SAN FRANCISCO — Fifteen-year-old Zelda Williams may make her film debut in David Duchovny’s new movie, “House of D,” this week, but she’s already clued in about the joys and perils of celebrity. The ingenue has been hanging out on movie sets with her father, actor Robin Williams, all her life.
“I’ve spent a lot of time behind the camera, and traveled with my dad all over the world, so I’ve experienced both the upside and the downside of fame,” says the poised high school sophomore. “I’ve been lucky to meet talented and inspiring people. I’ve lived a very privileged life, or at least it looks like it. But it’s a drag when you’re a kid and you have a famous father. Everyone wants his autograph. It’s hard to get private time with your family.”
Williams, who attends a liberal arts high school in the Haight-Ashbury district here, landed her role as Melissa, the love interest of the film’s hero, by chance and good timing. “My dad and David Duchovny were rehearsing lines at our house, and they needed a young girl to read through some scenes,” she explains. “I was upstairs doing my homework. I’ve never taken acting lessons, because my mom said I have to finish school first. I ran through the lines with David and Dad, and they liked my readings. I did a couple of auditions and I was hired.”
She worked on the movie in New York for two months in the fall of 2003, and was hooked. “It was a great experience being in front of the camera, though it was a bit stressful working with my dad because he’s just so good,” she says. “I loved everything until we attended the previews. It was excruciating, seeing myself onscreen. At my age, I’m overcritical. You think you did everything wrong. I hope after I’ve done 15 or 16 movies, I’ll be more confident.”
She insists that her parents have not pushed her into the field. Her mother, Marsha Garces Williams, works as a movie producer. Williams lives in San Francisco with her parents and her brothers, Cody, 13, and Zack, 22, and is already a talented stylist and shopper. On this day she’s wearing vintage Lucky jeans and vivid feather earrings she bought for $1 at Piedmont’s, a drag queen costume shop on Haight Street.
This story first appeared in the April 11, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“During lunch hour, I do the rounds of all the great vintage shops, some of them left over from hippie days,” Williams says. “I can find really good worn vintage jeans for $5, and Piedmont’s has a whole wall of earrings for $1. I think it’s ridiculous to spend $300 on jeans, or to pay a fortune for monogrammed handbags. Give me $15 and I could find five fantastic T-shirts.”
This summer, Williams heads to Oxford University to study theater and photography. “For Christmas, I was given a Leica M6 Rangefinder and I’ve been shooting everything I can find — my friends, my family in Mexico, people I see on the street,” Williams says. “I’m still experimenting, and trying to do the Cartier-Bresson thing, to find the ‘decisive moment.’ My parents and my school teachers have encouraged me to try everything, and photography has lots of possibilities.”
The photographer she admires most is Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado, who travels to some of the harshest corners of the world to shoot gritty and dramatic black-and-white images of workers and the poor. “My dad met Mr. Salgado in Paris last year, when we were there for the Tour de France, and he invited our family to dinner,” she recalls. “His photographs are so serious and heavy, but in person he’s funny and lighthearted. He lives simply and with great joy. I was so inspired.”
What with homework, dark rooms, forays to Haight Street and hunting for vinyl records (she collects Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald), Williams doesn’t want to rush into another movie. “I’m kind of moving backward, using a vintage camera and playing old records. I like things that other people overlook, taking on stereotypes, challenging gender roles, asserting myself.” She’s in Philosophy Club at school, studies French, tangles with logarithms and plans to attend an arts college.
“I’d like to think I’m pretty well-rounded and very self-motivated,” she says. “I’d say I’m on my way.”