Talk show host Wendy Williams didn’t want to waste two hours of viewers’ time if a TV movie about her life was going to sugarcoat any of the details. She wanted “Wendy Williams: The Movie” to offer the unvarnished truth.
“Knowing how society is now with the blogs and various things offered on the internet, I (wanted) to clear up half-truths and untruths,” she says during a Zoom conference.
Even scenes of addiction and trouble in her marriage to Kevin Hunter were not off limits.
“We were actually going through divorce (during the making of the film), which was very difficult,” she says. “I don’t regret meeting Kevin. I don’t regret falling in love. I don’t regret staying with him for all 25 years. If anything, I’m extremely happy that I’m still relevant enough that I’m able to come through double doors and say, ‘How you doin’?’ And still be young, fun and pop-culture relevant.”
Born in New Jersey in 1964, Williams started in radio, then segued into television, landing her several Emmy nominations for daytime talk show host. “My career is over 35 years as a paid personality,” she says. “And I take that very seriously. There are little things and big things that needed to be incorporated in this movie in order for it all to make sense.”
Divorce, she says, was 10 years in the making. “With every year, this talk show would get bigger and better and the staff here would get closer and closer. And my husband would get meaner. I don’t know whether the staff thought I was an abused woman or what they thought, because (when) I finished the show, I’d go home, change my clothes, wipe off my makeup and take (care of) my son. If I was a regular Wendy, with a regular job, maybe I would have gone and slept on my parents’ couch or cried in the arms of girlfriends.”
Fans of “The Wendy Williams Show” saw public meltdowns but didn’t know the details “The Movie” provides.
Ciera Payton, who plays Williams, was among those who listened to her dating advice and felt a “deeper connection.”
Because she bears a resemblance, Payton was frequently told she should play her if a movie was made. After the first season of “The Oval,” the suggestions ramped up and the actress realized she should brush up on Williams’ mannerisms. “Let me start soaking her in,” she remembers telling herself. She listened to Williams’ books, watched interviews and tried to capture as much of her essence as possible. One year ago, she was called in to audition for the biopic.
When Payton finally connected with Williams, “it felt like we had known each other for years," she says. The two talked frequently.
“We would talk about things – anything from hair to nails,” Williams says.
Payton was the right choice, Williams says, because “she wanted it. And she actually knew who I was…or am.”
During filming, Williams would fly to the set in Vancouver on weekends, look at footage and offer advice and encouragement. She asked her ex if he wanted to come but COVID-19 restrictions prevented that from happening. Hunter was offered assurance that he would not be depicted in a way that was not in line with Williams’ “truth.” “This is my movie,” she says. “It’s my truth.”
While “Wendy Williams: The Movie” tells a lot of secrets, “it really hasn’t healed anything,” the 56-year-old says. “Every day I feel like I get stronger and smarter. I have to because I’ve got to take care of me and my son and my career. I’m in love with being on TV.”
Today, she says, a number of words can be used to describe her life: fabulous, wonderful, messy, scared and fearless. “But that comes with growth and confidence,” she says. “If I can’t do it, somebody around me is going to tell me, teach how to do it or do it for me.”
“Wendy Williams: The Movie” will air on Lifetime.