BWW Interviews: Local Actor Hits Big Screen in TAMMY
This space is normally reserved for the shows and stars of local stages. But chances are that if you also watch a lot of TV, you've been seeing one of those local faces a lot lately.
Local stage and screen actor Rich Williams has been one of the featured faces in the commercials and promotional work for "Tammy," the new film from "Mike & Molly" star Melissa McCarthy, currently in theaters. Williams is Larry, the man behind the counter of the Topper Jack's fast food restaurant getting McCarthy's character apple pies at gunpoint in the commercials.
It's big exposure for the character actor who came to acting later in life and has been making the most of his second profession since jumping in 25 years ago.
Williams landed the role in the film, co-written by McCarthy and her husband, director Ben Falcone, through his representation in Atlanta. The production team was looking for local talent to film in Wilmington, N.C., and Williams made it through the audition process to put on the Topper Jack's uniform and visor.
Williams plays in the scene opposite McCarthy and Sarah Baker, an actress who recently received critical acclaim for her role in the FX comedy series "Louie," playing a character with a lot of brutal truth to share about the realities of dating as a plus-sized woman over 30. According to Williams, McCarthy and Baker actually pulled him a bit out of his comfort zone into the world of improvisation.
"Ben is a great writer," Williams said. "He wrote an outline, but he was also confident enough to let us (improv) - mainly Melissa, because she can ad-lib with the best of them - and I was a little afraid to do that at first, because I'm the new kid on the block.
"In Wilmington, Melissa started ad-libbing a little bit and no one said anything," he said. "So I said, 'Well, I'll just try this one line.' I made up 'You can't shoot me! I'm a veteran!' They said 'Cut. let's shoot it again,' and I sort of nonchalantly asked 'Well, do you want to leave that in or take that out?' Ben said 'Leave it in. It's funny.'"
His willingness to get creative resulted in one of the movie's most memorable - and marketable - moments. As Tammy is demanding pies from Williams, he threw in the line "You like apple?" The line became one of the film's early catchphrases, and free pies were handed out at the film's premiere in Hollywood.
Williams actually got to enjoy the fruits of his labor when he traveled out to attend the premiere. Actors with smaller parts aren't always invited to travel down the red carpet, but a combination of work by his agent and McCarthy and Falcone covering his travel expenses put Williams in front of the red carpet cameras.
"I wanted to go because it's about the last chance I have to go to a big premiere," the 70-year-old actor said. "I've never been to one. I normally might not be eligible because it's a smaller role. I normally would have been expected to pay my own way. They're the nicest people in the world."
Williams was first attracted to acting in high school. His friends had been cast in the senior play, but the drama teacher, who was not a fan of Williams, told him not to bother auditioning. He took a career in the financial sector and enjoyed film and theater as a spectator for years. After moving to Orlando, opportunities to do Extra work arose, and he played small parts in the 1989 film "Parenthood" and the "Superboy" TV series.
Williams eventually made his way to Los Angeles, doing small roles on TV and film. He actually crossed paths with McCarthy in a "Gilmore Girls" episode. In 2004, with reality TV dominating the landscape, Williams moved to Louisville, where he has been a steady presence on local stages while making the most of the regional film, TV and commercial opportunities available.
"I've worked more since moving back here than when I was in California," Williams said. "But you have to be willing to drive a lot. You have to roll the dice every now and then. It doesn't always work. I've turned down roles where I would have had to spend more than I would have made.
"I've had people ask me 'How do I become a star?'" he said. "If you want to be a star, I can't help you. If you love the process, storytelling, if you like to be a part of something like that, whether it's movies, theater or TV, you'll do it."