Michelle Williams on Fela!, Blue Ivy, and Handling the Haters
Michelle Williams rockin' the stage in Fela!
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Since the Super Bowl, pop-culture chatter has essentially revolved around Beyoncé -- her HBO special, her world tour, her GQ cover. But let's not forget about the other members of Destiny's Child -- especially the one who's starring in a Broadway show, planning a new reality TV show, and dealing gracefully with her haters.
Grammy-winning Michelle Williams is taking the lead in Fela!, a musical tribute to Fela Kuti, the Nigerian singer who created Afrobeat as a musical genre and used it to speak out against government corruption. The highly acclaimed song-and-dance show is headed to Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center March 19. We spoke to Williams about the stigma of depression, Blue Ivy's charms, and the fried Oreos at Prime One Twelve.
Cultist: There are some big names attached to Fela!, yourself included. [Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are producers.] How did you get involved?
Michelle Williams: I've been familiar with the musician himself for the past six years, and then when it came to Broadway, there was so much excitement about it, like you said, because of the names attached. And the director himself, Bill T. Jones, is well respected. If you can get into a Bill T. Jones production, it means you must be really special. I happened to be in London when they were opening and went to opening night. I was sitting in my seat saying, Wow, it looks like it would have been spectacular to be a part of this. Then later I get the phone call asking me to tour! So I thought that was pretty cool.
How do you describe the show?
I would say the music is what's gonna get you, and especially being in Miami. It's Afrobeat combined with jazz and Cuban and African beats -- that, first and foremost, is absolutely amazing. The story of standing for something so that you don't fall for anything is amazing -- the story of Fela's strength and passion for what he believed in. I cannot wait to get to Miami, where I know the community itself is very much into the arts. I'm very excited.
Your Super Bowl performance was jaw-dropping. Just watching it from home was pretty amazing. How did it feel being up there?
We had so much fun prepping and preparing for it. Beyoncé had asked us a couple of months ago to join her on the stage for the Super Bowl, and it was like, yes! But it became a little difficult because I was in rehearsals for Fela! and literally at the same time they were in rehearsals for the Super Bowl. When they say women can multitask, we really can multitask! I would be in rehearsals for Fela! from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, then about 8 I'd go for a couple hours to see what was going on as far as the Super Bowl stuff was concerned. There was a lot of girl talk. We were like, "Aren't we supposed to be rehearsing?" But we can't help it -- when we get together, we talk all the time for hours and then sometimes the creative director or choreographer has to say, "OK ladies, it's time to rehearse. I know y'all miss each other." I mean, that was an amazing time.
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Any future plans with Destiny's Child?
That hasn't been talked about, but at least every couple years we try to do something that's going to be meaningful and impactful.
How do you deal with haters?
First of all, I have to tell myself, unfortunately, this is what comes with it. Now I'm not saying that things don't hurt you, but hearing something in passing is one thing. But looking at something on Twitter... it's just crazy. Not that everybody's going to love you, but you want everybody to love you and you feel like you haven't done anything wrong for the public not to. Everybody has their opinions, their choices, what they like and don't like, but you have to focus on the people who love you and like you and make you happy. Focus on those who support you. We're human, and we seem to magnify the haters instead of the thousands of other people who might have complimented you on something. That's just with anybody in life, not necessarily in entertainment. Hannah, you could be the best journalist in Miami, honey, but people hate that. You work hard to get to where you are, you go to school and study to be great at what you do, so greatness is gonna come with a lot of stuff attached to it, good and bad.
Is Blue Ivy the most glamorous baby ever?
Blue Ivy is just an absolute joy. She is hilarious. I can't believe at 1 year old, she cracks me up. For babies, you think, I gotta act the fool to impress this child and make funny faces and all that, but she's just a comedian. At 1 it's like, what is in your head right now? She's absolutely adorable.
You recently spoke about dealing with depression. There's still such a stigma attached to mental health issues. How do you think we can overcome that?
How I even came to talk about it was an accident -- well, not an accident because God has everything happen for a reason. But during my interview with the Associated Press, I can't even remember what we were talking about, and it just mystically came out of my mouth. Maybe it was just the right time to talk about it since I'm in such a better place in my life now. I wanted to share that with everybody.
You might come to a crossroads in your life, and it's OK to get help and get some answers as far as why you might be feeling how you're feeling. You might have some unresolved issues. I don't like confrontation, I try to deal with things internally, and it's those things that don't get resolved where resentment sets in and sadness, anger. All those words I just used are emotional weights. Our hearts are already fragile, so imagine the weight we put on our hearts by those negative emotions. I needed to really deal with that and learn how to confront the people and the problems. You've got to do it for yourself, not for them. The majority of them have already moved on with life, gotten married, have kids, while you're still tripping over something that happened 15 years ago.
A lot of people still believe that fame and fortune bring happiness. What do you say to those people?
It can be a cool distraction for a bit when you're touring. I'm on tour now, so I don't have anything to think about other than going to the theater. I think it was those days where I had like three days off and it really revealed how I really feel. On those days off, I ought to be reflecting and in the spirit of gratitude for what I accomplished, but the sadness really came out. I went to therapy to learn how to deal with it, and my therapist is amazing! I feel like when I walk into her office, I can take my shoes off and sit Indian-style on her couch. Also, through God, and I have two close friends of mine who really aided me in feeling better as well as my therapist. So I'm an advocate for getting help. I mean, some people have a more severe form of depression, so their journey is not going to be as easy as mine -- not that mine was easy, but I don't want to make light of anyone else who might have a more severe form of depression. I want to tell them to identify it and get some help.
Your life can get better with one conversation with someone who's trained and knows what they're doing. Before you know it, you're like, wow! Then you can think positively: You are an amazing woman, you are gifted, you are talented, you are beautiful, you're all those things that maybe one or two people said you weren't. I can just yell it on the shores of Miami Beach! The world is in such chaos, and sometimes I think, Do I have to stay in a constant state of prayer? Every time you turn on the TV, something bad is happening, so how can you maintain a state of happiness? How can you be a light to somebody else and brighten their day? That's all I want to be at the end of the day. I know God has me in the arts for a reason and these types of plays I've been doing. There are so many more people more talented than I am. I'm like, wow, it's me, I'm here, I'm living the dream that I once had as a child.
I hear you're getting into reality TV with a new show, My Sister's Keeper.
I know, right?! I can't believe it. I had a concept for this show a couple of years ago, but you work hard on your brand and you know the stigma that reality TV can place on a person. I wouldn't have done this if they wouldn't let me be executive producer and have control over what's being put out. And I miss my sisters. Like my little sister, she's 22 and she told me the other day, "Sis, you gotta remember you left home when I was eight-years-old." So I've only gotten to see her through pictures, and when she comes to the Grammys or the Billboards and stays with me for a few days. But other than that I've missed her life. And my older sister -- everyone has children. I'm missing out on their beautiful lives. It's just a way to see those dynamics of us getting closer and bonding. No one loves you like your sisters. I know they've got my back and I have theirs.
What are your plans while you're in Miami, aside from work?
Eat lots of food! I hope I can shake and bake in the sun a little bit, of course with SPF 100 on. I live in Chicago so it's a snowstorm up there right now. When I go to Miami I just enjoy putting on a maxi dress and being lazy. I don't like to do a lot of night clubbing, I just like enjoying the beauty that I know is there. Visiting Prime 112, eating deep fried oreos, all of those things.
Fela! runs at the Adrienne Arsht Center from March 19 through 24. Tickets start at $26 on their website.
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