Little did Vanessa Estelle Williams know after playing the crucial role of Anne-Marie McCoy in Bernard Rose’s Candyman back in the early 1990s that she’d be returning to the series nearly three decades later, but the actress is beyond thrilled to be a part of director Nia DaCosta’s terrifying new take on the iconic character. Co-written by DaCosta, Win Rosenfeld, and Jordan Peele (who also produced the “spiritual sequel”), Candyman (2021) is officially in theaters today, courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to chat with Williams about returning to take on her pivotal role in the new Candyman, and she discussed the franchise’s legacy, working with DaCosta, becoming meme-worthy online, and more.
**SPOILER WARNING:** While no exact plot points are revealed in the following interview, there are elements of this discussion with Williams that provide some context of the new Candyman’s story, which some fans might find to be a bit too spoilery. Just a heads-up before you keep reading.
It’s truly an honor to speak with you today, Vanessa. I would love to go way, way back to the beginning with the original Candyman because your character ends up being such an integral part of the journey that those characters go on in that film. I'm curious from your perspective, when you're an artist and you're creating something, you always want it to endure, but were you surprised at how much Candyman really captured the imagination of horror fans and continues to do so even now after almost nearly 30 years?
Vanessa Estelle Williams: First of all, to think that it was 30 years ago is just mind-boggling. And I absolutely am floored that it has such staying power as an iconic film of the genre. You know what I mean? So that's what's just so powerful, to be connected to a film that has that kind of mighty staying power and just in the imagination of viewers. It's marvelous. I think, and certainly the new version of it, the one for 2021, I think Jordan Peele really speaks to it well. I keep quoting him because he puts it so succinctly about how the central theme of this movie is the eternal dance between the monster and victim within the racial history of this country.
I think that's part of the staying power of it as subject matter and certainly what gets readdressed and really unpacked and reclaimed in terms of whose narrative it is in this version of it. And so it's an important film. Both films are so important for these kinds of reasons. It's a wonderful circle back to get to reclaim, restructure, reorder, and retell why that matters, why it matters so importantly in this time, and in this opportunity, to really right some wrongs and really get the full story and our full history out.
Because again, this is a movie that you worked on decades ago, were you really surprised when you got that call and they said, "We're going to bring your character back and make her a part of this world again and revisit her story in this new Candyman in such a surprising way"? As soon as I saw you in the trailer, I was like, "Oh my gosh, we are really going back to all of this," and I was really thrilled myself.
Vanessa Estelle Williams: It's thrilling as an actor to get a gig, okay? And to be offered one is the best way that your work is already out there and people want to work with you, and they trust you to do that so that your work speaks for itself. So that's a really gratifying and wonderful thing to have achieved in one's lifetime and career. Jordan Peele burst on the scene in the way that he did and of course, he's certainly someone that I wanted to work with. So when I heard that he'd be producing Candyman, I thought to myself and mentioned to my agent, "Well, certainly, they're going to need to speak to some of the people who survived, won't they?" Then he says, "I'll get right on it and look right on it." Then I think it was at the same time, they reached out to me and to my reps and said, "Yes, we absolutely want her back, and here's how it's going to go."
And so, to read the script that was so artfully crafted by Nia and Jordan and Win Rosenfeld, it's a roadmap into this whole turn of events and retelling of it that just makes it such a wonderful, dynamic walk as an actor to lift off the page. So it was gratifying artistically and just culturally, just in all the ways that makes one tick, and certainly was that for me.
I wanted to ask about working with Nia, because I love the fact that they brought in a female director for this, because ultimately, when you peel back the layers on this story, this really is a story about a mother who was doing everything she could to protect her son and how fate ended up intervening, and nothing ultimately was able to protect him. How was it collaborating with her?
Vanessa Estelle Williams: It was really wonderful to see that point, the emotional crux of it played out, especially seeing it recently in the theater. I think it's such an extraordinary experience to see things in the theater. I hadn't been back to the theater in ages, so it was so wonderful in that way. Working with Nia, she was just so marvelous to be able to trust as your third eye, as the captain of the whole ship. What an actor wants is an eye outside of themselves that they can trust.
Certainly, with Nia, her way of working, her temperament, her way of communicating with me as an actor, all the actors and the whole crew, you just trusted her point of view. So, you offer something, she receives it well, then she counteroffers something else, then we grow on that. It was just a delicious way to work. And I was grateful that all the preparation that I did at home in terms of just plotting out emotionally what it's like to have gone through those traumas, to have from my own life as a mother of two beautiful sons and what that's like to want to protect them, to what ends and means you'll go to, what lengths you'll go to make sure that their lives are secure and safe, all of that resonated.
Then I get to the set and Nia refines the work that I've already done and then with my amazing scene partner who comes just so full and ready and in the moment with all of his dynamic intensity that I'm just reacting to the circumstances and really being just truthful and letting it play out. I mean, it was marvelous. It was really, really, really marvelous.
One of the things that I absolutely loved is when that first trailer came out and you have that moment where, as soon as somebody starts to say, "Candyman," you're like, "Mm-mm (negative). No, don't do that." You've now become this internet sensation because of that moment, and I see it everywhere. How cool is that? You're like this really fun part of internet culture now, and I love that.
Vanessa Estelle Williams: It blew my mind. Do you understand? It blew my mind, initially because I knew that the marketing was probably going to try to stay away from certain things since the fans are so smart and they were going to unpack the trailer. They have theories about what the movie was, and I knew that was trying to be a secret. So I was as shocked as anyone that I was even included in the trailer. And so when some of my journalist friends said, "Oh, no, you're going to like it," and then I saw it and it was great. Then it became all these crazy, funny, funny memes. I was like, "Oh, this is so dynamic." It was just marvelous.
I've been quoted before with New Jack City. People come to me and have me say my "Rock-A-Bye baby" line. So it's just like in this great trajectory, I can just add another one that's going to be on my tombstone. But it was really a delight. I think because it's been riffed and been this funny thing, it hits you even greater when you see it in the context of the film and you realize, "Oh, this is nothing to laugh about," and that this is a really poignant and moving part of the film, that shit is all coming to pieces. So I think it works in that way, too, the juxtaposition of how it's out there in the world and on the internet sphere and in how it plays in the movie. I think it all works together.
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