A glistening purr always seems to emanate from Vanessa Williams on screen, a seductive polish imbued with a hint of deviousness.
But in conversation, the New York native is a quick-talking, no-nonsense, gracious delight. She’ll happily chat about music and Broadway, but there is the underlying feeling that this is a woman whose time is not to be wasted.
And why should it be?
She’s calling from Los Angeles, where she filmed a quick two days for the Lena Waithe BET comedy, “Twenties,” with – hush, gossip mongers – her ex-husband, Rick Fox. She also recently hit the Village Studio in L.A. to record a dance remix of one of her hits. (She declines to identify it, pending its release).
Her new eponymous clothing line arrived on HSN in July, and, following her Saturday performance with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Williams, 56, will hop on a flight to Canada to present the apparel on their shopping channel, then head to Florida to reveal the fall line.
So yes, even with a résumé that boasts memorable TV turns on “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives,” a recording career that delivered “Save the Best for Last,” “Love Is” and “The Right Stuff,” dozens of movie appearances and a Tony Award nomination in 2002 for the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” Williams’ perseverance is unquenched.
Q: Since you’re going to be here with the ASO for the 75th-anniversary gala, what kind of prep work do you have to do for a symphony show?
A: We usually do basically the entire show the day of. The symphony hasn’t seen the charts, so we run through everything at least once, sometimes twice. My musical director comes in and discusses with the conductor as far as charts and tempos. That’s how I like to do it. I don’t send somebody to mark my vocals. I want to hear what I want to hear so my sound guy can get the sound perfect. It’s a joy. There’s nothing more glorious than hearing live strings behind me. And the Atlanta Symphony is fantastic.
Q: Have you been here recently?
A: The last time I was there I did (the VH1 show) “Daytime Divas.” We shot that September through December that year (2017), and I lived in Midtown. I was also there (in late 2013) for “The Trip to Bountiful.” But my September is jammed, so I will come in the night before, perform and have to leave.
Q: You haven’t released an album since 2009. Obviously you’ve been busy, but is music still something you want to pursue artistically?
A: I’ve been signed numerous times and a lot of the labels have had issues. It’s a completely different ballgame. I think three different labels I had dealt with that are all defunct or had changes in administration, so whoever they assigned to me went out the window. I continue to perform. I have my normal set that will survive any record. But I’m happy at BMG (where Williams just signed a record deal), and they’ve been very supportive. You have to go with the flow.
Q: Do you talk about music with your daughter Jillian (of the R&B group Lion Babe)?
A: I’ve gone to see a lot of her shows. I went to Afropunk and Coachella. She’s in London now, so I’m aware of her music but also her contemporaries, and I have a 19-year-old (daughter Sasha) who keeps me posted. I definitely tap into what they’re into, and they turn me on to new music as well. My son (Devin) told me about Tom Misch, a guitarist out of London. Sasha did a post months ago with one of her baby pictures, and she was on a stick pony and tagged Lil Nas X (of “Old Town Road” renown), so I definitely learn a lot of trendy music from her. She loves Panic! At the Disco and The 1975. They’ll hear a line in a hip-hop song and I’ll say, “Do you want to hear the original?” But they all sing and play. They all have great ears.
Q: What is the latest with you and Broadway? I saw that you recently did a reading of “Cheri” (an adaptation of Colette’s novel) in New York.
A: We did an invited read-through, and we’re doing one for investors (in September). It’s a spectacular cast with Paulo Szot from Brazil. Teri Hansen, who adopted the libretto, has done a terrific job. When [the question] came across my email of, “Are you interested?,” I read the earnest letter about her writing this particular role for me and listened to the music. It’s intriguing. I love Broadway and doing original stuff always turns me on because you can create. A couple of other offers have just come in this past week, too, so we’ll see.
Q: How do you stay looking so great?
A: (Laughs). Thank you. I have my regimen of drops and stem cell sprays and bioidentical hormones and creams and traveling machines to keep my skin taut and my bag of tricks. I kickbox when I’m home. I have a trainer, and when I’m on the road, I hop on the treadmill. When you’re sedentary even for a few days, the pounds will add up.
Vanessa Williams with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
7 p.m. Sept. 14.Stephen Mulligan, conductor. $29.50-$59.50. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.