Credentials? She has a few.
As a former Miss America with the title role in the 2000 VH1 camp hit “A Diva’s Christmas Carol,” Vanessa Williams boasts the perfect resume to run Mode, the cutthroat fashion magazine on ABC’s “Ugly Betty.”
“I think people who know me in that (“Diva”) role enjoy seeing me do another version basically every week,” Williams says.
Though Williams is best known for her singing career and dramatic acting work, she insists that the comic editrix is no stretch, noting with only slight exaggeration that she has “always played either witches or vamps or divas.”
From “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (her first role on Broadway) to the old witch in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” Williams believes Wilhelmina Slater is a natural extension of the over-the-top personalities she played onstage.
“It’s the same kind of dynamic where it’s evil, it’s provocative, it’s a bit naughty, and that’s the joy, being able to be so free,” she says. “I really don’t have to be contained in terms of what she does or how far she’ll go.”
Wilhelmina (along with her gay assistant, Marc) gets many of the best lines on the show. Even as the Mode staff struggles through its near-constant state of meltdown, the diva-in-chief always manages to keep her cool while plotting to take over the magazine.
By design, Wilhelmina is arch enough to match any of Disney’s fairy-tale villains — and twice as fabulous. But just when she’s gotten as outrageous as audiences can possibly stand, the producers offer a glimpse of humanity that grounds the character and renews our sympathies for another half-dozen episodes (such as preparing Thanksgiving dinner for her daughter or punching out Jerry O’Connell on Rebecca Romijn’s behalf).
“She doesn’t really care what other people think, that’s the thing that makes her funny,” Williams says. “Her looks, her attitude, the way she treats people are all perfectly justified in her own mind.”
Favorite scene: “When Marc and I were caught in Queens, and I had to approach the gals on the corner (when they grab Wilhelmina’s fur coat) and tell ’em to ‘stop pawing my piece unless you’re gonna show me some Benjis.’ We were cracking up the whole time.”
Where you’d like to see your character go next season: “I would love her to get the reins and attain what she’s wanted. The reason she’s been around is she really is creatively talented and assertive and knows more than anyone about the magazine, so she’s certainly deserving.”
TV guilty pleasure: “I have been a ‘Sopranos’ watcher since the beginning (and my manicurist is David Chase’s cousin). I love the show, I love the acting.”