Certain second-generation actors or celebrities have a breezy charm and a well-grounded self-awareness about the benefits and drawbacks of show business life, while others wear bequeathed crowns of entitlement that can come across as unattractive. Zelda Williams, the 23-year-old daughter of Robin Williams and Marsha Garces, is just finding her way professionally, but already exhibits plenty of signs of the former. One of the highlights of the new road trip/videogame competition movie “Noobz,” Williams co-stars opposite writer-director Blake Freeman, among others, playing an enchanting but wisecracking gamer who’s the romantic interest of Jason Mewes’ character. For ShockYa, Brent Simon recently had a chance to chat with Williams one-on-one, about the movie, her unique name, videogames, her famous father and her screenwriting aspirations. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: Do you have any notable memories of being bullied or teased growing up because of your name?
Zelda Williams: Sure. It’s not a common name — I guess it was mostly popular during the F. Scott Fitzgerald years, briefly, and then it dropped off completely. So [kids would] say it sounds old and stuff like that, and for a brief moment in time when you’re a kid you’ll look at any explanation for bullying — when I was around 10 or 11 I was like, “I’m going to change my name when I’m 17!” And then you immediately change your mind when you’re 12, and you like your name again. I think any kid goes through bullying, and it makes you question things — from your hair color to what you wear, your name. And then you get over it and start realizing that people are just assholes. But I still get ‘Selda a lot — like I’m Spanish, and it would be a shortened version of Esmerelda.
ShockYa: “Noobz” is a labor of love for Freeman, and in large part a movie for gamers. Are you a big videogame fan in real life?
ZW: Yeah. But I think the weirdest assumption some people have knowing that my dad’s an actor is the feeling that I should be doing big movies. I don’t know where it comes from. I’m just excited to work. …Some people are like, “Oh, you must you be desperate if you’re doing some weird comedy about videogames.” And I’m like, “Hey, it’s my job to do movies, and no, not all of them are going to be Oscar-type films. If that was the case then every actress at the age of 25 would have an Oscar.” They were really nice people; I went into the meeting and we talked about videogames, which was great because I grew up playing them and they wanted to hire someone who fit in with the group. So every single person on that set was a big videogame fan.
ShockYa: What kind of games were your favorites?
ZW: I think it all depended on how much time I had to spend. When you were younger you’d play games that fit the level of your attention — things like “Pokémon,” where you had a Gameboy that you could take in the car. Then when you were a teenager and decided that you had hours you could spend because you weren’t going to be social, you’d play games that allowed for more time. For a long time I loved games like “Smash Brothers” and a lot of puzzle games as well, actually, because my mom and I did a lot of puzzle and word games together. Even now, she travels all the time to other countries where she won’t even have cell service, but she can play with friends and message me, which is great. It’s fun to be able to do that with her when she’s in different places for philanthropy and her job. So a lot of times now that’s what I do. If I’m on set I’m not going to bring an Xbox. In an ideal world, wouldn’t that be great? But I play puzzle games with my mom and my boyfriend, and sometimes my dad will even play if he’s not doing busy stuff — it’s a way to stay connected. A lot of games take up a lot of time, and when you play them you’re not really being productive, and I’m not able to do that anymore unfortunately. I miss it — I miss being able to play “Halo” for seven hours, to level up my guy in “Assassin’s Creed,” like, 18 times, or to find New York in one day. But that’s not something you can really do when you have to be social. I used to be a total recluse when I was a teenager, and that’s when I did most of my gaming.
ShockYa: Yeah, I’ve talked to other big videogamer actors who’ve lamented that loss of free time, and the onset of more responsibilities.
ZW: Now I’m just trying to write and not slip back into my reclusive ways. I think my friends would think I died if I played games the way I used to because they wouldn’t hear from me for days at a time. I’d finally come out of my room covered in Cheetos dust and people would be like, “Oh my God, are you still alive?”
ShockYa: What was the production schedule and shoot like for “Noobz”?
ZW: You’ll have to forgive me because… especially in L.A. since the weather never really changes, it’s hard to keep track (of what I did when). Given the length of my hair in the film I think it was like a year and a half or two years ago. And the production schedule for me was pretty easy and straightforward… I interact with Jason and the boys a little bit, and so the final competition was shot over a couple days in this big warehouse that they’d dressed up to look like an expo or tournament, and we played “Gears of War” for hours at a time. It was fun and easy, and those days were some of the easiest I’ve ever filmed because you didn’t ever really feel like you were working.
ShockYa: You touched on how some people viewed your career earlier. What do you think the biggest misconception is about that or just growing up in general with Robin Williams as your dad?
ZW: It’s funny because even when you say something about it people think that you’re complaining and you’re ungrateful, and I’m not. I had a really good childhood, and Dad’s lovely. I grew up really normally in San Francisco, with a lovely house and two dogs and my brothers. I went to an all-girls Catholic school and got bullied every day and kind of had a normal life. I can’t speak for the rest of the second-generation Hollywood kids, but most of them seem really sweet. There’s this bizarre idea that all of us have had things handed to us — and that’s not false of some of us. But in my case I never even talked to my dad about acting until I think last year, when I started writing and he asked me about why he doesn’t see good scripts anymore from the rest of the Hollywood community, and I had this weird conversation about that and the evolution of where movies have gone and it moving away from a certain idea of the script needing to be good. That was the first time we talked about acting and it wasn’t even really about (me) acting. …I chose this industry, I know how hard it is, and it’s a weird world to have to step into it with people saying, “You have to have a thick skin and be ready for people to hate you.” In any other industry you would say, “Well, where did common decency go and why do I have to put up with them being rude?,” but it’s fine. I actually really enjoy talking to people that come at me. It’s weird, because I think that so many actors have gotten so afraid of, you know —
ShockYa: Being a normal person?
ZW: Yeah — speaking their minds and standing up for themselves. Like, when people make fun of me — unless they’re trolls, in which case there’s no talking to them, although even that can be kind of fun to jump back and have some funny banter with them, it amuses me — a lot of times I will go, “Why?” and talk to them and find that people are fairly normal but just have this weird expectation about you. There’s a strange distance that people feel exists between actors and the rest of the world. They think that there’s this weird, bizarre separation and there’s not. If anything they’re more sensitive to critique and maybe they hide it via silence. But I feel like if they feel like someone’s hurt their feelings they should say something. Don’t be dumb about it, don’t go on a tirade, but talk to someone.
ShockYa: I imagine you grew up in a household where not just acting but the arts more broadly were celebrated, but when did your interest in writing and other creative pursuits really begin to take shape as a possible career outlet?
ZW: I was a really shy teenager, to the point where I had like one friend. I used to program websites, and write on a website years ago called Avid Gamers. It was a role-playing game site — you played via writing your character in the third person, paragraphs and paragraphs for each post. And it’s weird to me that until very recently I didn’t think to show anyone my writing — not necessarily from that website, it got shut down years ago — but just writing in general, because that was the thing that I did and loved. Acting has been something that I’ve grown to love, but it wasn’t what began me wanting to be a part of this industry. I started wanting to act because I loved reading and I loved my favorite heroines in books, like the Garth Nix “Lirael” trilogy, and the Neil Gaiman books like the “Sandman” Chronicles; I fell in love with those characters. Still to this day my biggest nerd-gasm moment of meeting my childhood idol and life idol was meeting Neil at a party. We’ve become friends since then but I went up to him and was like, “Uh, I just want you know that you’re my favorite writer!” I was that kid. And art was really pushed in my house. My mom was an amazing artist and painter, and she ended up becoming a philanthropist. I think our house really supported individuality, because my brothers and I couldn’t be more different — my older brother works in the aerospace industry and my little brother is a deejay. (laughs) You know, we’re all very different.
ShockYa: And you’re working on writing more and more now.
ZW: Writing is new for me. I got signed to wonderful people — Melinda Jason and the folks over at Gersh took me on as a fledging writer. I thought a lot of what I wrote was dark and bizarre, but they said otherwise. It’s not easy — it’s not like they’re movies like blockbusters that can just get made and then you’re a big deal. I don’t have that, but I guess they have faith in what I do and I’m really excited about that. It’s something entirely new for me, but hopefully pretty soon I’ll get to put one of them into production and see where it goes.
ShockYa: You also have another movie on tap as an actress — writer-director Brett Allen Smith’s “Never.”
ZW: I do, and I sing three songs in that. It’s a bit like “Once,” it’s not a musical in the sense of “High School Musical.” It’s a very sad but lovely, down-to-Earth story about a lesbian singer in Seattle and a straight man who falls in love with her, and the difficulties of that.
ShockYa: So a pinch of “Chasing Amy,” it sounds like.
ZW: Ah yes, without all the fun.
Written by: Brent Simon