Kelli Williams has gone many places in her series work, but for the first time, she’s now a military spouse.
The former co-star of “The Practice” and “Lie to Me” has joined the cast of the Lifetime drama “Army Wives,” which continues its just-started sixth season Sunday (March 18). Williams’ newest alter ego, Jackie Clarke, is a major general’s (Robert John Burke) ambitious wife who wants him named corp commander of the fictional Fort Marshall as much as Claudia Joy Holden (Kim Delaney) wants it for her similarly ranked husband (Brian McNamara).
Joining “Army Wives” was a fairly quick and easy process, Williams tells Zap2it. “I was happy to have some time off after ‘Lie to Me,’ though I was bummed when it ended. Tim [Roth] and I were ready for more, and I felt the writing was just getting going, but you never know. It’s amazing how many shows don’t make it past the pilot, let alone the three seasons we were lucky enough to have on FOX.
“We spent long hours on that show, and I was ready to just be Mom for a while. When this offer came in, it was, ‘Go to Charleston (S.C., where “Army Wives” is filmed) and have some fun for a nice arc.’ I got there, and it just sort of became something else. They invited me to stay longer, and it worked out.”
Williams feels an obligation to portray military-family life properly, especially given the history of service in her own family: “My father was in the Korean War, my uncle was in Vietnam, and I have a younger half-brother I don’t see very often who was in Afghanistan for a time.
“It’s a world I didn’t know a lot about, but I did read the book the series is based on, and that was a real education for me in just the underpinnings of the extended military family … the wives and children, and what it’s like when moms and dads are deployed and the home is suddenly down to a single parent. There are the hardships of figuring out how your life is going to work when your spouse is away.”
To an extent, Williams’ own family is experiencing that, since the mother of three is commuting regularly between home in her native Los Angeles and the “Army Wives” set. “Knock on wood, for years, I was so lucky to have the shows I did be in Los Angeles,” she reflects. “There are fewer and fewer productions there, it seems, so I’m a frequent flyer. I do a lot of cyber-chatting with my kids, but it’s one of those good problems.”
So is the fact that Williams is headed for an on-screen collision with “All My Children” icon Susan Lucci, doing a recurring “Army Wives” stint as a retired brigadier general’s wife who believes she has the real lowdown on Jackie. “I did a scene with her last week, and it was so much fun,” Williams reports.
“When I was a teenager, I had a girlfriend who was obsessed with ‘All My Children,’ and she would have the VCR ready to go every day. We’d come home from school, and she’d go, ‘Come on, you have to watch this with me.’ I didn’t feel like it, but of course, I would and I’d get hooked by all the stories. Then, there I am all these many years opposite Susan Lucci, who’s giving me the evil eye in character.”
That was a true test of acting for Williams, who admits, “I had to stop myself from just wanting to smile. I sent that girlfriend a picture of the two of us together … and was she jealous!”
Lifetime is a comfortable place for Williams to be doing a series, since many of her recent TV movies — including “Murder on Pleasant Drive” and “Gossip” — get frequent runs on both the parent channel and Lifetime Movie Network. “They’ve been great to me,” she says. “They present character-driven stories with a lot of great roles for women.
“A lot of wonderful, talented actresses are coming into television more. On the one hand, it’s great; on the other hand, it changes things for those who have been in TV roles for a long time. Where you are on that list fluctuates, so it’s nice to know that there’s a lot of really good programming all over the place.”