at least one person over there had the foresight to figure out the how the hell the network would keep Vanessa Williams (aka Wilhelmina Slater of Ugly Betty) from running off to another network where she would be the classiest, sexiest and funniest thing there.
How did they do it? By moving her from Manhattan over to Wisteria Lane where she's going to bring New York sophistication to the suburbs as one Renee Perry. Michael Jensen from AfterElton.com got to chat with Vanessa this week and found her to be funny, charming and, yes, snackable!
AfterElton: How long did you make Marc Cherry beg before you agreed to join Desperate Housewives?
Vanessa Williams: [laughs] Oh, I didn't make him beg at all. We had a meeting Thursday and the deal was signed by Monday noontime, so it came so quickly. It's the quickest deal I've ever done, so I think we were both, you know, excited and happy.
AE: I have to tell you, Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives are two of my favorite shows, so having you on DH is like putting chocolate and peanut butter together. Wilhemina became such a gay icon — and so did you over the course of Ugly Betty — that she ended up having her own drag impersonators. Gay guys are obviously very into you and the character.
VW: Which my brother played, by the way.
AE: I remember that very well. Now tell me about Renee and what is going to appeal to us gay guys about this character.
VW: Well, I mean, she ain't no Wilhelmina. She's a New Yorker who comes into the lane and comments on the difference between New York and the suburban life often. Her dress is certainly not Wilhelmina as well, but she tries to do her best in terms of bringing style and flair to the lane. And she's a little bit passive-aggressive so she tends to ruffle some feathers.
She's certainly not creating the amount of fear and trepidation and the amount of scheming that Wilhelmina had on a weekly basis, but she's mixin' it up. We've shot... we're on episode seven now, so it's been kind of tasty. I've been able to work with each woman kind of one-on-one for at least an episode or so, so it's kind of nice to delve into each person's world and stir it up.
AE: Now when did you realize that you, Vanessa Williams, had become a gay icon?
VW: The first time was probably when I heard people saying, "Have you seen Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? They sing "Saved the Best for Last" at the end, you gotta see it!"- and that was years ago.
But in terms of Wilhelmina and Ugly Betty and that persona, I don't know. The thing about my career is, I've done so many things in terms of my recording career and Broadway, you know, I've performed in tons of different venues, doing "Running Back to You" at the AIDS Dance-A-Thon back in the day. I don't think there was one pivotal moment where I said, you know, I've made it as a gay icon. [laughs]
AE: It just sort of gradually dawned on you.
AE: I've talked with Michael Urie quite a few times, and he tells a great story about how at the beginning of Ugly Betty he gives you credit for recognizing that Marc was going to be a great foil for Wilhelmina and you sort of said to the writers "We should beef this part up and bring Marc more into the story". Is that how you remember it?
VW: It was completely organic. It was our first conference room scene, and walking around the table and I was supposed to do the whole bit with Daniel and his whole crystal inscription mistake on his award, so I added the whole beckoning for Marc and he jumped to attention. You know, Michael and I had such a ... like, a symbiotic physical thing.
I remember another time where I was kind of defeated at the end of something at the conference table and I kind of sunk into my chair and Michael mirrored the exact same way I sunk into my chair, and I said wow. This guy is a fantastic actor 'cause he's aware, and he is like a part of me.
Then we did the Botox scene – that was the first thing we did that I was really thoroughly impressed with his joy and his energy and he just hit it. The [producers] said they wanted Wilhelmina to have a different assistant every week and she'd fire them, and I said "This guy is really, really good..."
Then I heard he was from Juilliard and I said okay. Not only is he fantastic, but he's got the training. I think we should definitely keep him on. He worked so well in the pilot, absolutely great, and there Michael Urie became the Marc that everybody knew and loved and we'd never get rid of, ever.
AE: It seemed like the last season of Ugly Betty really humanized Willie. How did you see that happening, if you saw it that way, and how did you feel about where Willie wound up?
VW: The fact that she got it all and the guy was wonderful. She didn't have it quite all because she didn't get her daughter back, but, you know. Unfortunately we had to wrap everything up within a few weeks after we got the notice that we were cancelled, so that was kind of unfortunate.
Especially unfortunate for the writers who have to scramble and wrap it all up in a few episodes. Again, it's one of those opportunities where if they called and said "Guess what? The gang's back on, we're all here and we're doing it again!" or "We're doing the movie!", I would jump to it in a second.
Desperate Housewives airs Sunday nights at 9:00 pm (ET) on ABC.