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Wednesday, Jun. 16, 2010

Kelli Williams of 'Lie to Me' has showbiz in her blood

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STUDIO CITY — When she was 18, Kelli Williams wanted to be a movie star. Now ... not so much.

Williams, who plays a psychologist on Fox's "Lie to Me," has been in show business most of her life. Well, at least she grew up with it. Her mother is actress Shannon Wilcox, and Williams remembers observing the anxious flurry associated with acting.

"I grew up around her going on auditions. I'd run her lines with her and memorize them and come back. And I was always very curious about it. I would go to sets and visit and just hang out and watch how movies and TV shows are made. And I always loved how everybody got together to create this one thing," she says in a noisy restaurant here.

And while Williams seems not your traditional showbiz sprout, her plastic-surgeon father has been married six times (her mother was

No. 3) and she characterizes him as "traditional." Her mom, on the other hand, was more of a free spirit. "My mother grew up on a farm in Indiana and moved here and wanted to bring a little bit of the farm here. So I had a pet goat, 40 rabbits," she says.

"I grew wheat grass and I would sell batches of it to cancer patients because it helped with the side effects of chemo. It was a little business that my mom helped me start. I was 10, so she really organized it for me. I saved my money up and it helped me buy part of my first car ... So I had very different sides of things — a very liberal side and a conservative side. I took a little bit from both of them. It was a fun childhood."

Williams tried acting early on, but didn't like it. "I went to the French school, the Lycee, here in Los Angeles, and I remember going to a couple of auditions where you go into this dark building and you're waiting and waiting, and it seemed so strange. It's not what I wanted.

"I wanted to be playing and hang out with my friends. So I didn't want to do that anymore. I wanted to wait till I was 18 and could do it on my own."

She did. And her decision corresponded with the writers strike of 1988. "It took me a couple of months to get my first job and I've been working ever since," says Williams, who is demure in a gray dress printed with tiny white flowers. "There were a couple of times that were slower, but I've been really lucky."

Most people remember her from her six years as Lindsay Dole on "The Practice," though she also co-starred in "Men in Trees" and "Medical Investigation" and appeared on countless TV shows.

Williams, who speaks French because of the Lycee and Spanish because of a particular nanny she had growing up, is married to writer Ajay Sahgal and is the mother of three children. "He's East Indian, but he's really a valley boy. He grew up here," she says. "His parents moved here from India in early '60s."

The actress, who's slightly embarrassed that she grew up in such a glamorized environment, thinks that motherhood changed her values. "I knew I always wanted to be a mother," she says. "It's an amazing thing to be selfless, to take care of someone, and they teach you how to become parents. It's incredibly profound, like any parent would say. It puts everything into really good prospective. Especially this business can be really heady sometimes and there's a lot of ego and a lot of insecurity is always brewing and children are great equalizers in the sense that how normal your life can be."

Williams says she stabilizes her ego through therapy. "I try not to read anything about my work. Sometimes I'll look up some blog and read where somebody can't stand me. And I think, 'Why am I fishing around? What do I think I'll find?' You know what, it almost has nothing to do with me. Maybe they don't like me, but it's about people bantering in a chat room. It's not really about me, and what is it that they think they're criticizing about me? It's not me, it's a character I play."

Williams bears three tattoos on her arm — her children's names written in Sanskrit, she explains. Though she had an Indian wedding, she insisted on the white dress, too, she admits, saying she couldn't resist.

Her husband is a Hindu, but as for her, she says, "If I'm anything, I'm probably a Hindu. My mother-in-law, we have little ceremonies with her. The tradition I grew up with was country clubs and golf. It's really nice to have a tradition for my children. My mom and I have our traditions as well, not to make it seem I don't. I'm not particularly religious. But I've always been open. I guess I'm agnostic if anything. But it's nice to give my children the knowledge and let them know what all these religions are."

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