Exclusive Interview with Tonya Lee Williams at the ReelWorld Film Festival

I had a chance to catch up with The Young and the Restless star and Toronto native Tonya Lee Williams (Olivia) earlier this month at the 9th Annual ReelWorld Film Festival and she was kind enough to answer questions about the film festival that she founded in 2001 and the soap.

Congratulations on the 9th annual ReelWorld Film Festival. In less than a decade, the film festival has managed to showcase both Canadian and world-wide talent. Aloo Chat is having its North American premiere at the festival this year, how does it feel having founded something that has developed into an international showcase?

We always wanted the combination. I think your local talent needs to be  meeting and understanding international work as well. We wanted the both to happen because we think that it enriches the local talent, so you know what else is out there and you get to meet the people who created that work as well. 

Gospel Hill is a powerful film, having already won best feature at the 2009 Texas Black Film Festival. The film stars Angela Basset as well as Danny Glover, whom you had the chance to work with in Poor Boy’s Game

I think that with the amount of movies that Danny has done, I think that everyone’s worked with Danny Glover at least once! [Laughs] 

Both of these films deal with racial inequality; how important is it for the festival to not only celebrate the diversity in filmmaking, but also raise awareness to present day injustices?

I think that making the awareness is key. Even celebrating it is important. I think that it was a surprise to a lot of people when they saw the controversies with Obama’s campaign. You know, people, really stanading up and saying “I’m not gonna vote for that guy because he’s black.” I think people didn’t think they said those things but you know when you’re a person of colour, you know those things are being said all the time. I think the awareness really shook the consciousness wordwide just having him run the way that he ran and for him succeeding the way he succeeded. Chris Rock said something so funny, “you know people of colour usually have to succeed at “this” [raises arm high] level just to be recognized on the same level. So when you really think about someone like Obama, he was really exceptional. I don’t think that I’ve seen a politician at that level in years no matter what colour they were and it would have been hard to imagine this person not winning. I think that is what we want to bring attention to. We want the playing field to be leveled a little bit. Especially about storytelling. Films are storytelling and we all have our stories, not matter who we are. It’s important for them to be shared and it is important for us to see ourselves reflected and that’s what Reel World really is at the end of the day. 

How does it feel being back on Y&R? The show is on a creative upswing with Maria Arena Bell writing.

I say all the time that she [Maria Arena Bell] is channelling Bill Bell right now. She just is! She’s creating the same vibe and the same energy of the way it felt in the first five years of when I was on the show. We tell her that all the time and she feels it too.

Everyone’s calling the Lynn Marie Latham era as the “dark era”. Fans are happy that they’ve brought you back now at this point.

It was also me who was wanting to come back at this point because I was just so tired and the way that Maria’s been writing has completely invigorated my love for the show again and my wanting to be there…so that was key. 

With your portrayal of Dr. Olivia Barber Hastings Winters, you’ve become a daytime icon. Your character has been through it all: sibling rivalry, cancer, a troubled pregnancy, adultery, an HIV scare, child abduction, divorce…what’s next for Olivia? Is there a story that you want them to do?

Wow, that’s really interesting. I guess another romance. I think it’s time for another romance. There hasn’t been a romance since the whole Malcolm thing. [My character] went through a lot of bitterness and time has gone by and [I think that it’s time for] a really beautiful romance. Maybe another older woman and younger man? Maybe another younger woman and older man?

Any specific pick?

Every single one of them is so hot…it’s insane. [Laughs] Every single guy on our show is quite spectacular.

Olivia’s a heroine. We don’t really see that many heroines on soaps anymore. The women are now all schemers.

Eileen Davidson and I were talking about that because we’re very sensitive about them creating two women who really enjoyed each others company. It was fun. We were really dissapointed when they went in a different direction with the whole Brad thing. We just make that the dark years! We just don’t think about it. I can’t think of any other characters who are women on soaps who actually support, care and like each other…instead they are scheming. I’m sure it helps that our writer’s a woman. 

You are working with Eileen Davidson in a new story. Can you give us a tease on what is going to be happening?

I’m working with Eileen and it appears that she may be having a reocurrance of something that we’ve seen in the past. 

Fans are anticipating the return of your character’s son, Nate…Are there any immediate plans to bring him back? 

That’s what I would like to know too! I would love that. I actually don’t know that but I would love for him to come back. Whether it’s the same actor or not, it was a great character. 

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