Cynda Williams began a professional life of acting and singing 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 Fantasia in the crime thriller One False Move.
Williams 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.
We recently sat down with the veteran renaissance woman to discuss some of her lesser known but favorite films in her career, her future book project, and the upcoming actor’s workshop in which she’s taking part.
A lot of people know you from Mo’ Betta Blues and One False Move among your other films. But what are three favs of yours in the Cynda Williams filmography that people may not be as aware of?
Some lesser known movies that I truly enjoyed being a part of were Relax It’s Just Sex, Tru Loved, and When Do We Eat. The productions and budgets may have been smaller but the expertise of the production team and cast was stellar. I had so much fun. I am proud of those movies.
You’re very versatile in that you can easily transition from film to television to theater, but do you have a favorite of the three and why?
I love acting in all formats. I started out in theatre (especially musical theatre) and loved it. I never thought I’d do film and television but I’m glad I found my way to it. If I had to choose I’d say I love doing movies the most. The immediacy appeals to me. I like getting to know a character, filling her up with as much life as possible in the time I have, performing her with as much vitality as I can summon and letting her go…then on to the next.
Your song from Mo’ Betta Blues, “Harlem Blues” was a top ten hit on the Billboard R&B charts. Any plans to record more music?
My creative life began with singing. I thought I was going to be Gladys Knight, Barbara Streisand or Dionne Warwick. Singing ‘Harlem Blues’ was a highlight in my life but acting doors were more readily opened for me. Maybe it’s because I don’t fit any specific genre. I still sing live Jazz as often as I can. You never know; I might surprise everyone with something soon.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book project?
I have been a reader and writer since childhood. Books have often been my best friends. One of my goals was to write my own. I never knew what sort of book I’d write; a novel, self-help or poetry. After a very full life of many challenges I decided to write a book of memoirs, poetry and insights – P.P.C. aka “Pink Pantie Confessions.” I believe ‘confessions’ are good for mental and spiritual health. For years I kept my mouth shut and all my pain filled me up until it spilled out almost destroying me. I am trying to encourage others (especially women) to share their stories not for the purpose of dwelling in dark places but for release. My book has confessions from several other women. My publisher 220 Communications is planning a late November-December 2015 release.
Can you give us any insight on what to expect from the upcoming ‘A Taste of Theater’ festival?
I was fortunate to participate in “The Taste of Theater Festival” in 2014. I truly enjoyed meeting fresh new talent in Chicago. I have been in Los Angeles for many years. There are tons of opportunities there if you have exorbitant sums of money to go to actor’s workshops. Many dreamers in Chicago don’t get a chance to work with experts in this field. Now that the Midwest is my base I want to give back by teaching others all that I know. Theater School is invaluable but learning from someone who’s been in “the biz” is an entirely different education. The Taste of Theater offers that.
What are your thoughts on an artist’s responsibility to give back in some form or fashion after reaching a certain plateau?
An artist, if they are fortunate enough to have financial success, should most definitely find a way to help others. I have worked doing a job I adore. I couldn’t imagine not helping some young someone to do the same. I believe every person, no matter what path they choose in life, has a responsibility to give back in one form or fashion.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring artists?
When I speak to young artists I spend a lot of time giving advice. Picking one idea that is the most important is difficult. I guess what I’ve said more passionately than any other thing is, “Never take this business personally. What is yours (job) will come to you. There are so many reasons a person gets hired. Most of it has nothing to do with talent. If you don’t get the job, move on. If you love acting (singing, dancing, etc.) that will keep your heart intact. BUT get a ‘real’ job if you need it. Nobody should starve for love.”
Any favorite quotes or affirmations?
There are quite a few affirmations that constantly circle my mind. Right now I am shouting out prosperity affirmations. *laughs*. What I concentrate on most is a little less superficial. My favorite is, “What will you choose to wear today? Faith or fear?” – Olayiwola A. Alara
What’s next for Cynda Williams?
I will always stay involved in the movie business if it will have me. I LOVE acting. It brings me so much joy. I will continue to write and sing. There will be more Pink Pantie Confessions books. I also have the fiction version as a play and musical web-series. I hope to produce them. I believe my most important job is loving my daughter and working with my charity Guiding Light, Inc. in Muncie, Indiana. Guiding Light is all about helping people in a holistic way. We make sure low to moderate income families have access to the necessities of life while also learning healthy habits and having opportunities to grow creatively. In other words…I’m keeping busy.
For more information on Cynda Williams, please visit www.CyndaWilliams.net
A Taste of Theatre Festival and Workshop will take place Oct. 9-10 at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep located at 250 E.111th Street in Chicago, IL. For more information on A Taste of Theatre please visit www.atasteoftheatre.com