Thursday, July 17, 2014

Exclusive Interview with Cynda Williams (Clarke from Mo Better Blues) (72hoursMovie)

       The Pink Pantie Confessions of Cynda Williams
You might remember her as 'Clarke’ singing the blues in Spike Lee's classic Mo’ Better Blues.  However, Cynda Williams has been doing mo’ better since her debut with several successful stage and film appearances and is now back with a new movie entitled, 72 Hours, a new book and a blog called the PinkPantieConfessions.

LENELL:  We cannot wait to hear all the detail regarding your career.  How are you?
CYNDA: I am very well thank you, very busy.

LENELL:   I actually had a chance to see you perform at the International Festival of Life and I forgot that you had such a beautiful voice.
CYNDA: Thank you.
 LENELL: Every time I hear Harlem Blues it takes me back to a time of black prominence or the Renaissance Era.  It really captures the true essence of Harlem.
CYNDA:  It was definitely a wonderfully written song.

LENELL: It was just brought to my attention, that you are a Chicago home girl.  What was life like for you growing up there?
CYNDA:  Well I grew up on the south side from the late 60’s thru the early 70’s. I loved it; it was a great experience and a wonderful neighborhood. We had a neighborhood where all the kids would play at our house because we had a very large yard and it was a constant joy to hang out with all the kids in the neighborhood and not fear for our lives unfortunately, like so many kids today.  It was an ideal upbringing although I had my challenges like all kids do growing up for different reasons but, I really enjoyed my time in that part of my childhood.
LENELL: It’s funny how you mentioned the way you grew up and how kids have it different today. Do you feel the way you grew up helped to shape your career into the path that you took?  We are losing so many kids in the streets today.  What do you feel is the missing factor?

CYNDA:  Well, I think it certainly begins in the home. There are so many kids who do not have consistency with their parents. The economy has made it very difficult for the parents to stay home with the kids and raise them. If both parents have to work, who’s watching the kids? It also goes back to the lack of discipline in the homes and the communities. It’s a fact that “the village” can’t be “the village” anymore. It used to be the neighbor who could straighten out the neighborhood kid.  However, no one wants anyone talking to their kid; “That’s my kid”.  But yet, they’re not talking to their kids. It all starts there.
Then it goes into the schools.  I don’t believe in abuse in anyway, but I certainly believe in teachers being able to say, “No” to kids and be strong in it and that has been taken away from the teachers. So there’s no discipline happening anywhere.
Then add that to a lack of proper income to take care of basic needs which causes our communities to fall apart.  So, it’s a big circle with all of these things working together to weaken our community. It’s going to take people recognizing these facts to try to change their communities, small communities, one at a time.  It has to become a movement.

LENELL:  While growing up in Chicago, did you always know you were going to make it in the world of entertainment or what were some of your influences to help you develop your craft?

CYNDA:  Yes, I always knew by the time I was five years old that I wanted to sing.  The acting didn’t come about until later.  I was very fortunate.  My uncle who was a professional singer, James Wesley Williams, lived with us and I got to go see his shows and watched him on Soul Train. He would work with me and he taught me how to get comfortable with my own voice; although I was very shy.
I was also fortunate because back in those days they still had art in the schools.  In elementary school I had a very special teacher named Mrs. Wait.  She taught music and we would do the most amazing shows. We did the Mikado and some other amazing productions. Our choirs also competed. I was very fortunate with so many people and the personal relationships that I had.
I also attended a very creative and productive church.  We had plays, shows, dancing, choirs and all these things.  For me it was more about these personal relationships than for anything just happening out in the world or on television.
 LENELL:  It also goes back to that village concept where you have people to introduce you to these opportunities to help you explore your craft.    So the year is 1990 and the world is introduced to you. We see you for the first time in MO’ Better Blues.  Tell us how did you land that role, you lucky girl, with Mr. Denzel Washington? How did that come about?
CYNDA: Well, I certainly was blessed; I don’t necessarily feel that I was lucky. I’ve been acting and singing consistently since I was a five year old child. I’ve been working consistently.  I had a conversation with my daughter today and she said that she wanted to be a basketball player.  If you want to be a basketball player, then there are things that you have to do to make yourself competitive.  Every day you have to find a way to better yourself. I was taught that at a very early age by my parents and grandparents to work at what I wanted and so I did. I was always in a play, I was always singing, I was always dancing along with having to help take care of my family and go to school.  So, when I moved to New York City and everybody kept telling me that you need to audition for Spike Lee’s new movie, I wasn’t intimidated by that.
I wasn’t at all prepared for what comes with doing a movie because I had never done a movie before. My background was stage, but I felt like I was ready for it when it came. They had already been through quite a few auditions in Chicago, New York and LA.  They weren’t happy with the choices that they had for the Clark role. So, they were coming back around for the second time and I was able to get an audition. The only reason I was able to get an audition was because of the kindness of some of the casting directors who had been in a casting office and had seen me wait several hours to be able to read for the part. They said you have to give this girl a chance.  She’s been very patient and sat here reading a book waiting for you; give her a shot.  So that’s how I got my first audition. Yes, I was very blessed to be chosen to be at the right place at the right time. Yet, at the same time I prepared for it.
LENELL: From that movie we did get a chance to hear your vocal ability on the song Harlem Blues, which was featured on the soundtrack. What would you consider your first love, music or acting?
CYNDA: I would have to say that it goes back and forth. Whatever I ‘m doing is what I love to do.  When I‘m singing consistently there’s nothing like it. When I see how my interpretation of a song affects people… when I see them cry, when I hear them laugh, whatever I did it’s nothing like that one-on-one action when I am with an audience.  I rarely do stadiums; most of my performances are intimate in clubs and small groups. It’s a wonderful energy exchange.

When I act, I love getting lost in characters and creating someone brand new; at least brand new to me. I feel a happiness that I can’t really explain when I ‘m able to do that. So, whatever I am doing at the time is what I love to do most.
 LENELL: Shortly after Mo’ Better Blues you were offered a record deal correct?
CYNDA:  Yes.

LENELL: What happened with that situation?
CYNDA: Well I’m not completely sure what happened. I did some recordings, but I think there were some political things happening that I really didn’t know about or that I really had anything to do with. That stopped the process. I was given hearsay about certain things that I don’t want to repeat. It just didn’t work out.  I wasn’t very upset about it to be honest because my experience in the music world verses the movie world was very different.  I felt they both could bring a darkness. The music world at that time was a little bit darker and at that point I felt that I wasn’t ready for the challenge of that kind of darkness in my life. I preferred just doing movies and going home as opposed to the world of music where there were a lot of dark things happening.

LENELL: We have seen you in quite a few movies over the years.  You have been working consistently which is quite a blessing.   We’ve seen you in Mo’ Better, Caught Up and The Dorothy Dandridge Story, how do you maintain to stay relevant?

CYNDA:  I was very blessed. The film, One False Move did quite a lot for my career. After Mo’ Better, there were some things that happened in my life that took me on a different route when it came to my acting.  It took me to a different niche.  It was so funny because people say, “Oh my God, where have you been?” I’ve been fortunate to play so many different kind of characters that I ‘m not always recognizable.
I’m very picky about what I do.  I have made some mistakes with some projects that I’m not very proud of.  I thought that I could make them better, but the writing just wasn’t good enough to take it to the next levels that were good enough for me and my perfectionism.  For the most part I have been fortunate to get great scripts. However, I have turned down some that I felt were either derogatory toward women or something that had no hope in it. I’m big on hope.  Even if I’m playing a great character and there’s redemption somewhere in the film, then I feel there is some hope I would be more than willing to be a part of it.
I went through about a five year hiatus to spend time with my daughter and raise her.   It was a very difficult decision because I absolutely love what I do and it can be death to your career to take a break.  I found it difficult to land jobs after my hiatus so I began writing to hopefully change some perceptions. There is not a whole lot out there for women especially women of color.  So, the projects that I am working on and writing about are very similar.  They have the same complexion, they are all very small boned and their hair is straight and silky.

LENELL: Perfect! (Laughing)
CYNDA: It depends on what you think is perfection. I think that all the different looks that we have is perfection. Not just the looks, but the professions we do and the character we have.  Everyone is flawed and that is part of the joy in theater where you are watching different flawed people find their way to redemption or doing the right thing. They are not all perfect little princesses.  So, I’m trying to create work where people can say, “Okay, that’s my grandmother” or “I know someone like that.” That’s my goal.
 LENELL: Do you find it hard balancing family time with your career? I know that you are married. Is he in the business?
CYNDA: I met my husband on a movie set. He was a producer of a film I did called, Hidden Blessings that I did for BET when it was public and its own entity.  So, we have that in common. He is an awesome producer and entertainment lawyer.  My daughter is also very creative.  She loves music and she is a great actress.  Although, I ‘m not sure that this is the road that she wants to take because she is very shy. She doesn’t have the same opportunities as I had to get on stage because we have moved so much.  It can be difficult balancing and I’m dealing with that right now because I need to write, I need to work. It’s summertime.
I have an only child and I need to figure out how to give her time and a schedule so that she is being productive and I am able to sit down and work myself.  But, I think that goes for any family that’s productive. You just have to be conscience of balance. I can’t sit down at the computer for 10 hours a day and not look at my daughter or not cook or clean or whatever needs to be done.

LENELL:  It appears to me that you have got it down to a science.  Now you recently did a play in Chicago about a year or so ago; tell us a bit about that?

CYNDA:  I did a play called Immediate Family by Paul Stovall. It was such a wonderful experience. Phylicia Rashad directed it. It was one of the most wonderful casts of actors from Chicago.  It was probably the best ensemble I have ever worked with dealing with a subject matter that was entertaining yet educating and controversial. It’s something that I hope one day comes back. I would love to do the show again maybe even on Broadway. That would be my dream to do the show on Broadway or even seeing it on Broadway and not even be in it. I find that Chicago actors are a phenomenal bunch. They’re good people; not only talented but down to earth people that really look out for one another.  It was a real treat for me.

LENELL: The talent in Chicago is superb.   Those within the creative community are close like family. They really do look out for one another.  Tell us about your role in the upcoming film 72 hours.
 CYNDA: The women in the film each came in for a day or two for filming. The day that I had was a phenomenal experience. Chris Nolen is a wonderful director; definitely one of the better ones that I’ve worked with. His set ran smoothly, he was very open to the actors creating characters, yet at the same time gave us his ideas and direction so we weren’t lost. Timon Durrett is a phenomenal actor and I hope to work with him again. He does a great job in the movie.  I can’t wait to see the movie.

 LENELL: Same here and it’s coming out in 2015?
CYNDA: That’s what I’ve heard; next year.

 LENELL: Outside of the film 72 hours please let everybody know what other projects that they can be on the lookout for.
CYNDA: Well, I’m finishing up a book.  I have an entire project that I’m working on entitled the Pink Pantie Confession.  I write a blog called the Pink Pantie The book which is actually an extension of the blog contains poetry, anecdotes, insights which are autobiographical in nature. There is music attached that is inspired by the blog and then there is the web series. I’m looking for a 2015 release for all of that.

Wow, Cynda had a lot going on.  I could have spoken with her for hours.  However, I guess I can get her book to see what else is going on in her creative mind.  You can stay in touch with Cynda in cyberspace at Twitter  http://www., Blog Is http://www. and

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