Todd Williams has been gaining notice on television for years. The New Yorker has appeared on “Law & Order: SVU,” “Third Watch” and “The Vampire Diaries,” but is best known to audiences for his roles on “In Plain Sight” and, most notably, “The Chicago Code.” He’s carved out a name for himself over the last 15 years, but as a teenager, he had to wrestle with knowing what he wanted for a career while also heeding the advice of those around him.
“I started out going to a performing arts high school and my senior year, I landed a manager at the time,” Williams recalls. “This was the 90s, at the time they didn’t really have that much opportunity in television and film. ‘Law & Order,’ ‘Law & Order: SVU,’ ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent,’ and maybe two other shows at the time. I was going hard just to get my resume up and gain some experience. Ultimately, the goal was to have a television career and a film career. That was my focus. I gained more appreciation over time as to why diversification was important. But in my mind — even at 17 — that was always what I wanted to do.”
His singular focus was met with skepticism, however. His family encouraged the young budding actor to pursue a more stable career.
“I was going to school at a time when my family wanted me to have a fallback, a plan B,” explains Williams. He subsequently enrolled at NYU, studying business. “But I already knew what I wanted to do. It was a matter of putting my time and effort into it. I’d finished some semesters, [but] I hated it and I said ‘I’ve got to choose my own path. I already know where my heart is leading me.’ So I just made the decision. Sometimes, even with people that love you, you know better than they do. They’re coming from a standpoint of their own perspective and what they know. Sometimes it’s just about knowing how much effort you’re going to put into it and how much drive you’re going to put into it. I trust that if I put that into it, I’ll get out of it what I want. I made the conscious decision. I don’t care if I get my degree, I’m dropping out and I know what I want to do. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
And this summer, Williams is making the big leap to the big screen. He stars alongside Dwayne Johnson and Kylie Minogue in the disaster blockbuster, San Andreas. In the film, a devastating earthquake hits California, and a rescue fire pilot from Los Angeles (Johnson) has to make it to San Francisco to find his daughter. For Williams, who plays Johnson’s old friend, Marcus Crowlings, this was a unique opportunity and an exhilarating experience.
“It was incredible on so many levels,” he says. “They were doing all of the casting from Australia, so there was no other process. A few weeks later, I received a phone call. A few hours later, I was packing my bags and heading to Australia. That was that. It was weird and amazing and everything. Once I got to Australia, the working experience in itself was just exceptional. It was like … we weren’t doing a $150 million movie. It was like an independent film with everybody just happy and working and doing what they love to do.”
So what was different about doing a big budget feature, as opposed to TV?
“Time is the main factor,” Williams explains. “With San Andreas, I think we shot one scene for, like, a week or two. It’s because they have so much coverage that they have to do. With television, you’re doing maybe six scenes a day and you’re getting two or three takes and you’ve got to keep it moving because time is money. I really enjoyed the pace of doing a film this size because it was cool to focus on one thing and get everything that we could get out of it. I love television as well, don’t get me wrong; but it was nice to have this change of pace.”
Todd Williams is in a good place. His career has led him to opportunities he couldn’t have foreseen, and he owes it all to belief in himself. He encourages anyone else to do the same — work hard to realize your own path.
“Don’t just follow your dream. Put the time, blood, sweat and tears into making it manifest,” he says. “Sometimes you have to do that against the wishes of people that are closest to you. At the end of the day, you know where your happiness lies. You’ve just got to let people know and they have to trust that you know what’s best for you.”