Malinda Williams is class personified. Perhaps it’s her ability to walk that fine line of demarcation between a refined beauty and a strong Black woman with such conviction. Her body of work includes film favorites that have become cult classics. Who can forget her in the coming-of-age tale, The Wood, as she played a game of Double Dutch or as Tracy “Bird” Van Adams, the hair salon owner and sassy baby sis on Soul Food?
This month, Williams brings that same sister-next-door sensibility to her role as Tianna in First Sunday, a dramedy about the salvation of unsuspecting souls who mean well, do wrong and still have a saving grace to do better. ESSENCE.com talked to the silver screen maven about her latest role, raising her son with her ex-husband Mekhi Phifer, her upcoming nuptials to photographer D-Nice and learning to love again.
Essence.com: Congrats on your new film. So how’d you become involved with First Sunday?
Malinda Williams: I met with David [E. Talbert], the director, a year prior to filming. I was disenchanted with a lot of the projects I saw and decided to travel, live my life and do me. I always want to love what I do, and I wasn’t feeling the love because the scripts that were coming my way weren’t so great. Then here comes David with this great script and I was sold.
Essence.com: You play Tianna, a “PK” (preacher’s kid) in the ensemble dramedy. How do you hold up among the roughneck robbers?
M.W.: Tianna is the pastor’s (Chi McBride) daughter and helps to run the church. She’s headstrong and that intrigues Ice Cube’s character and she becomes his voice of reason. She’s the girl that a brother from the ‘hood can relate to, but she’s not out of his reach. She gives him the tough love like, ‘I’m not feeling sorry for you, you’re a grown man, so go and get a job like everybody else.’
Essence.com: So in real life do you provide reasoning to your family and friends?
M.W.: Absolutely. I have a lot of friends that call me for advice. They call me Mama ‘Lin. I don’t claim to be any kind of guru or expert on anything, but I’ve been told that I have a nurturing spirit. I’m a Libra so I’ve always created balance in my life unintentionally because that’s who I am. Even as a child, I’ve always been the peacemaker and keeper and brought people together. As a woman I have finally accepted that this may be what my role is in a lot of people’s lives.
Essence.com: When it comes to your career, how do you make your decisions?
M.W.: I like to live my life organically. Therefore, my career revolves around my life and not the other way around. If I continue to live and I stay on the path of where my life is supposed to go, then the roles will come effortlessly. Now that doesn’t mean I won’t have to work for them, but they will be mine. I don’t plan because man plans and God laughs. Someone is always asking me what’s next for me. I’m always thinking, I don’t know give me five minutes and I’ll find out. If I’ve truly surrendered my life so the creator can guide me then I can only expect good things. It’s one of the things that my son, Omikaye, has taught me.
Essence.com: So Omikaye is dropping pearls of wisdom on Ma Dukes at 8 years old! What does his name mean?
M.W.: (Laughs) Everything to him is a surprise, new and exciting, and I’ve learned to be the same [way]. Omikaye means “the same way that water surrounds the earth.”
Essence.com: Has he been caught up in the glitz and glam of Hollywood since mommy and daddy are actors?
M.W.: (Laughs). No, absolutely not. I don’t think I’m caught up. I don’t label myself as a celebrity, but society puts these expectations on me because of my profession. As parents Mekhi [Phifer] and I are very normal people, so my son is grounded. I do my best to keep my life as normal as possible because the further you rise above what the general public thinks of you, the [farther ] and harder you have to fall. One day I was out at Target and this woman asked, ‘Are you Malinda Williams?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And then she said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘I’m buying paper towels and cereal just like you!’
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