Tavis: Kelli Williams is a talented actress who starred for several seasons on the award-winning drama “The Practice.” She now stars alongside Tim Roth in the Fox series “Lie to Me.” The show airs Monday nights at 8:00. Here now, a scene from “Lie to Me.”
Tavis: Pretty intense.
Kelli Williams: That was crazy intense. (Laughter) The scene before that, I was throwing lettuce at the intruders. It was like my ninja lettuce. (Laughter) That became the joke.
Tavis: For those who have not seen “Lie to Me,” I’ll let you explain it, the premise behind the show.
Williams: Well, we are a procedural show. We are lie specialists. Tim Roth plays this savant of sorts, where he can read every tiny little microexpression that we give off, and it’s based on true science. So right now you’re giving off all sorts of things, and if I were an expert, as I am not –
Tavis: What am I saying?
Williams: Which I am not, I am just an actor. (Laughter) He could read you and he’ll know what’s going on. It’s involuntary, so we can’t stop ourselves from giving away these little microexpressions, and we follow that. So we kind of – it takes us down these crazy roads, and Tim Roth is often right and he sees things in people, and I’m right there, his sidekick, who’s like, “I don’t know about that,” and then it turns out that he’s typically right, which I’ve got to talk to the writers about that. I need to be right sometimes. (Laughter)
Tavis: That’s how that works. You know how this business works – he’s got to be right most of the time.
Williams: I know, it’s true, it’s true.
Tavis: Otherwise you ain’t got a job.
Williams: Right, right.
Tavis: If he’s wrong most of the time, nobody’s watching the show. So when you said earlier, and I know this to be the case, that this is based on science, even though you are an actor, to your point, have you started reading more about this?
Williams: Initially I did. A man by the name of Paul Eckman, Dr. Eckman, he’s written many books about it, and he’s sort of who Tim’s loosely playing. Paul used to come on set early on and it would completely throw us, because he’s the real guy watching us pretend to be the real guy, and it made us very self-conscious, because I’d be like, “Hey, Dr. Eckman, how are you? Great. Oh, God, you can see exactly what’s going on.” (Laughter) Now I’m nervous, and you know I’m nervous. I was like – I couldn’t have a regular conversation with him.
Tavis: I asked that to ask whether or not when you talk to people now you’re, like, checking out stuff now that you have never looked at before.
Williams: I see things occasionally now, and it typically happens, at least for me, better with people I don’t know. Because if you’re emotionally invested in someone’s life you don’t see the clues. They’re there, but you just don’t pick up on them.
So I do, I see more than I want to see sometimes.
Tavis: I know you’re not the expert here, but are these clues – is there variance? In other words, do the clues vary based upon who we are as individuals or are there certain signs that all of us give off that are consistent.
Williams: We all give them off, they’re all consistent, especially the microexpressions. They’re the same on everybody and they cross language – it’s pretty amazing. There are certain behavioral things – shrugs or holding on to something, and you can watch the body language, too. Certain things that are given away that people don’t know that they’re doing if they get called on it later.
It’s pretty fascinating stuff, but it’s dense. There’s a lot of material that I have not (unintelligible) read.
Tavis: In terms of the breadth and depth of your career, in terms of the interesting nature of the character, how does this stack up with the other stuff that you’ve done?
Williams: It’s really different. “The Practice” I was on for seven years and it was a law show, so I really – a lot of objections and things like that, lots of long, long monologues that David Kelly used to write me, which were great. I was really lucky to have my first show go that long.
This is entirely different, a lot of fun. We get into – Tim Roth is a delight to work with. He just wants to play, he wants actors to get in there and just try stuff out, and I’m having a great time. It’s a really great, great group.
Tavis: When you mentioned the long monologues on “The Practice” and you actually liked those long monologues –
Williams: I’m not saying I wasn’t terrified of them, though. (Laughter) When I was – when I’m doing it.
Tavis: There’s my follow up – why fall in love with those super-long monologues?
Williams: Well, it’s sort of what scares actors and what sort of pulls us to this business, too, I think, at least for me. We go to the opening arguments or the closing arguments of a case and we’d see which actor got the big one.
I had a seven-page one once which just about killed me, and I thought, oh, I’m going to get fired, that’s it, I can’t do it. It was like a one-act play, and I had a few weeks to learn it, luckily. But it’s terrifying. It’s that exhilarating feeling of being able to get it done and do it, and you also kind of don’t even know that you’re in it. Like when you’re in the zone, you just don’t know that – you hope you’ve reached it and done a good job, but you kind of have no idea.
Tavis: You are interesting, because I talk to a lot of people on this show and so many actors are not born and raised in this town, and you are. (Laughter) It’s always fascinating to talk to folk who are born and raised here, and you’re driving past all this stuff every day, you’re in this town every day and then you end up a part of the business. Can you reflect on that for me?
Williams: Yes. I grew up here. My mom made the pilgrimage to become an actress in the mid-’60s and then she married a plastic surgeon, so I had kind of –
Tavis: It all fits. (Laughter)
Williams: I had a very normal childhood, come on.
Tavis: Your mom wants to be an actress; your dad’s a plastic surgeon.
Williams: Yeah, uh-huh, yeah.
Williams: It was great. My mom grew up on a farm in Indiana and she moved out her and sort of tried to bring that with her a little bit. I had a ton of animals; I had a goat growing up, a bunch of rabbits, a vegetable garden.
Tavis: A goat in Beverly Hills.
Tavis: Okay. (Laughter)
Williams: Again, very normal – I’m a very normal person.
Tavis: Very normal childhood, yeah.
Williams: Yes. But my mom was just a working actor so it didn’t seem strange to me. She wasn’t a big celebrity. I got to sort of just watch shows and films being made and I fell in love with the business and how it works. I knew that it was a lot of hard work, that it’s not something that you get, that you don’t always succeed at it. I don’t know, that was my acting school, so I’d just run lines with her, stuff like that.
Then my dad, the whole other side, the plastic surgery side, that’s a whole nother thing. (Laughter) Yeah, it was pretty wild.
Tavis: You mentioned your mom grew up in Indiana; I’m from Indiana. It’s always fascinating for me to talk to Hoosiers who come from Indiana or for that matter who just come from the Midwest and try to hold on – not that people out here are not decent people, but in the Midwest you have these values and these social mores; it’s just a different kind of environment.
I love having grown up in the Midwest. There’s no place in the country I personally would have wanted to grow up. I loved growing up in the Midwest, and so, so much of that upbringing has held me steady here when you get to Hollywood.
How did your mom – aside from the animals, how did your mom try to impart to you those Indiana, Midwestern values here in Beverly Hills when she came out this way?
Williams: It’s sort of who she is. She’s very – she has a pioneer spirit in the sense that she could get anything done. We’d go to a fancy – we went to New York once, years and years ago, my first time in New York, maybe 1979 or ’80, and we were at, like, the Plaza or something, right? We’re hanging out with my dad for a few days.
My dad goes back to L.A. to go back to work and my mom checks us out of the Plaza, puts us in the Barbizon for women, where it’s like a little tiny, tiny room with a little bed that we take – I mean, we literally sleep in this little, tiny bed with a sink and the toilet’s down the hall, and that was my mom in a nutshell.
We don’t need this; we’re going to go see a ton of Broadway shows. We’d even sneak in at the intermission. I was mortified, of course. I was like, “Ma, you have to pay for a ticket. You can’t just sneak in at the end.”
Tavis: You messed my whole story up. I’m talking about Midwestern values, of honesty –
Williams: I know, but see, now she’s – you’re right, you’re right, whoops, whoops.
Tavis: – and your mom is sneaking into a Broadway play, not paying for it.
Williams: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Tavis: You just crashed and burned my whole Midwestern story.
Williams: Never mind. Right, I know.
Tavis: You’re done. That’s our show for tonight. (Laughter)
Williams: Maybe she just was – oh. I should have lied, really, shouldn’t I?
Tavis: Yeah, you see this? Yeah, you’re on a show called “Lie to Me” and you tell me the truth. (Laughter) I should have known it from your microexpression –
Williams: I know.
Tavis: – that you were not going to go along with that story. I digress.
Williams: It’s macro, that’s what it is.
Tavis: Yeah, I got it. Her name, Kelli Williams. She’s on “Lie to Me” on Fox. Kelli, good to have you on the program, and tell your mom I said hi.
Williams: I will. (Laughter)
Tavis: That’s our show for tonight.
Williams: I totally walked right into that one.
Tavis: Yeah, you did. Chin up.
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