You Must Know: Zelda Williams
Despite all evidence to the contrary (her acting roles, her famous father, her sensationally sardonic personality), Zelda Williams doesn't consider herself funny. But as more and more people catch wind of her delightfully dry and wonderfully offbeat webseries, Checked Out, Zelda will have a tougher time convincing people she funny doesn't run in her family.
Insider.com: What appealed to you about this project?
Zelda Williams: Checked Out used to be called Heinous People and the script was these awful people who work in a Trader Joe's – that just really made me smile. I love this kind of filmmaking because it's ultra-low budget and brings creative people, that didn't have a venue, to the table and gives them a platform for their voice. We shot it in the downstairs of a closed mortuary – it was ridiculous, but it was a blast. I couldn't have asked for a better comedy experience because I've pretty much stayed away so far.
Insider: Did you intentionally stay away from comedy because of your father?
Zelda: It's one of the reasons. I was discouraged from acting. My mother didn't want me to be a part of this industry. Second generation actors or any progeny of an entertainment professional will typically be. It's all because of these pre-conceived notions about being better than your parent, which is an unrealistic expectation. I love my dad, he's a legend at what he does. But comedy is not my wheelhouse. Anyone who is funny will tell you that you have to be dark to be funny. Half the comedians I grew up with are dark and hilarious and make fun of themselves and are depressed or jealous or bizarre. Humor comes from those human problems. Funny people have to have more of them than others. Funny people don't tend to be happy people. I rarely meet comedians who are happy people.
Insider: I've heard this a lot. Why do you think that is?
Zelda: It all stems from that experience they've had – almost a "Dance Monkey, Dance" way that they've been viewed. They deal with it in stride, but it's not what people would expect. I grew up with comedians; I couldn't have more respect for comedians. Making complete strangers laugh is one of the hardest things anyone could be asked to do. Comedians aren't affecting anyone with anything other than their jokes – there are no special effects. So if they're not funny, they're ostracized as complete failures. The Mitch Hedburg's and The Belushi's, the ones who fell beneath the weight of their demons, are very dark human beings. It was nice to approach comedy from a place of not having too many demons, but I still think it ended up working out. I'm so grateful for that.
Insider: Did you ever have this kind of anhedonic work experience?
Zelda: I've interned at a bunch of strange places, where it's all about characters – it doesn't matter where you work, there are always those people that make you think, "How do you function?!?" [laughs] I loved that even though this is a comedy, there is a realism to the frustration that she and David have combated with humor. There are two ways that people deal with the doldrums: humor or depression. And this was both. This awful, bitchy girl who reminds me so much of that ideal of 9-to-5 workers. That whole thing where you realize you're able to collect unemployment and can't figure out why you haven't gotten fired yet [laughs]. That ridiculousness is so fun to me. I couldn't have asked for a better project to pursue that character.
Insider: What's next for you?
Zelda: I'm in pre-production for a project I wrote and will direct. I've hired my lead actress and can't wait to shock the world with what we do. She has been seen as one kind of character her whole career. The character in my short is this very lonely but intelligent woman who has compromised what people might think are scruples to continue to function in a working environment. She's a legal dominatrix. It's a lot about what they go through, their mentality, the misconceptions about that. My actress, Christy [Romano], who used to be the big sister on Even Stevens, will be playing this sad, wistful yet hopeful dominatrix. She's so fascinating in this film.
Insider: What made you want to step behind the scenes?
Zelda: So much of what you do as an actor or where you end up has nothing to do with you – it's a decision made by the people that now I'm starting to be. Directors and producers have the power over actors and I'm excited to start taking chances on people, like David Greenman [Checked Out creator] took on me. Everything I write, whether it's based in space or on earth, is about how humans interact and live together. I used to be really reclusive and watched people, so I'm looking forward to bringing that to screen.