Professional actor and adjunct professor Cheryl Williams landed the opportunity of a lifetime when she was cast as the mother of Jennifer Lawrence in the recent box-office hit and Academy Award-nominated “Silver Linings Playbook.”
After 41 years of acting, Barrymore Award-winner Williams has dedicated her life to the stage by working with local theater groups such as Mauckingbird Theatre Company, which featured her as Mrs. Daigle in “Bad Seed” this past weekend. She will also star this April in 1812 Productions’ “It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project.”
Currently, she teaches the courses Acting Styles and Honors Art of Acting. With limited movie experience, Williams said, the overlooked perks of Oscar-nominated productions impress her.
“The food was really good,” Williams said. “And it was cool to come in every day and have someone do my makeup and hair. Joking aside, I feel blessed that my first major film experience was with David O. Russell and with such incredible actors.”
THE TEMPLE NEWS: What was your role like in “Silver Linings Playbook” and how did it feel seeing yourself on the big screen?
Cheryl Willliams: I play Tiffany’s mom — I was never given any other title. Tiffany is played by Jennifer Lawrence, who is a lead. My role is small, needless to say, but I do get a lot of face time. I was on set for about a month, off and on, while I was teaching at Temple. The first time I saw the film completed, I kept thinking, “What happened to that scene? They cut that out?” We never knew what the final product was going to be. I think I have to watch it again so I can just enjoy it.
TTN: What was it like interacting with such big-name actors?
CW: I spent a lot of time gabbing with them all. Jennifer Lawrence is super nice and smart. In between shots, we’d sit in the corner and talk about life. I had a tiny scene with Robert DeNiro that ended up being cut, but he was very sweet. Whenever he was shooting something and I was in the vicinity, I was enraptured. It was a real acting lesson. No matter how long you’re in the business of acting, you’re always learning and growing. He’s Robert DeNiro! Jacki Weaver is a wonderful person, too. We talked a lot because we sat at the same table in the ballroom scene. I chatted with Bradley Cooper and he’s a total gentleman. He’d always ask how your day was and give you a kiss on the cheek. He would always thank everyone after filming a scene, too. I was never made to feel that I was less than the other actors. I was treated like a true professional.
TTN: How did you feel about working for director David O. Russell?
CW: David O. Russell is a kind, generous, crazy, genius of a man. I felt privileged to be able to do a film with him. He came and sat in my dressing room once and talked with me for 45 minutes about stuff that had nothing to do with acting. A lot of the actors on set like John Ortiz and Shea Whigham requested to work with him. They all said that “this will never be like any acting experience you’ll ever have,” because he just does whatever he wants. He’s like a painter and he creates things as he’s doing it. He would just throw lines at you during an audition and have you ad-lib. He’s amazing.
TTN: How did your students react to your big break?
CW: One day — the only time in the history of teaching — my phone went off during class. I’m very strict about students keeping their phones off while we’re acting. Everyone was so shocked. I told them it was my agent, and they made me answer the call. She told me I had the role and I was so surprised I had to sit down. All of my students kept asking, “What is it?” So I told them I would be playing Jennifer Lawrence’s mom in a movie and not to get too excited because it wasn’t a big part. Then they all started screaming. My agent was moved to tears because she could hear how much they loved me over the phone.
TTN: What is your background in acting and how did it bring you to Temple?
CW: I’ve basically been a stage actress all my life. I’ve lived in Philadelphia since 2003. I moved to Fishtown before it was cool to live in Fishtown. My husband of 21 years, Eric Kramer, is an actor as well. We moved to Philadelphia because we had toured with the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival and that’s where we met and fell in love. We just always loved the vibe here. I was in a few shows over the next couple of years, but then I developed breast cancer. It took almost a year to complete treatment with chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation. That’s when Temple called me. I had worked with Dan Kern in a show and he said, “You would be a good fit for Temple.” I had just finished my treatment in June 2006 and then in August 2006, Donna Snow called me to teach and I’ve been here ever since.
TTN: What’s the major distinction between stage and film acting?
CW: All the things you do are basically the same, but one of the huge transitions from stage to film is the story. Instead of getting on stage and performing from beginning to end, movies are about repeating moments out of order again and again. I also felt more exposed in film because it was more intimate. I didn’t have the distance that stage gave me. You have to make it more real. With movies, you want to feel like you’re right there in the moment. I was able to use what I tell my students of putting yourself in the moment before — what your character was doing three seconds before the scene — to bring it all to life.
Jessica Smith can be reached at email@example.com.