Review of Interview: Vanessa Estelle Williams Discusses Reprising Candyman Role

Daljit Kalsi

Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is out today in theaters. The film stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen as Anthony McCoy and Teyonah Parris as Brianna Cartwright. Joining them are Colman Domingo, Vanessa Estelle Williams, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Rebecca Spence, and original Candyman actor Tony Todd.

“With Anthony’s painting career on the brink of stalling, a chance encounter with a Cabrini-Green old-timer exposes Anthony to the tragically horrific nature of the true story behind Candyman,” the official synopsis states. “Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world, Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, unknowingly opening a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.”

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief spoke with Candyman star Vanessa Estelle Williams about returning for the sequel, her emotional scene with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and much more.

Tyler Treese: I was so impressed by the new Candyman. I thought it was great and your scene in the film is just so pivotal, both in terms of the plot and in the emotion of the film. Your character is having this conversation that she’s been dreading for 30 years. I’d love to hear about how you tapped into that emotion and what it was like filming that scene?

Vanessa Estelle Williams: You nailed it in terms of my own experience of the film. It’s interesting when you do a film and then you see it all put together and then you really get viscerally just how your part fits into the whole theme of the film and the impact in the storytelling. How it lays out. So I was similarly moved [by] how potent and important that scene is, and when it comes in the film. So to prepare, it was first marvelous, just having the opportunity to come back and revisit this character and thinking about what has happened to her life since the trauma of Candyman and that experience. Having lost her child, having people coming into her life and her apartment and community and nosing around with things that we were trying to leave unsaid. That she becomes so pivotal and that her baby becomes a victim. Her dog, her baby, her life, she has to forgive and shows up at the funeral.

So all of those pieces are such an impactful part of someone’s life. Then to be carrying a secret and trying to normalize your child’s life so much so that you lie to them, or you can withhold [and] create another narrative as a way to keep them safe. It was really a wonderful imaginative journey to really layer all those things into Anne-Marie, and then show up on set to sort of have to do this confrontational scene with my son, who is in pain, looks dreadful and who I now know I couldn’t keep safe. So it becomes so painful and terrifying to have to live that out. So I was grateful to have Nia DaCosta to help lead me through that process.

We tried that scene several different ways. As a mom myself, the inclination is to get in there and try to fix your baby up and rewrap the wounds and attend to what’s going on. We did one that way. Then we did one that ended up in the film where I go for that instinct to be all up on him, and then I take a breath and sit away from him to sort of give him the news, that as you said, dreaded news that I thought I’d never have to say. So I just thought it works. So, I was so pleased how that choice really worked. It was just a mark of Nias impeccable directing as witnessed throughout the whole film from transitions to the camera moves to just every angles. It was just brilliant and why she’s on such an amazing trajectory. I’m just so grateful and proud to have worked with her.

Candyman has so many relevant themes, and so did the original, it also dealt with segregation in Chicago. You’ve been involved in a lot of great Black series, Soul Food, and so much more over the years, but what does this film and to be part of this stellar cast and crew just mean for you personally?

Personally, it’s such a great sort of combination of a lot of years of study and work. An artist wants their work to be meaningful, to stand the test of time, to have legacy, and import into the greater good of the society to have meaning and to be impactful. Working on this incarnation of the film, and certainly, while the original film dealt with some of the similar themes, what’s so gratifying is to have this film really be centered around Black people from an unapologetically Black point of view. I’ve been quoting Jordan Peele all day, really speaking how succinctly he puts it when he says that the central theme of the movie is the eternal dance between monster and victim and the racial history of this country, right?

So, it’s perpetual, it’s sneaky and it changes form. So that this form that it takes on now is so ripe and right for the times. This movie was supposed to come out last year before the recent uprising and what became a global sort of centering on the violence against Black people, and what specifically happened to George Floyd, but it’s historical of Black people in America, and globally across the continent and the diaspora, and a real opportunity to unpack them and have a reckoning in a way that a broad spectrum of people can see and relate to and unpack. It’s a really wonderful conversation starter and perhaps even a healer, a tool to heal some of this divide.

What I loved about both the original and this Candyman is that while it has the slasher elements, it’s much more than that. It’s more of a thriller, there’s the psychological aspect that is so interesting. I wanted to get your thoughts on just what really appeals to you about this franchise?

Well, thank you. I’m a very scaredy-cat, so I don’t see a lot of horror in my life as an audience member. But one of the wonderful, magical things I thought about Bernard Rose’s directing [is that] when I was preparing to do Candyman and interview with him, I watched his original film [Paperhouse]. The plot is, it’s a little girl and she’s drawing these pictures. Then the things that happened in the pictures, happen in real life. I felt like that was such a breathtaking and thriller sort of point of view, as you were saying, it’s not your typical slasher horror film, but a real thoughtful [blend]. Sort of like the real scary part is what happens inside your own mind, like what you bring to it and how you interpret these things.

Similarly, in Jordan Peele, Nia DaCosta, and Win Rosenfeld’s script and point of view is that similarly the scariest thing to me about the film is the racial violence and how one survives that. How this legacy gets perpetrated again and again and again, and also the gentle way that it’s handled and even the retelling of it, so that it went to great pains to not try to retraumatize the audience and the victims of the violence again. So by using the puppetry, by using angles, it’s just so succinctly, but being authentic to the way people really respond. Like you open up a door to the basement, it’s dark down there. You don’t just go down there. You go, “Oh, hell no, I’m not going down there. There’s nothing to see. Keep it away.” So I think from the humor, and just the way that it just rang true and authentic to the way this community, our community, really relates to these things. It’s like nobody makes a stupid move, you know? There’s not an issue that gets unaddressed, it’s always addressed.

It’s funny that you say you’re a scaredy-cat because you’ve been doing a lot of horror lately. You’re so great in American Horror Stories. I’d love to know how it was working with Ryan Murphy and what it means to be in that world?

Again, just a real honor. I remember making an affirmation list about the kinds of projects that I wanted to be and the kinds of artists that I wanted to work with. People at the top of their game, people who were moving the needle, changing the audience. So I’m living out my prayers and dreams and affirmations and getting to work with Ryan Murphy and Jordan Peele, and Nia DaCosta, and all of these folks who are just really so impactful. So, expert and just marvelous. So it’s dreams come true, really.

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