Melissa L. Williams is in it for the long haul. An actress determined to maintain longevity in this industry, Melissa brings that passion to her role as Ruth Truesdale on Tyler Perry’s Ruthless on BET Plus.
Having first gotten her start as a young girl doing the local theater companies in her home state of Oklahoma, Melissa found herself joining the Theater department at Clark Atlanta University. Soon after, she first was an extra on the set of Daddy’s Little Girls, and now, she is the leading lady in one of Perry’s hit shows.
Citing her faith in God, faith in herself, and faith in her vision, Melissa L. Williams is a woman who knows what she wants and goes after it.
We spoke with the actress ahead of the return of Ruthless about what we can expect from season 2 and how she maintains focus and clarity in a world full of distractions and misinformation.
How are you doing lately? What has life been like for you during this quarantine time?
MELISSA L. WILLIAMS: It has been an adjustment, but I will say I’ve learned so much during this time. Watching YouTube, reading, learning more about how to use technology and things like that. Mentally, for me, what I’ve been doing is reading a lot. [Books about] self-care, self-love, and leadership. I just purchased the late Cicely Tyson’s book and now I want to dive into that. But I try to find the positive in everything and trying to make the most of this time. Ruthless premiered during lockdown so I can definitely say that was a blessing as well.
Yes! What was that like- connecting with audiences solely online versus press tours and events like the days pre-COVID?
WILLIAMS: This was my first role as a lead on a series, so I honestly don’t have anything to compare it to. I embraced it as my unique experience that allowed me to open and be more creative. We did the “Don’t Rush” challenge as a cast, and that was a fun way to engage with fans. I think things like that have stretched us, creatively, as artists.
What other ways have you stretched yourself creatively?
WILLIAMS: My background is in media production, so I know how to edit and do lighting and all of that. But having to do it for Zooms and social media made me realize that there were more and new things to learn. So I’ve been getting more familiar with cameras and lenses and learning new techniques and learning how to use newer technology and I’ve been enjoying that.
What has your relationship been like with social media? Do you enjoy creating and engaging through that platform?
WILLIAMS: I used sites like Twitter to see what the buzz is and what the fans are saying via the shows branded hashtags (#RuthlessBETPlus and #TheOvalonBET). I do like to repost and respond to fan questions and comments on Instagram. I get tons of DMs from watchers of the show who share how much they love or how they can relate to Ruth and I love talking to them. I know there are fan pages that engage with me and speak about the shows a lot and I love the love from them! Even fan pages from other Tyler Perry shows (like The Haves and The Have Nots) show so much love.
What has some of the feedback been like in regards to the show and your role? Any interesting DMs from those who can relate to Ruth and her experience in a Cult?
WILLIAMS: In general it seems that people have come to find Ruth as such a relatable character. She’s a busy woman who got misled by a public figure, if you will. I think a lot of people can relate to that, especially with this being in the social media era. There are so many apps popping up and you look at people’s followers, and you just assume they’re credible and that you should follow or listen to whatever it is they’re talking about on a platform. There’s a lot of misleading going on currently.
I think people are drawn to Ruthless just because they want to see how the misled ultimately overcome, also because Ruth is a strong Black woman at the forefront of the show. To top it off we know that people love wild stories and we know Tyler Perry always comes up with a way to shock the audience and keep them captivated. I think all of those elements just make for a good show that people love.
Did you have any reservations in taking on the role of Ruth?
WILLIAMS: When I first was cast as Denise (on The Oval), I was so happy to be a part of that cast and in that role. Then I got a phone call from Mr. Tyler Perry himself and he’s all “I know you’re playing Denise [and her twin sister Ruth] but I want to do the spin-off about Ruth and I want you to play the lead.” I told him ‘yes’ because I was excited at the thought that I could play a deep character and expand my range. Who wants to play the same character over and over? I plan for longevity in acting and Ruth is one that can add to a repertoire of many different characters.
What do you intentionally bring to the character of Ruth? What do you pull from in order to bring this complex character to life?
WILLIAMS: I bring what I’ve learned from my personal life, and one of those lessons is that we are all human. The reality is that we are going to make mistakes in this life, but it’s what you do after the mistake that really counts. You know, she finds herself in this cult, but it’s important to me that I bring the human side of her to the forefront. We could easily just call her silly or stupid for falling into this, but I want to make sure people know that Ruth is just like any other woman in your life who just may happen to get misled and trapped. I’m tapping into my own vulnerability to show how we’re all flawed. I want to show how once you make up in your mind and spirit that you’re going to change or get out that it’s important to keep fighting day by day. Ruth wakes up each day thinking of how she can make her life better, and that’s what she does. We’ll begin to see more of that unfold.
Have you ever had to have that type of reckoning with yourself? Knowing you need to unfollow or separate yourself from certain things or ideologies?
WILLIAMS: I was recently having a conversation with someone about social media and how my view of it has changed. Like I said I use it to engage with fans, but it’s not something I use in my daily life. I remember the first time I saw something so graphic and violent on Instagram and I knew that I had to change the way I engaged and what I consumed on the platform. I’ve made sure I’m really living my life and not just living to post or trying to make my posts look like I’m living- I’m really out here doing it. I don’t rely on social media as my primary source of information. I try to make sure my connections are more real and personal.
A digital presence has almost become this unofficial resume of sorts. As someone who distances yourself from social media, have you ever had that become an issue with casting agents?
WILLIAMS: No one’s specifically asked me for my social media numbers, but I’m positive they’ve looked me up and scoped me out. But honestly, I don’t worry about that because if you’re going to my Instagram to find my acting, then I don’t know if we’re on the same page.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations and influences in the industry?
WILLIAMS: Definitely my boss, Tyler Perry. I mean, he pours into me a lot. He actually was the one who told me to get Cicely Tyson’s book. So it just meant a lot for him to tell me and then I got it and then she passed. So there’s just been a lot of moments where I think that I’ve been very fortunate to have someone like him take the time and just really pour into me as a person. I also love Tracee Ellis Ross, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis, and Phylicia Rashad.
How have you been able to make genuine connections and find those who pour into you in a wild industry like Hollywood?
This is probably so cliche but being myself. Honestly. I’m an Oklahoma girl I bring my magic touch to everything I do. I can be loud, I can be a little country, but that doesn’t matter because each time I’m showing up as my authentic self no matter what and people respect that. I make sure that whenever I’m around people I’m not trying to be someone else or be who I think they want me to be. It’s also about who you surround yourself with because you can’t be expecting to be poured into if the people that you’re seeking to be mentored by haven’t grown or have never been where you’re trying to go.
How do you manifest success and attract positivity into your life?
WILLIAMS: I write down what it is that I want to accomplish. I feel like that’s how all of this [The Oval and Ruthless] actually happened. I would write “Melissa L. Williams is going to be a consistently working actress” and I would do that every day. But I also think that by doing that my subliminal was activated and I started taking the small steps every day to bring that to fruition. Everyday I’m working out to stay in shape and for mental clarity. Everyday I’m rehearsing monologues and seeing what calls are out there for roles. By writing down the larger vision daily you have to literally look at it every day and remind yourself of what you need to do everyday to make it reality. It’s so easy to get distracted by life, but manifesting helps you remain in control and not lose focus.
Love that. What do you want viewers to specifically look out for in the upcoming episodes of The Oval and Ruthless?
WILLIAMS: Of course there are many twists and turns and you’ll see relationships/alliances form that you wouldn’t expect. I don’t want to give away too much but you can expect that. I’d also say that I think art imitates life. We were talking about manifestation and recently I’ve been thinking about how The Oval features a Black woman in the White House and now look at what we have- a Black Madam Vice President. I think things like that people can pull from and be inspired by. So pay attention to the real life connections as well. Really allow yourself to imagine a world where this could be possible.