Melissa L. Williams, star of Tyler Perry’s BET+ series Ruthless, is having a full-circle moment. The Oklahoma City native and graduate of Clark Atlanta University’s Theater department began her acting career as an extra on the set of Tyler Perry’s 2007 film Daddy’s Little Girls. The thing is, like most actresses, Williams always knew then that she was destined for more.
“I said I have gone to school for theater, I want to speak, not be an extra. So, I moved to L.A,” she tells BET.com.
Armed with solid experience, a gorgeous smile and a can-do attitude, she booked her first credited acting gig on Mara Brock Akil’s The Game on her own, which led to work on another Perry production, If Loving You Is Wrong.
Now, after turning heads as both presidential paramour Denise and her twin sister, Ruth on The Oval, Williams will star in the spin-off series based on her character, Ruth Truesdale and the secret cult that has taken over her life.
In The Oval Ruth is the mother of Callie, a young girl who is in the custody of her ex-husband, Barry, the son of a White House employee. In a moment of desperation as a mother yearning for her child, Ruth kidnaps Callie with the help of fellow Rakudushi cult members and disappears.
The 24-episode drama promises to bring more intensity and seduction than we’ve seen in any Tyler Perry production thus far. BET.com caught up with Williams to find out the challenges of playing twin sisters, how she almost missed Tyler Perry, and her one degree of separation from Beyonce.
BET: As a watcher of The Oval, I was very surprised to hear that Ruth was getting a series because last I checked, she was dead.
Melissa L. Williams: Exactly, right? It was like wait, hold on, we haven’t tied up one end of the story. Where is Ruth in the first place? But, what I’ll tell you is when The Oval comes back, the remaining episodes for season one, it’ll explain where Ruth is and that way people can understand Ruthless. But for the time being, people are going to have to head over to BET+ to at least understand where she has taken her daughter.
BET: And will we find out why she took her daughter?
Melissa L. Williams: The spin-off provides the missing link to where she was that whole time. So now we have to catch up. We’re taking you guys in the underground world of this fanatical cult that Ruth has joined because she’s on her road to redemption. She’s had a troubled past and people judged her for it and that’s why she doesn’t have full custody of her daughter. In her search for redemption she found this cult, and they’ve promised her family, love, shelter and encouragement. She’s thinking that’s all it’s about. So, I’m gonna go grab my daughter because she needs to be around this positivity. But things aren’t always the way they seem. That’s what Ruthless is about.
BET: When did you find out Ruth would be getting her own show?
Melissa L. Williams: Actually, I found out before we filmed The Oval. I was watching a movie on a Sunday and I got a phone call from a 404 number that was not saved. I normally don’t answer phone calls from numbers that are not saved, because you know telemarketers, student loans, I don’t got time, and I was watching a movie. Then I got a text from that same number: “Tyler Perry here. Trying to reach you.” Oh my gosh! So, I’m scrambling, I had to put my phone on the charger so it wouldn’t die while I’m on the phone with such a legend. I’m calling the number back, I don’t know what to expect. He says ‘I’m about to start my vacation, but I have some time because I want to talk to you,’ and I was like ‘Oh, this is real’ and I just stayed silent because I’m not interrupting Tyler Perry.
He said you’re going to play Denise on my new show—I was offered the role of Denise first—I really want to do something else with you though, to consider playing the role of Ruth. I know she’s only in three episodes of The Oval, but I plan on doing a spin-off with her. It’s going to be really fun and I’ve been wanting to work with you. And I’m just listening to this wonderful man talk about me like anybody would wish to be talked about as an actor. He finally says that’s why I’m calling. And I’m like, first of all, “Hi, Tyler Perry!” Second of all the answer is “Yes.”
I’d already read the scripts because I’d gotten them for Denise, so I already knew what Ruth was about, but I also appreciated the challenge in playing something off type from myself. I’ve always gotten the girlfriend, the mean girl or the ex; the stereotypical type roles. I was happy to be stepping out of my comfort zone when he offered this to me.
BET: What was it like playing identical twins, Denise and Ruth?
Melissa L. Williams: I felt like this was a chance for me to have a little fun because Ruth is very serious and Ruthless is also very serious. It’s a complete deviation from how Tyler Perry writes his comedies and TV shows. This is a drama and it’s suspenseful, a thriller almost. The cliffhangers will make you want to see the next one. The drama that is Ruthless is what I brought to Ruth in The Oval.
So, when I got to play Denise I was like oh cool now I can smile, laugh, have fun, and be flirty. You’ve seen what I’m doing with the President and talking to him crazy. Tyler likes to add lines on set in the moment. One of my favorite lines from Denise is “And close my damn door!” He added that at the last minute. It wasn’t in the script and I was like ‘Yes! I’m getting classic Tyler Perry right now!’ It’s all been a blessing.
BET.com: We published a list of Five Things To Know about you and mention that you were once in a singing group. What did y’all call yourselves?
Melissa L. Williams: The group was called Je Ne Sais. Honey, we had about half a song recorded. We were young girls trying to make it in Atlanta. We quickly fell apart, but not because of not getting along. One of our members is a really famous back up dancer and at the time was offered to go on tour with Beyoncé. If you look in Beyoncé’s videos, you’ll see a girl with a short blonde cut, that’s my friend, Saidah. My other friend in the group is Brittany, who is in New Orleans and has started her own personal training boot camp. So, they are both doing well. Thank God we have our own things going on. We each had our own aspirations and I don’t think being in a group was it at that time.
BET.com: Will we get to hear more of you singing in Ruthless or any upcoming shows?
Melissa L. Williams: Well you know we had the song, “Bring All The Children To Me” from The Oval. People were singing that song to me at the grocery store. Tyler was sending me Tweets from people mimicking the song. Y’all even called it a low-key bop. Come on BET with the plug!
I’m going to be putting out music really soon because I’ve already got two records done. I was pursuing music solo after the group. I had a song on the radio here in Atlanta and in Oklahoma where I’m from. I had a chance to sign with Jive but my manager didn’t agree with what they were going to give and now I’m not relying on a label or manager because, thank God, I can pay for everything since being on The Oval. I’ve recorded two songs and will release those and see what people think. That is another one of my passions.
BET.com: What advice would you give actresses on the come up?
Melissa L. Williams: I would say believing in yourself is key and the hunger to research and try things that make you uncomfortable, obviously within the scope of the goal. I’ve never had to compromise myself to be in this industry. You don’t have to do that. I’m just living proof that hard work works and God is good.
Ruthless premieres on March 19 on BET+