Malinda Williams chats candidly with JET about her role in TV One’s new film, The Undershepherd (airs Saturday March 30, 8pm ET).
On Her Role: I play Cassandra, she’s the new first lady of First Baptist Church. Her husband is selected to lead the church and as their status rises she’s trying to maintain the image of the perfect first lady while remaining loyal and focused on their dream.
On Issues Her Character Faces: Cassandra’s husband is an abusive man. He abuses her psychologically and emotionally, and he abuses his power in the church. My character is also bulimic. I think her eating disorder is a result of being abused. As a victim, you start to believe that’s what you deserve, so you abuse yourself and let others abuse you. You become a target, a victim and I think that’s what happens to Cassandra.
On How She Prepared for the Role: As strong of a woman as I am, it was difficult to see how a woman gets to this place. I had to dig deep in one of my past personal relationships and that of a friend. I also researched Juanita Bynum and her story, making her a model for character. Cassandra is like many women who are physically together. Her face is beat. He outfits are fresh, and she’s snatched. But eventually the outside reflects the inside.
On Why She Picked the Role: It was really about understanding emotional abuse. I understood it on a personal level. I know when it was happening to me I was suffering in silence. We feel stupid and like less of a woman for choosing someone we thought we knew. I loved the script and really needed to play this character because I know her, I understand her. I was drawn to it, to give it an honest portrayal. I told the producers that I was not playing the pretty version of this role because being in this position is not pretty.
On Addressing Eating Disorders: When I talk about that part of the film it kind of gets brushed over, I can’t figure out why. I’m here to tell you that there are a lot more people than you think who have body image issues, whether it’s overeating or anorexia or bulimia, but they hid them. I‘m naturally thin, but I have some meat on my bones. I see some models and I get sick to my stomach thinking how did you get so thin. When you see bones, it’s either you’re eating spinach all day or abusing yourself. That’s why it was important for me to address the issue in my work.
On Working With the Cast: Amazing. Collectively we have over a century of film and television experience. I was so excited. That’s the kind of cast you dream of working with. It was like finding out you’re playing tennis with Serena Williams. You know you might not win, but you will have to play your best.
On the Church: The film is timely in how it parallels how the church has become really big. The church has long been the cornerstone for support, fellowship, and direction in the Black community. And when you go somewhere that is leading you in the wrong direction, it’s not right— of course, that’s not all churches. Something else I want to make clear is that the house of worship is also a business. You will see how they deal with church as one.
On Her Family’s Easter Sunday Tradition: We always spend it going to church then dinner with the family, and there’s an Easter egg hunt for the kids. This year I feel like it’s Thanksgiving more than Easter; I feel so grateful for what I have. I’m also looking forward to watching The Bible Series on Sunday. It helps me understand what this is all about.
On What’s Next: I’m collaborating with my ex husband Mekhi Pfiffer on a dramedy television project. I think a lot of folks we will be in. That’s all I can say for now.