‘It Came…During a Time of Need’: Actress Malinda Williams Reminisces on Her Iconic Roles in ‘The Wood’ and ‘Soul Food’

Malinda Williams has always understood the assignment, whether showcasing the woman’s experiences on-screen or creating safe spaces for Black women. The actress is widely known for starring in “The Wood” and Showtime’s “Soul Food,” which won three NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Drama Series.

The actress spoke with Atlanta Black Star about a few of her iconic roles, including portraying the feisty teenager Alicia in 1999’s “The Wood.” While exploring a vulnerable moment in their teenage existence, Alicia and Sean Nelson’s character Mike lose their virginity to each other. Compared to her motto for everyday life, Williams said most of her acting roles came “during a time of need.”

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 02: Actress / Producer Malinda Williams attends the Rise And Shine: Ladies Who Brunch at 1 Hotel West Hollywood on October 02, 2021 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

“Everything that I do in my life, especially my work, it always comes out of a need And I’ll be very honest with you, at the time when I started filming ‘The Wood,’ it came…during a time of need,” Williams said. “I really needed to express some things in myself, and I was just getting started here in Hollywood.”

The 51-year-old recalls workshopping her role in the film a year before at the 1998 Sundance Festival. She said her focus was to portray Alicia from a first-hand experience authentically. 

“I remember kind of getting into it a little bit with the director, Rick [Famuyiwa], about how this young woman should be portrayed,” Williams expressed. “And I just kept saying, ‘Listen, I’ve been there. I’ve already been a young woman. I’m coming from a very authentic place and you just have to trust that this first love experience is coming from my first love experience or what I understand from my girlfriends and my sisters.” 

She recalls telling Famuyiwa, ‘You got that the guy role, you got that down. But I have it from a first-hand experience.”

She added, “Then cut to 12 months later, I was actually on set offering my first-hand experience in that movie. So again, it was about me being authentic, or me being true to wanting to be authentic to another young black woman and her experience. And not just a black woman, but just a woman.”

Williams plays Bird, a young salon owner in Showtime’s Emmy-nominated series “Soul Food,” which aired from 2000 to 2004. Nia Long portrayed her character in the 1997 movie “Soul Food.” Before Black family dramas like “Power,” “Empire” and “Greenleaf,” “Soul Food” helped change the landscape of how viewers looked at Black families with assistance from co-stars Vanessa Williams, Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe.

Soul Food the movie is now Soul Food the series, thanks to Showtime. It will be only the second drama in recent history to feature an all black cast. Cast members l–r are Darrin Henson, Rockmond Dunbar, (back row) Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker, Vanessa Williams, (middle row) Malinda Williams and Aaron Meeks (foreground) at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, June 16, 2000. (Photo by Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“We are a family. We still to this day are a family. We all still keep in touch,” Williams stated. “Part of the reason why is we bonded over several things. First of all, we filmed the television series in Toronto and so we were kind of all separated from family and friends. So we were all we had, right? But we also knew that we were doing something that was unprecedented. And so there’s something that’s a little bit scary about that.”

The entire cast of “Soul Food” reunited during a 2015 appearance on “The Boris & Nicole Show.” Allegedly, many questioned if an all-Black cast would “work” due to the limited black television shows on air at the time. But Williams said, “I always knew it would.”

“People telling you that black dramas don’t work. They don’t sell, and that it wouldn’t be successful,” she said. “So you kind of really do have to band together, believe in one another, and be there for each other. And I think that’s what happened on ‘Soul Food.’ “

“Felicia Henderson was and is an amazing showrunner. She did a wonderful job with that story. And then [director] George Tillman Jr. did an amazing job with formulating those characters,” Williams said before sharing her interest in how production will modernize each character’s storyline in a reunion special.

“I think it would ultimately be up to them where they wanted these characters to be [21] years later. I would be very interested to know myself. “Bird and Lem went through so many ups and downs. I wonder even if they would still be together? Who knows?” 

Throughout the years, Williams has also maintained a close friendship with actor Darrin Dewitt Henson, who played Bird’s husband Lem.

“He played my husband in the series and at the time, I was going through something very similar in my own relationship,” Williams confessed. “Again, like I said, I always express or portray what I need or what’s paralleling in my life, which is why I’m also very careful about the roles that I take.”

Armed with acting awards and accolades, Williams has now expanded her talents toward her health and wellness vendor marketplace She’s Got a Habit. She also plans to continue empowering women with her Rise and Shine: Ladies Who Brunch, which held its second- annual event on Saturday, Oct. 2, in Los Angeles, California. The event reportedly connects women in “entertainment, entrepreneurs and executives for an afternoon of sisterhood and sharing.”

Williams hopes to create larger events and safer spaces “for women to commune, to fellowship, to be seen and be heard in at times to air their grievances, to share, to teach, to learn. That’s really what the purpose of it is.”

Back to top