Wendy Williams is sharing the good the bad and the ugly in the upcoming Lifetime biopic, Wendy Williams: The Movie. Throughout the film, Williams’ rise as a controversial radio personality and her transition to one of the most beloved, albeit polarizing, talk show hosts is explored. But what many fans are waiting to see is how Williams handled the demise of her 21-year marriage to Kevin Hunter.
Williams famously became a “Hot Topic” herself when news of her husband’s affair and love child became public. After playing coy for nearly two years, Williams filed for divorce amid the confirmation and years of behind the scenes emotional abuse and manipulation from Hunter.
While Williams’ bravery in sharing her story is admirable, it is actress Ciera Payton’s portrayal of Williams in the film that has people buzzing. For Payton, this role has been a long time coming and something she says was predestined years before she even knew of a potential movie on Williams was in the works.
“I had been preparing for this opportunity before I even had it before I even knew about the audition…summer of 2019 a couple of Wendy watcher fans tweeted me to say I should play her and they even added her and I became excited then,” she told Shadow and Act. “Around the same time, I started generating buzz for my work on The Oval, and the suggestion to play Williams kept coming and I always said if I had the opportunity, I’d go for it.”
Payton shifted into preparation mode by studying Williams’ infamous radio days and her work on her talk show just in case she ever had the chance. Luckily, the chance came when she was contacted by a casting director to audition for the role of Williams. After nailing her audition with faux breasts and all, Payton proved she was the best for the gig.
Luckily, Williams’ stamp of approval on Payton was clear as Williams serves as an executive producer on the film.
However, an unexpected contractual obligation for her dream role nearly prevented her from playing Williams. Payton landed the role but filming for the movie coincided with her shooting schedule for Tyler Perry’s The Oval. With the show filming in Georgia and Wendy Williams filming in Canda, Payton had to make the tough decision to bow out of Williams’ film.
But as fate would have it, the schedule was adjusted and she was contacted months later to revitalize her role as Williams.
Payton gets Williams’ mannerisms down, including the walk and Williams’ trademark bulging eyes. She also channels Williams’ vulnerability in her marriage,
“As the fame got bigger, as her career started growing, I believe it presented it a lot of challenging for that relationship and for me in my career, I am just now experiencing a lot of firsts and so I can only imagine someone in Wendy’s caliber dealing with all of those changes, being married, being a mother, and having the controversy that she had, I’m sure there were challenges and the personal duality of it all,” Payton explained.
“As tough and as strong as she is, I feel like she’s also very vulnerable and very delicate, and dealing with someone like Kevin who she viewed as her knight in shining armor made sense for me because he protected her and gave her space to be vulnerable and herself,” the actress continued. “Wendy was a loner and stayed to herself but with Kevin, she had a safe space but she was also violated. It’s interesting how Wendy seesaw’s between the two.”
The film also dives into Williams’ drug addiction, which Payton brilliantly showcases. For the New Orleans native, she was able to pull from her own personal experiences witnessing addiction to emote Williams’ journey.
“I got to see my dad struggle with substance abuse and he used to take me to his NA meetings and AA meetings and sit listening to the stories of reformed crack addicts and share their stories about hitting rock bottom,” Payton said. “I had a very different relationship with drugs and substance abuse and going into the movie and having to reenact some of the scenes where Wendy used drugs was triggering but on a crazy level, it made me understand my dad’s situation soo much more, as well as Wendy’s situation so much more.”
As for what makes Williams so special, Payton says Williams’ ability to be her own best friend and stay true to herself amid all the chaos.
“I relate to Wendy in that way because she does stand out. I received so many mixed messages as a child, growing up with separated parents and in a biracial environment where I never fit in so I made a decision early on to just do my own thing and that’s what Wendy did…and it worked for her.”
Wendy Williams: The Movie airs Saturday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. EST on Lifetime.